By CARLA KNAPP
Pharos-Tribune sports editor
Up until last weekend’s sectional meets, most of the area wrestling teams were thinking about team accolades. But when Logansport and Pioneer were eliminated from team competition at the Harrison Team Wrestling Regional on Wednesday, the focus of the season shifted to individual accomplishments.
By the end of today’s Logansport Individual Wrestling Regional, the 112 wrestlers that have come to compete at the Berry Bowl will be whittled down to just 42, or the top three from every weight class. Those wrestlers will advance to the Merrillville Semistate next Saturday.
“Right now I told the kids just worry about the first match, then worry about the second and the third,” said Winamac coach Steve VanDerAa. “You’ve got to get through the first match first.”
A total of 35 Loganland wrestlers qualified from last weekend’s Twin Lakes and Lafayette Jeff sectionals. Logansport, champion from the Twin Lakes tournament, qualified the most wrestlers with 11, followed by Lewis Cass and Winamac with seven apiece.
While Pioneer and Caston don’t have the numbers in today’s competition, the spotlight will be on two of their wrestlers who are among the six state-ranked wrestlers in the tournament.
At 215, Bryan Powlen of Caston will take on Joshua Tomack of Harrison. Powlen Is ranked eighth in his class and has just two losses this season in 36 matches. One of those losses, however, was in the sectional championship and didn’t sit well with the Comet senior.
“That upset him but he’s pretty focused,” said Caston coach Tom Skinner. “Getting to the state was his ultimate goal at the beginning of the season and that doesn’t mean you have to be a sectional champ.
“I think Bryan matches up pretty well against (Tomack). If he wrestles to the best of his ability, he should probably come out on top.”
If Powlen can win his first match, he would face either Matt McIntire of Logansport or Lafayette Jeff Sectional champion Robert Racette of West Lafayette.
Powlen wouldn’t face Jones again until the championship round. The King senior, who is 30-4 on the year, will face Devin Hamrick of Lafayette Jeff in his first match.
Pioneer’s Austin Beach is ranked fifth in the state at 275 and will face Carroll’s Nate Meyer in the first round. Both Beach and Meyer have just five losses on the year, though the Panther junior has been in 47 matches this year as opposed to 35 for the Cougar senior.
In the opposite bracket, Twin Lakes sectional champion Billy Davis of Lewis Cass will take on Eric MacDonald of Harrison, who brings in a 17-17 overall record this year.
Though the spotlight will be on Powlen and Beach in those two classes, Cass coach Scott Rouch feels his wrestlers will have just as good of a chance to win the title as their ranked opponents.
“Both of them have wrestled really well to this point in the season so I’m really looking forward to their matches,” Rouch said of Davis and Jones. “Looking at the guys in their brackets, I’d put them with any of them. They’ve got as good a shot to win as anyone in their weight classes.”
In other classes, Michael Cataldo of Logansport, who took second at the sectional, will face Johnny Henry of Benton Central at 103. Henry lost by tech fall in his second round match but won the consolation round with a huge 11-1 decision.
At 112, Logan’s Nathan Moss drew the 19th-ranked wrestler in the state in Seeger’s Jacob Cook. Cook is 40-1 on the year and is favored to win the class, so Moss will have to wrestle well to reach the second round.
If he can make it, Moss would face either Michael Atwood of Delphi or Jake Chodzinski of Winamac, who lost a close sectional championship bout.
“He’s been wrestling pretty well,” said VanDerAa. “This will be a tough match for us. But I’m really happy with how far Jake has come.”
At 119, Travis Hardy of Pioneer won the sectional title and will face Dustin McDaniel of Benton Central. The junior is 33-3 on the year and should he pick up win 34, he would face either Hector Contreras of Logansport or Aaron Strand of Lafayette Jeff in the second round.
In the opposite bracket, Winamac’s Noah Rausch will take on Harrison’s Kyle Eberle.
At 125, Logansport junior Kevin Brugh drew Marty Thayer of McCutcheon, who lost by a major decision early in the day then narrowly won his final match.
Should Brugh advance, he would face either Alex Chapman of Caston or Lafayette Jeff’s Kolton Blickenstaff, who had several impressive wins en route to the sectional title.
