East, North, Jennings wrestlers seeking state berths

Columbus North’s Keller DeSpain, in blue and white, wrestles Columbus East’s Tyler Lake for the 175-pound weight class sectional title during the IHSAA wrestling sectional at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind., Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. DeSpain defeated Lake to win the sectional title, but Lake topped DeSpain to win last week’s regional.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic

For 23 area wrestlers, the goal is simple — win two matches at Saturday’s Evansville Semistate and punch their ticket to the Wrestling State Finals.

Achieving that feat, however, won’t be so simple.

Seven of the top 13 teams in the final IndianaMat state dual rankings are in the Evansville Semistate. That includes Columbus East, which is ranked No. 13.

The top four among the 16 in each of the 14 weight classes qualify for next weekend’s state finals, which also will be at Evansville’s Ford Center this year.

“It’s going to be difficult, but I was telling the guys, the draw doesn’t matter,” East coach Chris Cooper said. “You come out and win that first match, and get to the ticket round, you’re 6 minutes away from getting to the state tournament.”

The Olympians, who won their ninth consecutive sectional and eighth straight regional titles, will have 10 wrestlers at semistate. Columbus North has nine entrants, and Jennings County has four.

Among those are seven regional champions — East sophomores Talon Jessup (ranked No. 8 at 106 pounds) and Caleb Cooper (No. 19 at 144) and seniors Nate Anderson (No. 25 at 150) and Tyler Lake (175) and North freshman Cohen Long (132), junior Justice Thornton (No. 13 at 138) and sophomore Asher Ratliff (No. 9 at 157).

“We had three champs at regional, and each one of them has a pretty good draw on the backside,” North coach Matt Joyce said. “I think in regards to Cohen and Asher, they’ve wrestled at least one of those (potential opponents) earlier in the season, but that was at the very beginning of the season. Both of those guys have come a long way. They’re both football guys, so they were getting themselves going, as far as wrestling goes. They’re really hitting their strides now. I think they’ll both have tough matches but I think they both have really good shots.”

Other Olympians who will be competing on Saturday are Ethan Poling (113), Gage Rutan (No. 21 at 126), Caleb Kirkpatrick (No. 22 at 138), Lincoln Cooper (157), Clayton Miller (165) and Colin McMahon (190).

“The biggest thing is, we don’t focus on rankings or records,” Chris Cooper said. “I was telling the guys, you look at a guy’s record, and some of that stuff is what happened to him in November, and that was a long time ago. We wrestle a tough schedule to put ourselves in position against the Brownsburgs and the Center Groves and Floyds and Terre Hautes and all these good teams that are down there. There’s a lot of situations where it’s rematches, and it’s just which team adjusted better. I think our kids buy into what we’re trying to do as a team, and it’s just a matter of putting together good matches.”

Joining the aforementioned trio for the Bull Dogs will be Nolan Riley (106), Josiah Green (144), Luke Spurgeon (150), Evan Saevre (165), Keller DeSpain (175) and Jose Ramirez (190).

“It’s tough,” Joyce said. “That’s just the Evansville Semistate in general. That second-round match will be tough in a lot of spots, but I think we have a good shot at getting a handful through.”

Jennings County will be represented by Luke Kirchner (120), Lane Kirchner (138), Xavior Gindhart (215) and Kamron Carney (285).