By CAREY FOX
Times Sports Editor
The sport of wrestling is a test of mettle and dedication that is a near, year-long battle for the top athletes.
On Saturday, the four-week journey begins for the IHSAA State Finals in Conseco Fieldhouse as, state-wide, grapplers hit the mats for round one in sectional competition.
Northview High School plays host to nine schools in Sectional 27 with competition scheduled for 10 a.m. The top-four place winners advance to the individual regional with the top team moving on to the Greencastle Regional on Wednesday evening.
The host Knights are the defending team champion and have four wrestlers on this year's squad that advanced past the sectional. For coach Dan Mikesell and his team, last year's experience of coming out on top has provided the fuel to remain there despite the rigors of a tough season.
"We know what it takes to win a sectional both individually and as a team," Mikesell said. "The snow days this week put a wrench in our training plans, but they did the same for the other teams as well. So, that is not going to be an excuse for anyone. We have worked on our problem areas of technique all year and hopefully we can be at our best this week."
The Knights are plenty familiar with a couple of the favorites for the team title in Bloomington South and Edgewood. Northview lost in dual matches to each school this season, but are looking to reverse some of the individual results of those matches to gain valuable team points.
One aspect in the Knights' favor is the return of the team's lone individual champion from last season, Kyle McCoy.
After missing the first half of the season following a football injury, McCoy is getting healthy at the right time and brings a lot of confidence into the postseason.
McCoy is the No. 2 seed at 140 pounds this year and has a challenging bracket standing between him and a repeat title.
"Kyle is the No. 2 seed behind (Paul) Bennett of Terre Haute South," Mikesell said. "He will have a tougher road to get to the finals as (Ben) Farmer from Bloomington South is a good wrestler also. But, (McCoy) is willing to take the challenge and can use the seeding position to motivate him. He has been wrestling well and should be in midseason form, which should be right on target to win Saturday."
McCoy is one of just two seniors in the lineup, the other being 171-pounder, Michael Duregger, who has gone 10-6. He has Bloomington South's Joey Todd (13-22) in the opening round of the sectional.
Luke Pingleton brings a 25-4 mark into the sectional and has his own designs on a title after placing third last year. As the top seed at 125-pounds, Pingleton faces Bloomington South's Trevor Poplewko in the opening, but a pair of local competitors also stand in the way.
"Terre Haute South has a good wrestler in Dakota Case," commented Mikesell. "I anticipate seeing him in the finals. He is work out partners with Jordan Jensen so he is much improved, but so is Luke (Pingleton). He really is looking good at 125 and I believe he can make a deep run into the state tournament."
Junior 160-pounder, Brady Silvers, is another wrestler that reached the regional last season after placing fourth in the same class. He has followed that up with a 25-10 mark this year and is hungry for another podium finish. Standing in his way will be a familiar opponent in Edgewood senior Josh Sparks, who boasts a 37-3 mark as the top seed.
"Brady is a real work horse," Mikesell said. "He is so consistent and his work ethic really makes him better than his athletic ability. He will see Sparks for the potential fourth time this season. He has to slow the match down and use control ties to keep Sparks away from his leg attacks. The best offense is a good defense."
Injuries have slowed some of the Knights wrestlers this season and sophomore Brandon Mikesell became the latest to miss time when complications from a 'cauliflower ear' sidelined him for last week's WIC Tourney. However, Mikesell feels that his 135-pounder is ready for the postseason.
"Unfortunately we had to sit him out of the conference, but I hope it has made him hungrier to get back and prove he is better than his record," Mikesell said. "He has lost to some really good competition, but it is time for him to have a break out weekend and beat some good people."
West Vigo's Ryan Roach (14-9) and Edgewood's Jeremy Salyers (33-5), last year's runner-up at 130 should provide stout competition.
"We have known Jeremy for a few years since we have traveled with him to Iowa a couple times for the Folkstyle Nationals," Mikesell said. "We have been close a couple of times, but he seems to have our number. This would be the perfect time to figure out how to beat him."
Youth has been a staple of this season's Northview squad with eight, freshmen or sophomores scheduled to compete on Saturday.
Two of the most successful have been Caleb Nicosin and Austin Bell, who compete at the 103 and 112-pound weight classes. Mikesell was quick to point out that the pair are products of the North Clay wrestling program, which is coached by former Knight, Tony Sanabria.
"Coach Sanabria does a nice job of introducing kids to our system of wrestling," Mikesell said. "When the kids practice as consistent as what they have and believe in what we do, the kind of freshmen season they are putting together is the end result."
Nicosin has compiled a 24-11 mark and is the No. 2 seed at 103 and faces Owen Valley's Austin Miller in the semi-final, a wrestler he beat by fall in just 45 seconds in a dual meet. Bell is 22-12 this season and will battle West Vigo's Jared Wilguess (11-13) in the semi-final.
Freshman Baylor Girton represents the 145-pound weight class for the Knights while sophomores Austin Sciotto (119), Nathan Duregger (152), Brandon Pleake (189) and Beau Judd (285) make up the second-year grapplers.
Despite his team's relative inexperience Mikesell isn't using it as an excuse come Saturday.
"Hopefully the younger wrestlers are figuring out that I don't take their lack of experience as an excuse anymore," Mikesell said. "They should understand this is a four-week journey, not a one day tournament. This is why we go to camps, and train the way we do. If these younger guys are going to be competitors, now is the time to rise to the occasion."
Pleake (16-12), Judd (10-12) and 215-pounder, Junior Hubbard (13-18) make up the Knights' lineup for the heaviest weight classes, an area that features some of the tourney's top competitors.
Bloomington South has top-seeded 189-pounder Darren Eads (27-6) with Edgewood's Will Heston (33-5). At 215 is Bloomington North's Jacob Vandeventer at 28-6 and top-seed, Spencer Brooks (24-3) of Sullivan along with 25-win Seth Sturgeon of Edgewood.
Brooks is the defending sectional champion after defeating Vandeventer last season.
In the heavyweight class, Bloomington North's Joe Arthur (29-2) is the defending sectional champion and the top-seed. Edgewood's Chris Brummett (35-5) is the No. 2 seed.
Mikesell believes that his wrestlers have the talent to reach the next level against the tough competition.
"The goals remain the same for all of our guys," Mikesell said. "Hustle effort and sportsmanship. We expect to win every time we go on the mat. No moral victories. Our heavier guys have been showing improvement, I expect all of them to be regional qualifiers."
With the Knights competing on their home turf, Mikesell feels that Saturday is the first step of a successful postseason run for his grapplers.
"This really is the springboard to get us going in the right direction and to motivate us to work hard in the off-season," Mikesell pointed out. "We are glad to be home in front of our fans and hope we get a big turn out."