By KEVIN HARRIS
Jeffersonville senior wrestler Gavan Jolley-Little has battled all season to earn second consecutive trip to this weekend’s IHSAA State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Now, he is focused on battling his way to a state championship.
Jolley-Little (44-2) will begin his title quest tonight as he faces Muncie Central senior Darrius Connell (35-4) in the opening round of the 285-pound division. Connell earned his state finals berth last Saturday by finishing second in the heavyweight division at the Fort Wayne Snider Semistate.
It will be the first time Jolley-Little has faced Connell.
“You never want to underestimate somebody, but I’m going to go out and wrestle my match,” Jolley-Little said. “I think I have a pretty good draw. I really wasn’t worried what my draw was. My main goal is state champ, so I’m going to have to beat whoever is in front of me to win state.”
Jolley-Little hopes to have a better performance in the opening round of the state finals than he did last season in his first state trip. Last year, Jolley-Little got pinned by Indianapolis Cathedral’s Wesley Bernard at the 3:22 mark in the first round. Bernard proceeded to finish third.
Jolley-Little says he is more prepared this year to handle the state finals atmosphere.
“I’m definitely going to be much more focused on the wrestling and not the surroundings this year. [Last year’s loss] is going to give me more drive and motivation to make it out of that first round and get to the [next] round,” Jolley-Little said. “My main goal is to win my first-round match and then just take it match by match. I’ll have a game plan for each opponent, and I’ll just stick to my game plan like always.”
If Jolley-Little defeats Connell tonight, the Red Devil grappler most likely will face Merrillville sophomore Shawn Streck (41-1) in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Streck was seventh in last year’s state finals at heavyweight.
If he advances to the semifinals, Jolley-Little could have a rematch with Bernard. The Cathedral senior enters state with a perfect 45-0 record.
“He wouldn’t be the first kid that lost a match [in the semistate] and then won state,” Red Devils’ coach Danny Struck said about Jolley-Little. “That’s his goal going into it. Hopefully, he’ll be our first state champ since 1999.”
Jolley-Little has had a productive postseason. He won his third consecutive sectional title on Feb. 1 at Jeff, followed by his second straight regional championship a week later at Johnson Arena.
Jolley-Little finished third at last weekend’s Evansville Reitz Semistate. After losing a hard-fought, double-overtime semifinal to Indianapolis Ben Davis junior Norman Oglesby, he bounced back to win the third-place match against Bloomington South senior Guss Dajani by a 1-0 decision.
“I feel like I have had the best postseason that I’ve ever had,” Jolley-Little said. “I felt like I wrestled really, really well at semistate. I stuck 100 percent to my game plan.”
Throughout the 2013-14 season, Jolley-Little has been motivated to perform well after his father, Torris Little, passed away last March.
Struck said the inspiration that Jolley-Little has gotten from his father’s passing came into play in last week’s third-place match. The Jeff standout was on his stomach late in the match, but he found a way to pull out the victory.
“He said, ‘I felt my dad pull me up’ — that was his first words off the mat,” Struck said. “His dad does give him motivation.”
Jolley-Little thinks a state championship would be the ultimate way to honor his father.
“It would mean a lot,” Jolley-Little said. “It’s always been a goal since I’ve been in high school. I feel like this is the year that I have the best chance to do it. I want to go out with a bang and get the title this year.
“I just need to stick to my go-to moves and high-percentage moves. I just need to wrestle smart and be confident in my moves and be committed when I take shots.”
NEW WASH’S FRANKLIN TO MAKE FIRST TRIP TO STATE
New Washington wrestler Noah Franklin has had a postseason that most freshmen only dream about.
The 106-pound Mustang grappler won his first-ever sectional and regional championships. Last weekend at the Reitz Semistate, Franklin (37-4) finished fourth to earn his first state finals berth.
Franklin joins former New Washington standout and current Wabash College senior wrestler Josh Sampson as the only two Mustangs to qualify for state in program history.
New Washington coach Jeremy Campbell credits Franklin’s work ethic for enabling him to make the state finals.
“The kid has his own workout routine. He gets up in the morning and works, and he stays late at night and works,” Campbell said. “I’ve never counted Noah out at all this season. Noah has always had the ability.”
Struck says Franklin is a by-product of the guidance given by Campbell.
“Coach Campbell definitely has his kids ready. They’re very disciplined. When we wrestle a New Wash kid, we always say they’re going to be disciplined,” Struck said. “We’ve gotten to know quite a few of the New Washington kids because they come up here for our Team Jeff College Night [including Franklin]. They work hard. They’re not scared to wrestle other people from other schools.
“[Franklin] is a really hard worker. He’s one of those wrestlers who takes advantage of his wrestling opportunities in the area.”
On paper, Franklin has a challenging first-round match tonight as he will face undefeated Cathedral freshman Breyden Bailey (44-0). But Campbell expects Franklin to be very competitive against the Fighting Irish standout.
“He’s ready to wrestle — he’s excited,” Campbell said. “There are no gimmes at state. The best kid for six minutes is the one that wins.”