By KEVIN HARRIS
The outside perception of the Jeffersonville High School wrestling team this season is that the program that has won four consecutive sectional titles will be going through a rebuilding phase because it graduated 18 seniors.
But inside the walls of the JHS wrestling room, the Red Devils have not thought about rebuilding one bit.
Jeff still thinks it has the talent to repeat as sectional champions and get at least one wrestler to the IHSAA State Finals. It is just a matter of putting lots of time in in the wrestling room and getting better every day.
Red Devil coach Danny Struck hopes that is what his wrestlers learned after their participation in the ultra-competitive Capitol City Classic in Indianapolis on Nov. 17.
Jeff finished fourth in the meet, as it had to go up against grapplers from top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Perry Meridian, seventh-ranked Warren Central and Franklin Central. Perry Meridian was the meet champion, as 10 of its wrestlers captured individual titles.
“What I hope they learn is that their success depends on them. They will have to do more than others to get to their goals,” Struck said.
The Red Devils had three wrestlers finish third in their respective weight classes. They were twin brothers David (160 pounds) and Tyler Fridley (170) and heavyweight Gavan Jolley-Little.
Struck said it was the first time in several years at the Capitol City Classic that no Jeff grapplers reached the finals. But the veteran Red Devil boss was relatively pleased with his squad’s effort.
“I’m OK with that,” Struck said. “It was a realistic showing in where we are at right now. Every kid won a match and placed in the top six.”
With several seniors gone, Struck is searching for leadership from some of his veterans. Two Red Devils he is expecting to be leaders are his two returning semi-state qualifiers in seniors Oscar DeLeon and David Fridley. DeLeon reached the semi-state in the 2011 season, while Fridley made the semi-state last year.
Struck also is relying on the leadership of team captain Jasi Coureur. The senior participated in several morning workouts the last few seasons with one of last year’s state qualifiers, Alonzo Shepherd, who is currently a freshman on the Indiana University wrestling team.
“I’m relying a lot on David Fridley and Oscar DeLeon. I want them to tell the younger guys what competing at semi-state is like,” Struck said. “I’m relying on [Coureur] to pull the kids in early and influence them to work hard. It’s a different team than I have had in a long time.”
Another thing Struck wishes he had more of within his program is multi-sport athletes. Struck, who is in his 11th season at Jeff, says he has the fewest multi-sport athletes on his team since his first year as the Red Devils’ coach.
There are a few reasons Struck wants more of these athletes on his squad.
First, Struck likes competitors on his team and he thinks one sign of a true competitor is someone who participates in at least two sports.
The second reason is the old adage that success breeds success. If one of Struck’s wrestlers has success in one sport, their accomplishment will rub off on the rest of his grapplers.
Finally if the multi-sport athlete fails to win a championship in one sport, he will be motivated to claim a title in another sport.
Struck’s best possible example of that within his program is Tyler Fridley, who was the starting quarterback for the Jeff football team this past season.
“Kids like Tyler Fridley, who wanted to win a sectional in football but came up short, can focus on doing it here,” Struck said. “I hope to get that number [of multi-sport athletes] back up in the future.”
Struck believes his team’s difficult schedule will help his wrestlers improve by the time they compete in the Hoosier Hills Conference meet and the Jeff Sectional.
“It will make a difference how the kids will finish the season,” Struck said. “Most of the time when we have won sectional, we did not beat a few of the sectional teams in a dual meet during the season. Most of the years when we won conference, we did not beat a conference team in a dual during the season.”
All eight HHC teams, including Jeff, Floyd Central and New Albany, will get a chance to square off against conference foes for the first time this season this weekend.
The HHC Duals will start at 6 p.m. on Friday at two different sites. Floyd Central, Jeff, New Albany and Madison will compete in dual meets at Floyd Central. Meanwhile, Jennings County, Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East and Seymour will participate in dual meets at a site yet to be determined.
The second day of the meet will be Saturday at Jeff, starting at 9 a.m.
Struck is simply looking for his wrestlers to get better.
“I really have no idea what any other team has back,” Struck said. “Right now, we are going to use the meet to see what we need to work on and improve.”
The HHC Duals will be the season opener for the Highlanders, and Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson says his wrestlers are ready to square off against actual opponents.
“We look forward to competing at the HHC Duals,” Sisson said. “Our guys have been battling each other for over a month and they are looking forward to the competition. The HHC Duals helps give us an early feel where we stand in the conference and sectionals.”