Northview senior Austin Staley has won 39 wrestling matches this season. There have been some easier than others, still others that have taken an extra session, sometimes two. He's won countless matches in his career for the Knights and during offseason competition, but he's never reached the grandest stage of high school wrestling.
Until this season that is.
With three victories last Saturday, two that took double-overtime, Staley won the Evansville Reitz Semistate title at 130-pounds and will compete in the Indiana State High School Wrestling Finals beginning Friday evening at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Staley also became the first wrestling semistate champion in school history and the first for coach Dan Mikesell who took over the top spot for the Knights this season.
"Austin put a lot of faith in me this season," commented Mikesell. "He believed in what I was teaching and that made me feel good."
The transition for many of Northview's wrestlers was eased by the fact that many, including Staley, played for Mikesell on the Knight's football team in the Fall.
"(Coaching the players in football) helped a lot," said Mikesell, the team's defensive coordinator. "Working with (Doug) Porter, (Tony) Sanabria, Jeremiah (Allen), Cory Grigsby. I think the sports complement each other well."
The path to the state finals certainly hasn't been easy and started months ago with early morning running, workouts and offseason wrestling for Staley.
"I did a lot of running during the offseason before football workouts," commented Staley. "I came and worked on wrestling with Coach (Mikesell) two-three days a week and lifted all year round."
Those workouts helped lead Staley and several of his multi-sport teammates to a successful football season under Head Coach George Gettle and Mikesell. But the biggest wins have come in a wrestling singlet for several Northview grapplers.
Porter, Sanabria, Allen, Grigsby and Staley all reached regional competition, while Grigsby and Staley advanced to semistate and Staley has reached the state finals.
"I think one of the biggest keys has been the Advanced Weightlifting class that we have here," noted Mikesell. "The class has allowed some of our kids to lift all year round and to keep getting stronger. The class really coincides well with wrestling because Austin (Staley) just maxed out last week and is peaking at the right time."
The conditioning level of Staley was certainly pressed in semistate competition as his quarterfinal match against Chad Woods of Whiteland and in the title match versus fourth-ranked Clint Happe of Evansville Memorial.
"It just shows you how hard work pays off," said Staley during practice on Wednesday afternoon. "(During the overtime matches) I was just thinking about how bad I wanted (the title). It was just a matter of who wanted it more."
Staley converted on both opportunities with 2-1 victories starting from the bottom position and escaping for wins.
"I definitely have a little more gray hair," Mikesell joked about the two sudden death semistate wins. "I told the parents before the season started that I will be out there winning or losing with these guys. There was definitely a part of me out there on that mat with Austin (Staley)."
Part of that close-knit team mentality has carried over to the postseason as teammates Grigsby and Derek Mroczek both were in the wrestling room helping Staley go through his workouts despite their personal seasons being finished.
Few people realize, literally, how much blood and sweat goes into practice and the dedication it takes to be as successful as many of the Northview wrestlers were this season. But it was apparent to anyone who might peak through the small window set into the door in the Northview wrestling room.
Inside Staley, Mroczek, Grigsby along with Coach Mikesell and Principal Ken Wallace continued to push ahead towards the pinnacle of the sport.
Staley will face Triton Central's Jarrett Mahurin (40-5) on Friday evening, the second time this season the two have met and the third overall.
Mahurin bested Staley earlier this season at the Westfield Tournament, 8-5, in a match that Staley admits wasn't his best. However, Staley picked up a 4-3 decision last season over Mahurin with Friday's rubber match looming with much more at stake.
"I didn't wrestle well against him earlier this year," said Staley. "But I've changed a lot over the season. I feel the best I've felt all year long."
Mikesell also believes Staley has a good chance at winning the rematch. "He just has to wrestle more aggressive. Austin's conditioning is really good, he's had some great practices this week and with the caliber of kids he's been beating lately, he's really coming on."
First round matches will take place beginning at 6 p.m. Friday night with second round matches beginning Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. in Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.