Mighty mites

They all played football as kids but soon realized their size wasn’t conducive to being great on the gridiron.

With that in mind, Graham and Cayden Rooks, Dawson Combest and Jake Schoenegge found another sport where they could compete against kids their own size. And in wrestling, they’ve been dominant for Columbus East this season.

“We all used to play football back in the day, but then we all kind of quit because we were little kids there,” said Schoenegge, a sophomore 113-pounder. “We just all drifted toward wrestling.”

That’s been a big reason why the Olympians are 15-1 in dual meets this season and are ranked No. 10 in IndianaMat’s power poll. They’ll begin the road to the state finals Saturday in the Jennings County Sectional.

“We’ve been doing wrestling for our whole lives, and I just liked wrestling a lot more than all the other sports I’ve played,” said freshman Cayden Rooks, who is ranked No. 1 in the state at 106 pounds. “Being small kind of has an effect on other sports we do, but in wrestling it doesn’t matter. Everybody else is your size.”

East coach Chris Cooper realizes that about his lightest quartet, which has a combined record of 118-10 this season.

“They’re hard-nosed kids, too, so wrestling really fits their personality,” Cooper said. “Just the fact that they’re lighter guys, it allows them to compete against guys their own size.”

Graham Rooks finished third in the state at 106 as a freshman last season. This year, he’s bumped up to 120, where he is 30-2 and ranked No. 3.

The sophomore hopes to build on last year’s state finals experience.

“We’ve been to tournaments all over the country, and realizing that it’s not really different makes it a lot better coming back this year,” Graham Rooks said.

His brother, who is 30-1 overall and undefeated against in-state opponents, agrees.

“We’ve been through things like this before with big tournaments,” Cayden Rooks said. “It doesn’t really change.”

Combest just missed a trip to state as a freshman last season, losing in the semistate quarterfinals — the “ticket round” — at 113 pounds. He’s bumped up to 126, where he is 30-3 this year.

Combest and Schoenegge, who is 28-4, have both been ranked at times this season.

“Especially at the lower weights, where there are also freshmen, we knew that we could do really good,” Schoenegge said.

Given their long history of wrestling, Cooper isn’t surprised by the success of his four lightest wrestlers.

“All of those guys have wrestled through elementary school and have traveled a lot and competed,” Cooper said. “That’s the group of guys that really love to wrestle, and it shows on the mat. We’ve seen it coming.”

Cayden and Graham Rooks and Combest are all top seeds in their weight classes for the sectional, while Schoenegge is seeded second behind Jennings’ Dalton Craig at 113. The top four in each class advance to next week’s Jeffersonville Regional.

The quartet also are focused on helping the Olympians get off to a strong start in their quest to win their first sectional team title since 2013. Jennings beat East in a dual meet and beat the Olympians by seven points in the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament.

“The last tournament was a pretty crucial loss,” Combest said. “It hit home a little hard. We should have won as a team.”

Combest laid out some lofty goals for the Olympians this postseason.

“We want to keep improving and win regional, then improve some more and win semistate and then improve a little bit more and hopefully win state,” Combest said.

If you go

Jennings County Sectional

When: 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Jennings County High School

Teams: Columbus East, Columbus North, Jennings County, Brown County, Greensburg, Madison, Scottsburg, Seymour, Southwestern (Hanover), Switzerland County

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.