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Can area wrestlers rise to challenge?

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Most wrestlers are like the rest of us. They worry.

That usually is apparent near the scales when opposing wrestlers weigh in. A 138-pound kid glances across the room and sees a guy who has bulging biceps and tree-trunk legs.

The 138-pounder whispers to his teammate. “That’s my guy isn’t it? Oh man, that’s my guy.”

Inevitably, the 138-pounder is looking at a 170-pounder from the other team. It’s just before the match that a wrestler’s mind tends to switch into “worst-case scenario” mode.

All those fears, worries and demons bubble to the surface the farther a wrestler goes in a bid to make the high school state tournament. Worse yet, that guy across the room with the Popeye arms, he really is in your weight class.

The ability to handle those nerves, and to wrestle smart once the match actually begins, plays a key role now that just about everyone on the mat has exceptional talent.

Although our area had a down year in 2013, sending just one wrestler (Columbus East’s Dalton Noblitt) to the state tournament, 2014 figures to be better. But how our local wrestlers handle the pressure of such a big moment at the semistate tournament at the Ford Center in Evansville on Saturday (wrestling begins at 10 a.m.) will go a long way in determining whether they can reach the state meet. Wrestlers have to win their first two matches to qualify.

Here is a look at the weight classes:

106 pounds — Brown County freshman Evan Bullock (29-4) has a lot of talent, and this experience should help him to an outstanding high school career. He is well-matched in the opening round against Jasper’s Dillon Hurst (29-7) but a second-round match looms against Mount Vernon’s Paul Konrath (41-2). Bullock lost his final two regional matches, and that points to the fact he might not quite be ready for the elite level.

113 pounds — Another Eagle is here, senior Austin Ely (27-1). Ely has had a tremendous season, and he is a flat-out stud. He has by far the best record in his quarter of the bracket and seems like a good bet to negotiate the first two rounds. I would be surprised if Ely doesn’t qualify for the state meet. If he does win the first two, he will likely meet Evansville Reitz’ Tyler Ferguson (50-0) in the semifinals.

120 pounds — Brown County’s Austin Walsh, a sophomore with a 14-4 record, is the entry here. He probably isn’t quite slick enough for this level, but he has a world of potential and knows what it takes to battle back late in a match. Should be good experience for him.

126 pounds — Columbus North senior Cody Speaker (25-12) likely will close out his excellent high school career Saturday. He will be a big underdog, first to Jasper’s Nathan Schitler (12-1), so he has nothing to lose. He has given North fans a lot of thrills along the way.

132 pounds — Noblitt (37-5) has put himself in a tough spot by not taking care of business in the regional and finishing third. Even so, he still looks to be the class of his quarter bracket, which includes his first-round opponent Avon’s Nick Etienne (26-6) along with Mater Dei’s Blake Jourdan (27-4) and Washington’s Edgardo Meza (6-3). This is Noblitt’s senior season, and he has done a tremendous amount of work to get to this level, so I expect him to find a way to get through his first two rounds and qualify for the state tournament once again.

138 pounds — Jennings County sophomore Ethan Herrin (38-2) is an incredible talent and a pure joy to watch wrestle. He is aggressive and keeps tremendous pressure on his opponents. Of all the area wrestlers, Herrin, in my opinion, has the best shot winning a state championship down the road. Unfortunately, he is going to have a hard time even getting to the state meet on Saturday. I expect him to handle Washington’s Isaac Drew (23-9) in the first round, but he could get Center Grove’s Tyler Fleener in the second round. Fleener is just 15-4 this season, but he placed seventh at the state meet a year ago. Even so, I wouldn’t be shocked if Herrin’s pulls the upset.

145 pounds — Seymour senior Matthew Ruddick (32-4) relies on his strength to overpower his opponents and at this level, we’re going to find out if his technique is sharp enough to get him to the state meet. Ruddick often gets himself out of jams with his strength, and if he gives these elite wrestlers an opportunity to lock him up, they will. He’s got a good draw, facing Northview’s Jacob Hendrich (27-14) in the opening round, so he might just get it done.

152 pounds — Like Ruddick, Columbus North senior Andrew Jones (32-6) has exceptional strength and athletic ability. He exposes his shoulders to the mat a little too much for my liking, but he has captured a solid draw after winning the regional and could win his opening two matches. Probably a little too sloppy to win a title in Evansville, but a state meet appearance would not be a surprise.

160 pounds — Jennings County senior Gabe Wilson (33-6) would love to cap his senior season with a state meet appearance, but he has landed a tough spot. A second-round match against Edgewood’s Gabe Koontz (38-2) looms. Wilson did have a tough region, though, and he gave Madison’s Jordan Partee (48-0) all he could handle.

170 pounds — Columbus East senior Jimmy Fisher (33-7) did himself a world of good winning his regional. His toughest competition in his quarter bracket figures to be Castle’s Turner Lockyear (36-4), who was pinned by Heritage Hills’ Jake Rickenbaugh (50-0) in the Castle Regional final. Rickenbaugh was seeded in the opposite half of the bracket. Fisher faces Greenwood’s Jonathan Schrader, whom he already has beaten, in the opening round. After losing an overtime match in the second round of semistates a year ago, it appears this could be Fisher’s moment.

182 pounds — How do you figure out Columbus North’s Luke Teague (28-8), who looks like a completely different wrestler than he was a month ago. All the little mistakes he was making appear to be gone, and he obviously has saved his best for last. He will need it. Teague gets Mater Dei’s Sam Bassemier (25-6) in the opening round and then has a probable match against Southridge’s Andy Fischer (46-1). Fischer has the far better record, but don’t count out Teague, who has risen to the occasion on both the wrestling mat and the football field.

195 pounds — Columbus East sophomore Quade Greiwe (19-11) and Jennings County sophomore Christian Redmond (25-9) both have bright futures, but Saturday should serve more for experience than anything. It would be a huge upset for either to get through the first two rounds.

220 pounds — Jennings County senior Colton Castetter (39-1) is the class of his quarter bracket and the area’s best bet to earn a state tournament berth. He has wrestled smart all year and he seldom puts himself at risk with silly moves.

285 pounds — Columbus North senior Kenny King (28-17) is a battler who did well to qualify for the semistate tournament. He has a first-round match against Ben Davis junior Norman Oglesby (36-1), so it doesn’t look good. With the big guys, though, you never know.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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