Chris Cooper remembers a time when only a few of his Columbus East wrestlers qualified for semistate, and how overwhelming it was for some of them.
Luckily for the Olympians, Cooper doesn’t have to worry about that this year since he has a school-record 13 qualifiers traveling to the Evansville Reitz Semistate. East will have the deepest team at the meet that starts at 10 a.m. EST Saturday at the Ford Center.
“In my opinion, it’s a massive, massive advantage,” Cooper said. “It’s just like another meet taking our entire team … If one of our guys is starting to feel overwhelmed, he’s got the support of all of his other teammates.”
The support factor may be the most important for juniors Jeremy Clark (113 pounds), Jacob Bolte (220) and Dalton Anderson (285) and sophomore Noah White (106) who all are making their first semistate appearance. Clark, Bolte and Anderson all claimed regional titles, while White earned a fourth-place finish. Nate John, who just started wrestling in November, also will be moving on after placing third at 106.
The other eight wrestlers have all qualified at least once in the past, including multiple state finalists in No. 1-ranked Graham Rooks (132), No. 3 Dawson Combest (138) and the school’s first individual state title holder in last year’s 120-pound champion, No. 2 Cayden Rooks (126).
No. 6 Jake Schoenegge (145) and Corban Pollitt (152) advanced to the first round of last year’s state competition and will be looking to go even further this season. Other semistate qualifiers for East are Joey Gordon (120), No. 5 Nick South (160) and Andy Davidson (170).
“They (first-year qualifiers) have someone that they can talk to about how this is going to go,” Cooper said. “It’s not like it’s new for the Rooks’ or Combest or Pollitt or the other guys. They’ve been there before. They can get that calming sense from those guys, where if you’re only taking three or four guys and none of them have been there before, that’s a totally different story.”
Clark, Bolte and Anderson all were knocked out of the first round of last year’s regional, and said it was a goal to make sure to at least qualify for semistate this season. They worked in the Olympians’ offseason program to get more experience on the mat before the regular season started. Clark said learned a lot of technique, and his trip to compete in Florida also helped him get to where he is.
Now that they’ve made it to the semistate, they are looking to continue on to the state competition in hopes of helping East reach its ultimate goal of a team state title.
“I’ve had that dream to go to state since I started wrestling,” Bolte said. “I think it’d be everything to make it to state.”
Cooper planted the goal of a team state title into the minds of his wrestlers since the season started, and having 13 semistate qualifiers shows how they have responded to the challenge.
“It’s just the result of these guys willing to get better every day,” Cooper said. “They put the time in, the work in. In the offseason, all these guys wrestle all of the time. We probably get a full season worth of matches in the offseason and use that to improve.”
When: 10 a.m. EST/9 a.m. CST Saturday
Where: Ford Center, Evansville
Admission: $10 for all day, of $8 for final session only
Area wrestlers competing
106: Morgan Smith (Columbus North); Nate John (Columbus East); Teagan Johnson (Jennings County)
113: Jeremy Clark (CE); David Tucker (Brown County)
120: Victor Antunez (JC); Joey Gordon (CE)
126: Cayden Rooks (CE); Keandre Watson (CN); Xavier Barberis (JC)
132: Graham Rooks (CE); Dalton Craig (JC)
138: Dawson Combest (CE)
145: Jake Schoenegge (CE)
152: Corban Pollitt (CE); Brooks Wathen (JC)
160: Nick South, Columbus East (CE)
170: Zane Beineke (JC); Brigham Kleinhenz (CN); Andy Davidson (CE)
182: Noah White (CE)
195: Levi Mullins (BC)
220: Jacob Bolte (CE); Bradley Gutierrez (CN)
285: Dalton Anderson (CE)