The “getting-mat-experience” part of the wrestling season is over.
Now it’s time to put that experience to the test and crown conference champions this Saturday at Hagerstown and New Castle.
Hagerstown hosts this year’s installment of the Tri-Eastern Conference tournament, while Richmond travels to the New Castle Fieldhouse for the North Central Conference tourney.
“This part of the year is why you’ve been practicing all the time, and this is the fun part. You get to see kids, you get to see it pay off for them,” Centerville coach Mike Day said after his team defeated last year’s TEC champion Union County in a dual meet.
Winchester also knocked off the Patriots in a tight battle earlier this season, but UC has dealt with forfeits from injuries, illness and ineligibility this season.
But to Union County head coach Dan Briggs, everything leading up to tournaments like this weekend is preparation, and he expects his team to be at full strength and contend for the title. The Patriots had a place-winner in every weight class a year ago to edge second-place Union City 214-201.
“Winchester, we gave them quite a few forfeits and they barely beat us, so at this point, forfeits are killing us in the dual-meet format, so when it comes to tournaments, a lot of things can change,” Briggs said. “Union City can do some damage. It will come down to if every kid places. If I can get every kid to place, we can be near the top. That’s why we won last year. Every single kid I entered placed in the top four, so that will be the expectation this year as well.”
Returning Patriot placers include 132-pound senior Austin Fuller, who tries to win his fourth straight conference title, along with reigning champion Drew Deilkes (285), second-place finishers Cole Bowers (120), Brian Mathews (170) and third-place finishers Daniel McClurg (113), Hunter Hartman (145) and Wyatt Krom (160).
Winchester was third last season, Hagerstown fourth, Centerville fifth, Tri High sixth, Lincoln seventh and Northeastern eighth.
The Falcons won three of the past five (2011, 2009, 2008), while the Pats took the other two (2012, 2010).
Centerville won in 2006 and 2007.
Hagerstown also put up a strong showing earlier this month, rallying from a tough deficit to win the inaugural Wayne County tournament over Centerville, and could be in contention.
Christian Cox (138), Alex Cox (160), Josh Wilson (170), J.J. Dailey (182) and Gabe Cox (220) won weight-class championships there for the Tigers, while Luke Markley (106), Alston Jenkinson (113), Isaiah Michaels (120), Dakota Tipton (126) and Enrique Calderon (195) won for Centerville.
Mitchell Burelson of Centerville and Tyler Scholl of Hagerstown shared the 132-pound title.
“We’re excited where we’re headed and we have a great group of kids,” Hagerstown coach Tom Drake said. “We have great assistant coaches and we’re starting to become a family, where we care about each other and we support each other. As long as we’re a family, we’re going to be OK.”
Lincoln and Northeastern have struggled with numbers and might not contend for a team title, but both return individual champions from 2012.
Cody Handley (145) has three TEC titles under his belt, along with a No. 6 state ranking.
Handley’s teammate Austin Finney (152) is a reigning champion, as is Lincoln’s Aaron Isaacs (106). Austin Shank finished second last year at 220 and earned the heavyweight Wayne County title.
At New Castle, Richmond also features a state-ranked wrestler in semistate-qualifying heavyweight Nate Trawick.
Trawick is ranked No. 13 at 285 and brings a 24-4 record to New Castle.
Trawick and Titus Twine (138) both placed second at the Connersville Spartan Classic earlier this season and Seth Gray (132) is a returning NCC champion.
“At this point in the season, I think everybody is clicking together,” Trawick said recently. “Some of the younger guys are picking up everything and getting more confident in themselves.”
Hank Gross (170) placed third at 152 last year, while Brent Weireter (195) and Trawick placed fourth.
Kokomo is the reigning champion, Huntington North was second, Logansport third, Richmond fourth and New Castle fifth.
The Trojans have the most titles in history with 20. Richmond has six and last won in 1988.
The Red Devils are coming off a break between meets, having hosted their own invitational Jan. 4-5.
Richmond went 5-0 in duals the tournament’s second day.
“It’s good for the kids. They get a feel of what a two-day weigh-in and the whole event is,” RHS coach Jeremy Bane said. “It’s definitely very important for kids to get that experience and understand what it is to have enough in you to have the energy, but also be able to control the weight and wrestle back-to-back days against good people.”