Whenever Twin Lakes junior Ian Metcalf hangs out with friend and teammate Blake Denton, he knows a wrestling match will soon follow.
It could happen in the hallway while passing to and from class. As Metcalf discovered a year ago, it could happen while waiting for his order at McDonald’s, during the Indians’ trip to the state finals.
Though Twin Lakes traditionally sends its entire team to the state finals, Denton was there the past two seasons to compete. He returns this weekend at 126 pounds, fueled by a single-minded obsession with the sport.
“We have all these classes together, and all he does is talk about wrestling,” said Fleming, who wrestles at 132 pounds and serves as Denton’s practice partner. “Every day: ‘You ready for practice?’ ‘You ready to wrestle?’ ‘I’ve got a new takedown to show you.’ He’s always got something about wrestling to tell me.”
That focus paid off last Saturday with a 2-1 victory over Crown Point’s Josh Fuqua in the Merrillville Semistate’s 126-pound championship match. Denton takes a 44-1 record into Friday’s opening round against Greenwood’s Bailey Schober, but win No. 45 is his only concern. In Denton’s previous two trips to state, he lost in the first round.
“Of course I’m a little nervous, but that’s just natural,” Denton said. “I’m more pumped up and ready to go than anything. I just need to stay focused and know what needs to get done and wrestle as hard as I can.”
Denton caught a taste of wrestling in fourth grade, moved up through the Twin Lakes junior high program and arrived as a varsity difference-maker. He compiled an 87-7 record over his first two seasons, advancing to state at 112 pounds as a freshman and 120 last season.
Yet something was missing from Denton’s accolades, and it drove him to make an even greater offseason commitment to Purdue’s Boiler Elite wrestling club and other ventures.
“From when he lost on Friday night last year, that kind of got to him,” Twin Lakes assistant coach Chris McWhirter said. “He wanted to make the next step and show everybody that he deserved to be mentioned along with the best in the state at his weight. All summer long and this past fall, his focus was getting down there and placing this time and doing better than he had in the past.”
Thanks to a year of maturity and physical development, Denton won his first 33 matches this season. He might still be unbeaten if he hadn’t approached his coaches the day before a dual match against Frankfort and asked to move up one weight class to wrestle Hot Dogs senior Hugo Perez.
“That part doesn’t really matter to me,” Denton said of jeopardizing his undefeated record. “I just wanted to get a good match and see where I was against that kind of competition.”
Perez, a two-time regional champion who will also wrestle at state this weekend, recorded a 7-5 victory. Yet Denton said it was worth it for the lessons learned, including the importance of maintaining correct position throughout the match.
“Obviously you want to win and things like that, but I think he just wants to wrestle,” said Ken Houston, in his third decade as Twin Lakes’ head coach.
During open mats over winter break, the coaches say the other wrestlers laced up their tennis shoes to run. Denton, on the other hand, put on his wrestling shoes and began circulating the room and pulling teammates out to spar.
Sometimes that energy spills over away from the mat. Shortly after finishing a 2-1 decision over Fuqua in the Merrillville final, Denton leaped into Houston’s arms in the corner of the gym.
“I felt like everything that went up to that point so far went pretty much exactly how I wanted it to,” said Denton, who has already imagined what a state championship might feel like.
“It’s pretty much like that, but more.”