(SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY STEVE PAGE)
By Steve Page
A year ago, after not making it to the IHSAA Wrestling State Championships, Charlie LaRocca thought he might abandon the sport.
On Saturday, the Center Grove senior was glad he decided to stick with it.
LaRocca capped a strong day by the Trojans, as he won the 113-pound championship with a 3-1 decision of Indian Creek senior Jackson Heaston at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
“I was down on the sport,” LaRocca said after finishing 46-2. “I didn’t know if I wanted to continue. But I pushed myself to come back. I definitely pushed myself.
“This was an awesome day to be a Trojan.”
Roncalli and Whiteland also produced winners.
Unbeaten Warrior senior Joey Buttler took the 132-pound championship by decisioning Brownsburg junior Brady Ison 6-3.
“I just know Ison is good at scrambling,” said Buttler (43-0). “If I get in trouble, I just keep wrestling.”
Royals senior Bryce Lowery (47-0) was the undefeated champion at 152 after notching a 3-1 decision of Evansville Mater Dei junior Hunter May.
It was a close match, but Lowery jumped ahead with a second-period takedown and remained ahead.
“I know it was going to be a lot closer match than the last time,” said Lowery, whose brother, Brayden, won the 126 title in 2020. “I had to get on the attack, get on the attack, get on the attack.”
With his title in hand, Lowery smiled, saying, “It’s cool. It was such a distant thing when I started. All the hard work I put into this made it worthwhile.”
As a team, Center Grove had a strong day, placing five wrestlers in championship matches – LaRocca, senior Hyatt Yeager at 126, junior Reese Courtney at 138, junior Wyatt Kresja (pronounced Kraysa) at 145, and junior Kaden McConnell at 195.
The Trojans totaled 131 points, second only to the 167 of Crown Point.
“Tough tournament,” said Center Grove coach Maurice Swain. “I knew coming in there were three teams with a shot.
“The guys wrestled well. They really stepped up. They outpaced what people thought they would. I hope this gives them the motivation to get the whole thing next year.”
Of LaRocca, Swain said, “Charlie had a heck of a day. He came up short last year. We saw all during the offseason that he was not going to be denied this time.”
Others who placed, all Trojans, included sophomore Eddie Goss, third at 120; senior Andre Merritt, fifth at 160 and sophomore Julian Weems, fifth at 182. Competing in Friday’s elimination round were sophomore Silas Stits at 152 and juniors Noah Clouser at 170, Nate Johnson at 220 and Tyler Schott at 285.
Merritt had one of the most interesting finishing matches. Down 5-0, he threw his opponent to the mat, then pinned him with 59 seconds left in the second period.
Saturday’s tournament was unlike previous ones, as there was no spotlight directed onto the championship match for the finals. Instead, the wrestlers competed in an off-white light that drew angry shouts from fans.
One of the favorites at 195 pounds was Roncalli senior Luke Hansen, who came into the tournament with a 43-1 record. After opening with a major decision on Friday, he ran into Castle senior John Purdy, 44-1, in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Purdy escaped with a 3-1 decision and went on to win the championship.Hansen was relegated to the consolation round, where he won two matches, including a 1:52 pin of Elkhart senior Nash Shupert in the match for fifth place.
“I just didn’t finish,” Hansen said of his match with Purdy.
“Just a tough day,” added coach Shaun Richardson.
Still, the Royals finished seventh in the team standings with 36 points.
Seniors and friends Andrew Just of Franklin Central and John Broadwell of Beech Grove wound up facing each other for seventh place at 285 pounds.
After spending much of the match leaning into each other, Just managed a 3-1 decision. After the match, they hugged, then posed for pictures together.
Those who qualified for state but did not advance past Friday’s elimination round included Perry Meridian junior teammates Hruai Lian at 106 and RJ Taylor at 113, senior Keaton Morton at 132 and junior Zach Huckaby at 160.