INDIANAPOLIS — Columbus East had never had a individual wrestling state champion before this year’s state finals, and had five cracks at getting one.
Sophomore Cayden Rooks was the last Olympian out of the five and wrestled his way into the Olympians’ history books. It was not an easy road, however, as an early injury to Rooks in the beginning of the match left him with a 2-0 deficit against Brownsburg’s No. 1-ranked Ty Mills.
It did not get any easier for Rooks as he found himself down 3-1 in the 120-pound final, but he scored a two-point takedown to tie the match in the final period.
Mills was not about to go quietly, however, and took a 4-3 lead with 36 seconds left before Rooks scored another two points in the closing moments to earn a 5-4 decision, and a state championship.
“It’s just amazing,” East coach Chris Cooper said. “I knew if we could push the pace early on and just stay on him, close space and not let the kid breathe, our conditioning level would come out in the end.”
East came into the state finals with five wrestlers who have been competing with each other since they were 6 years old.
Junior Dawson Combest (132 pounds), Cayden Rooks and his older brother, junior Graham Rooks (126 pounds) all finished in first place at the semistate and were looking to do the same in the state finals. However, both Combest and Graham Rooks lost in the semifinal round.
Combest earned a third-place finish after beating Evansville Mater Dei’s Kyle Luigs in a 5-3 overtime match. Graham Rooks finished in fourth for the second consecutive year after losing a hard-fought 1-0 match to Coylin Poynter of Portage.
“One of my coaches, right before the match, said to me if you have a competitive spirit, you’ll never quit, you’ll never lay down,” Combest said.
“That really sunk in with me,” he said. “You always have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be able to give it your all.”
Combest kept that in his mind when he found himself on bottom with 12 seconds left, down by one. He capitalized on a break he saw to tie the match, which pushed it into overtime.
East junior Corban Pollitt, who placed third at 145 pounds in the semifinal round, lost his first match on Friday night. East’s fifth wrestler in state competition, Jake Schoenegee at 138 pounds, also lost his first match of the state finals.
Graham Rooks said coming up short of a state title while being able to witness his younger brother win one will only fuel the fire for next year.
“Seeing my brother win is awesome,” Graham Rooks said. “For the other guys to be here, that’s awesome, as well. Everything we’ve worked on since we were 6 and 7 years old, training to be here and winning state titles. Obviously, that didn’t get done, but my brother did.”
The Olympians will be getting all five wrestlers back next year, and four of them will still be searching for their first state title. Cooper said having the other four guys take a loss is tough in the moment, but he is proud of the work they put in, he said.
“When you reflect on the entire season, those four guys had phenomenal seasons,” Cooper said. “Just big wins after big wins, and they put themselves in a position to be among the state’s best. I’m just so proud of that.”