Logansport’s Justin Jamison, the champ at 130, drew Harrison’s Nick Jude for the first round. Jude’s sectional losses were all fairly close so despite his fourth-place finish, this should be a challenging first match for Jamison, who is 34-5 on the year.
On the opposite side of the bracket, James Titus of Cass drew Zach Barker of McCutcheon. Barker, a junior, topped Jude 3-1 in the consolation match.
The first match at 135 for Winamac’s David Minix will be Zahab Ahsan of West Lafayette. Both wrestlers battled through difficult sectional matches. Although the Warrior freshman earned the championship, Ahsan should still offer him a good challenge.
If Minix can win his first match, he would face either Chris Griffith of Logansport or Armando Alainiz of Benton Central, who has just six losses on the year.
The winner of this class will likely have to go through West Central’s Nathan Craig, who is ranked 17th in the state.
At 140, sectional champion Austin Goltry of Pioneer drew West Lafayette’s Clifford Wojtalewicz. If Goltry wins, he’d face either Cass’ Dustin Roberts or Harley Cry of Harrison, who had several close matches on his way to the runner-up position at the sectional.
In the opposite bracket, Bryan Shank of Winamac will face Justin Fruits of Lafayette Jeff.
“He’s been hot and cold this year but the last few weeks he’s been on,” said VanDerAa. “Hopefully there’s some things he can do to get through that match.”
Logansport’s Shayne Cataldo is the area’s lone wrestler at 145, but he drew Delphi’s Aaron Foster who is ranked 20th in the state. Foster started strong in the sectional but lost by a major decision in the championship match. If Cataldo can find the same weaknesses that led to that loss, he should stand a good chance of advancing.
At 152, Cass’ Clay Mannering drew Shane Evans of Delphi. The Kings’ senior has amassed a 33-1 record this year, and a first-round victory today would put him against either Justin Crane of Pioneer or Levi Hackler of McCutcheon. In 47 matches this year, Crane has just five losses.
Logansport’s Ike Homburg, who will be wrestling in the opposite bracket against McCutcheon’s Levi Hackler, also has just five losses, with a 31-5 total record. Should the Berries’ junior win his match, he would take on either Winamac’s Josh Wielochowski or Lafayette Jeff’s Zach Arman. Arman defeated Hackler in the sectional championship with a major decision.
Heath Sommers of Caston drew sectional champion Joseph Taylor of Harrison for his first-round match at 160. The Raiders’ junior won several close matches throughout the day to come out on top.
“On paper, they don’t look that much different,” Skinner said. “... I think if we can get him to wrestle to his best ability, he could knock off the sectional champ.”
The winner of that match would face either Alex Evans of Cass or Derrick Robinson of Benton Central. Robinson, who is 29-8 coming in, pinned every wrestler he faced aside from Taylor. It should be a good match for the Kings’ junior.
The winner in this class will likely have to go through Ryan Kauffman of Rensselaer, who is ranked sixth and brings an unbeaten 35-0 record into today’s tournament.
At 171, Logansport’s R.D. Pugh, who has just five losses in 39 matches this year, will face Coy Pennington of Delphi. If Logan’s senior can pull out the win, he would face either Brad Abbott of Winamac or sectional champion Aaron Schuleter of Harrison.
“Brad’s had some really good matches this year,” said VanDerAa. “Even the matches he lost, he was right there. He’s just about an inch away from being on top of his game.”
The 189-pound class is just the second with a local face in each match. In the top bracket, Carroll’s Garrett Herron will face champion Zach Winkle of Twin Lakes, who has just five losses this season. The winner there would face either Seth Burge of Cass or Travis DePew of Lafayette Jeff.
In the opposite bracket, Logansport’s Grant McCloskey has champion Travis Dale of McCutcheon. Dale is unbeaten on the year at 34-0 and won two of his three sectional matches by pin. The winner will face either Nate Denton of Pioneer or Nicholas Schreyer of Harrison.
With the skill level of these wrestlers, there will inevitably be a bottleneck of strong competitors vying for the available semistate berths.
“All wee people have been asking me, ‘How are your kids going to do? Who’s going to get through?” said Rouch. “I tell them I like all their chances. They’ve got a lot better chances than the guys who didn’t get through. They took the first step by getting here.”
By CARLA KNAPP