Warren Central's Tristen Tonte gets last shot at wrestling title

Warren Central's Tristen Tonte gets last shot at wrestling title

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Warren Central's Tristen Tonte gets last shot at wrestling title

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Warren Central High School's Tristen Tonte works towards a pin of New Palestine High School's Landan Burton in the 195-pound weight class during the championship match of a IHSAA Sectional Wrestling Tournament at Shelbyville High School, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.

Warren Central High School’s Tristen Tonte works towards a pin of New Palestine High School’s Landan Burton in the 195-pound weight class during the championship match of a IHSAA Sectional Wrestling Tournament at Shelbyville High School, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.

Tristen Tonte isn’t fooling anyone. He knows 2016 was his best chance at winning a state wrestling title, and he doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge the tougher competition he faces in this year’s finals bracket.

But in his preparation, Tonte avoids talking about it as much as he can. The Warren Central senior is not lacking confidence, but rather lives by a quote his mom repeats to him: “Pray about it twice as much as you talk about it.”

“I’m not super religious, but I feel like that might be what I need at this point, being there so many times and not coming away with it,” Tonte said. “I’ve always prayed before my matches for safety, but I’m praying a little bit more now, a little bit more often, trying to talk about it less.”

Tonte doesn’t need a state wrestling title to dictate his future, which starts on the football field at Marian next fall. Football is, after all, his biggest love. But Tonte has spent almost every one of his 18 years on and around the mats. His dad, Jim, used to bring him out onto the mats as a baby and put on a show of his son pinning him.

A young Tristen Tonte poses for a photo in 2003.

A young Tristen Tonte poses for a photo in 2003.

Some of his best memories are tied to wrestling, but also one of his worst.

Jim Tonte made a tough call earlier in 2015 when he decided to accept a job coaching wrestling at Warren Central after spending nearly two decades in the same post at Perry Meridian. He knew moving to Warren Central, in part, would help give Tristen a better opportunity in rising to the collegiate level in football, but he also knew some people at Perry would feel betrayed.

At the time, Jim Tonte said the only thing tougher he ever did in his life was bury both of his parents. His answer has changed after last year’s state finals.

Warren Central's Tristen Tonte (17) rushes the ball upfield and into the end zone to score during the second half of the game. Warren Central High School hosted Carmel High School in IHSAA varsity football action, Friday, October 7, 2016. Warren Central won 40-30.

Warren Central’s Tristen Tonte (17) rushes the ball upfield and into the end zone to score during the second half of the game. Warren Central High School hosted Carmel High School in IHSAA varsity football action, Friday, October 7, 2016. Warren Central won 40-30.

The booing started when Tristen’s name was announced before his state title bout. Someone in the stands threw a quarter that plunked him in the head once he stepped out onto the mat. Tonte tried not to let the noise faze him as he squared off against Lake Central’s Jake Kleimola, but the pressure was making it harder to breathe as he took a 5-0 advantage.

Then, Tonte began having a panic attack. He took an injury timeout to recuperate, but the momentum was gone. He lost the match 9-5 and, with it, his best chance at claiming a state title. All the while, the hateful tweets and online comments kept pouring in, telling Tonte he deserved to lose.

“I probably struggled more than anyone,” Jim Tonte said about the weeks that followed, after Warren Central ran away with its first state team title since 1980. “My wife talked me off a cliff a few times.

“We kind of walked around in a daze for about a month. Even though we were state champions and I was very proud of all the kids for what happened, inside it was very tough to mask the feelings I had for what was going on for my son.”

Tristen Tonte didn’t break, though, even when it might have been tempting to focus exclusively on football. Instead, he pushed his fitness further than in previous years with the support of his family behind him.

Practicing escape techniques in the wrestling room after school, Tonte is a deceptive 195 pounds and maintains the look of a power running back. More than ever, his confidence is intact. Some comes from trusting his abilities. The rest comes in accepting the finality, knowing he has done everything he can for one more crack at a state title.

“You’re not a human if you’re not anxious and worried, but I’m ready to accept the challenge and attack it,” Tonte said. “This is my last season of wrestling, so the way I’m looking at it is I have four matches for the rest of my life, and I just want to give it everything I have and go for the title.”

Other things to watch for the state finals

• Brownsburg favorites to win team title: Darrick Snyder’s program has a tournament-high eight qualifiers, four ranked at the top of their weight classes. Top-ranked wrestlers Ty Mills (120), Blake Mulkey (126), Brayton Lee (145), Nathan Walton (182) have a collective four losses between them.

• Avon sophomore Asa Garcia aims for second title: As a freshman, Garcia warred his way to 39 wins and the 2016 title at 106 pounds. Since then, he has won 38 straight matches and brings an undefeated record into the first day of state finals, looking to nabbed another title at 113.

• Cathedral, Avon and Perry Meridian all in the hunt: While a cluster of other schools around the state bring five or more qualifiers into Friday, Cathedral (7), Avon (5) and Perry Meridian (5) stand the best chance of upsetting Brownsburg. Three of Cathedral’s seven qualifiers have lost just one match all season.

Follow IndyStar reporter Jordan J. Wilson on Twitter: @Wilsonable07.

IF YOU GO

What: IHSAA wrestling state finals.

When: First round begins at 6 p.m. Friday; Quarterfinals at 9:30 a.m. Saturday; Finals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 

Admission: $8 per session, $20 for both days.

Warren Central's Tristen Tonte, works on a pin of Dakari Kenney of Pike, at 195 pounds, IHSAA Wrestling Regional, from Perry Meridian High School Feb. 4, 2017.

Warren Central’s Tristen Tonte, works on a pin of Dakari Kenney of Pike, at 195 pounds, IHSAA Wrestling Regional, from Perry Meridian High School Feb. 4, 2017.

Tristen Tonte of Warren Central, pulls down second place finisher Dakari Kenney of Pike, at 195 pounds, IHSAA Wrestling Regional, from Perry Meridian High School, Feb. 4, 2017.

Tristen Tonte of Warren Central, pulls down second place finisher Dakari Kenney of Pike, at 195 pounds, IHSAA Wrestling Regional, from Perry Meridian High School, Feb. 4, 2017.

Warren Central senior Tristen Tonte (17) celebrates scoring a touchdown against Carmel, Oct. 7, 2016.

Warren Central senior Tristen Tonte (17) celebrates scoring a touchdown against Carmel, Oct. 7, 2016.

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