By Rich Torres
For the Republic
INDIANAPOLIS — Columbus East sophomore Cayden Rooks was unfazed by the pageantry.
The first-time state qualifier had more important things to focus on Friday night to open the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
First and foremost was winning. Then, of course, he had to set the pace, especially with his older brother, Graham on deck at 126 pounds.
“He makes me work really hard at practice,” Cayden Rooks remarked on his older brother’s influence. “He’s kind of frustrating sometimes, but he makes you better.”
In his first go-around in downtown Indianapolis, Cayden Rooks showed exactly how good he is, winning by decision 7-1 against New Castle’s Trevor Ragle (38-4) to advance into today’s medal rounds.
The third-ranked Rooks improved to 42-1 on the year and will face Wawasee’s Braxton Alexander (41-4) in the quarterfinals. Juniors Graham Rooks and Dawson Combest, also both “took care of business” under the spotlight of elimination night.
“The atmosphere here definitely changes with experience,” said junior Graham Rooks, who ranked second in the state by IndianaMat. “Freshman year, you’re getting use to the parade and everything. This year, for me, after sophomore year, this is just another match. You zone in more. You’re more focused.”
A two-time state placer in his career, Rooks pinned Garrett’s Dylan DeMarco (36-13) to move into his third straight state finals Saturday. As a freshman, Rooks placed third at 106 pounds. Last year, he was fourth at 120.
This weekend, he’s shooting for perfection at a flawless 43-0 and three matches remaining. Rooks will face ninth-ranked Adam Jerde (31-3) of Carmel in the quarterfinals.
“I haven’t really changed much in terms of the season,” Graham Rooks said. “I just do what I do every time, every match, and it’s worked so far. The goal is to win.”
Combest (43-1), who like the Rooks boys, won sectional, regional and semistate, and is now a two-time state-placer, won a 10-2 major decision on Friday night. The junior placed eighth at 126 pounds a year ago, and at 132 pounds, he guaranteed another state medal with his opening-round win against Adams Central’s Anthony Moser.
“We really want to make a statement,” Combest said. “We want to win.”
Unfortunately for the trio, they will need to move on without eighth-ranked sophomore Jake Schoenegge (38-8), who fell in sudden victory overtime 5-3 to Shenandoah’s Ryan Surguy (46-3) at 138. Junior Corban Pollitt (34-12) also lost in the first-round by decision 5-3 at 145.
“Winning three matches on Friday night of the state finals is a big deal,” Columbus East head coach Chris Cooper said. “There are no easy matches. There are a ton of good kids, and we were close with the two kids we didn’t get out. I’m extremely proud of all five. We have a lot to look forward to (today).”
Jennings County’s Brooks Wathen (43-8) lost by pin in 2:28 to end his season at 145, and Panther senior 285-pounder Brendan Sutton (26-6) lost by decision 9-3.