Local wrestling teams look to turn winning into tradition

February 2, 2019

FORT WAYNE, Ind. - Winning can change things in a hurry.

That’s how Wabash wrestling coach Jake O’Neill reflects on a season that has so far seen the Apaches win their first ever Three Rivers Conference championship and their first sectional title in 26 years.

“This has kind of been brewing for a while,” O’Neill tells ParkviewSportsMedicine.com. “In the spring and summer, we had 8 to 10 kids on the mat. We thought next year was going to be the year.”

O’Neill says expectations changed when the Apaches beat Peru during the regular season, and the Peru head coach came over to congratulate the team, and perhaps foreshadow how good Wabash wrestling could be.

In all, 11 Wabash wrestlers advanced to the IHSAA regional Saturday morning also at Peru, including sophomore 120-lb. sectional champ Ethan Higgins.

“The success is motivating,” O’Neill beams. “And to think about the success we’ll have in the future.”

A model of growth is also evident at Leo, particularly in over the last 4 years. The Lions are New Haven sectional champions again for the first time since 2016. They also won back-to-back Northeast 8 Conference tournaments, and hold the regular season NE8 title tiebreaker over Bellmont by placing first at the conference tourney.

“They’ve worked so hard this year, and they’ve won consistently through the year,” head coach Rod Williams says. “The guys are committed. Everyone wants to be a champion, but few want to put in the work to be a champion.”

There are similar tales at Wawasee, where the wrestling team has seen a resurgence in a traditionally strong program. Last Saturday, the Warriors won their second-straight Plymouth sectional championship; and four seniors stood atop the podium in their respective weight classes. Thirteen Wawasee wrestlers will compete Saturday at the Penn regional in Mishawaka.

“This group has reiterated that Wawasee has a rich wrestling history,” head coach Frank Bumgardner says.”

Baumgardner credits years of developing youth wrestling clubs at the middle and elementary school levels that, he says, have bought into the culture by the time the kids reach high school.

“This was not 4 years in the making,” he notes. “This was 10 to 15 years in the making.”

More than 250 local high school wrestlers qualified for at regionals held at Goshen, Carroll, Peru and Jay County. Prairie Heights, Carroll and Adams Central also go into their respective regionals having won team sectional titles.

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