It was only fitting on Saturday that Northview's wrestling team earned a another chance to compete as a team.
It has been a team-first mentality that has honed these wrestlers into the competitors that took the mat on Saturday in the sectional and who, with a second place team score, will advance to the Seymour Regional as a group. The season has been tough in stretches as injuries have forced the team to scramble, and band together for victories.
Saturday was no different.
The Knights put 11 wrestlers in the top four spots that will advance them to the regional level on Saturday for the individual regionals at Bloomington South. Five Northview wrestlers made the championship match and two, Chris Craft and Chris Dean, were crowned champions. The cumulative effort of everyone on the team whether they competed Saturday or not, was what earned the school their first team regional berth since the current postseason setup was implemented nine years ago.
"I've preached all year that it takes a team to build a champion," commented head coach Dan Mikesell. "I think the kids are really beginning to buy into that. Our kids have bought into what hard work can really do."
That hard work was on full display throughout the day, but was spotlighted in the finals by a freshman and a senior.
Chris Dean had scrapped and battled his way to the championship with a first round fall and a major decision in the semifinals to square off with Terre Haute North's Michael Borgnini, the state's 16th-ranked wrestler at 145 pounds.
Dean fell behind early by a 2-0 count after a Borgnini takedown, but rallied quickly back to go up 6-3 through the first period. Dean would trade takedowns and escapes to lead 8-5 through two periods, but Borgnini tied the score in the waning moments, but Dean scrambled free for a late escape to win 10-9.
Afterwards, an obviously winded senior had a moment to enjoy a satisfying reward to a bit of a frustrating season shortened by injury.
"I was a little unconditioned today," admitted Dean who competed in just his 12th match of the year. "(Borgnini) is a good wrestler and I was able to hold on with everything I had. I was kind of down a little bit (while injured), but this is really great for the self esteem."
The victory had to be especially sweet after finishing second last year to Bloomington South's Kurt Kinser who was the state runnerup. Dean is a perfect 10-0 on the season in matches that he has completed.
According to freshman Chris Craft, he had plenty to prove on Saturday as he began his first quest into the postseason.
"You've got to win so you can get a good draw (in the regional)," commented Craft. "My older brother has done it before and placed eighth in the state. Those are some big shoes to fill."
Craft's step brother is Austin Staley, a 2004 graduate of Northview who won 40 matches on his way to Conseco Fieldhouse two years ago.
Craft followed nicely in his brother's footsteps Saturday by wrestling his way to an 11-4 lead in the third period before rolling Shane McNeeley onto his back for a fall just before the final horn.
"I knew if I wrestled my best that I could win," said Craft. "It's all started in practice, this is a great team."
Mikesell agreed with Craft's thoughts, that the team's success all starts with the work done everyday after school.
"Today Chris was really ready to go. That was the Chris Craft that I know out there on the mat. He's got a lot of guys who practice with him. Cory (Grigsby, a 2005 grad and a state finalist as well) works with him everyday. A lot of the credit goes those guys that practice against him everyday."
Senior Brian Walden is a prime example of what that work ethic can do.
The first year wrestler lost by fall to Bloomington South's Tyler Grubb in a dual match early this season, but reversed the tables at the sectional level by pinning the Panther heavyweight in 1:25. Though he lost to Richie Hammond in the finals, Walden has still won five of his last seven matches and earned a regional berth.
"Brian has figured out mental toughness and what it takes to win," said Mikesell.
Sophomore Zach Stultz also had a big meet for the Knights, earning an emotional 3-2 decision over Chase Snodgrass, a regional qualifier last year, in the semifinals. Stultz's win was even bigger since it came on the heels of a loss to Snodgrass a week ago at the WIC meet. Stultz was the sectional runnerup at will be representing the Knights in regional competition as well.
Greg Stultz also made an appearance in the championship match but came up short in a rematch against Owen Valley's Mike Moore, but could get another shot at the next level.
After the mat's had cooled down, Mikesell shared some thoughts on his team's effort on Saturday.
"Ultimately your goal is to advance," commented Mikesell. "I was really proud of Rob Pasalich, the way he refocused after losing in the semifinals and working his way back for third and it was really big for Tommy Herr-Smith to pin the South kid (Chris Duncan). I was disappointed for Brian Griffen. He really works so hard."
The Knights also got big third place finishes from Josh Longo, Brandon Hathaway and Rob Pasalich to propel them to regional competition, a step Mikesell feels is part of a winning process.
"I hope what we're doing is building a winning attitude. That's the key. I know we had a lot of middle school kids here and it's great for them to be a part of this."