EMMA — East Noble coach Sam Riesen stood at the southern end of the gym Saturday, shaking his head in disbelief as the mats were rolled up off the floors of the Westview High School gymnasium.
His team had just won the sectional title.
All he could think about was everything that preceded this moment.
“All the injuries, all the growth from our kids, we had such an up-and-down year,” Riesen said. “We overcame so much. It’s unbelievable.”
Riesen said Saturday was the best of what his team could be, a unit — finally healthy — that put everyone else on notice from the jump. The Knights placed six wrestlers into championship matches, winning five, scoring 221.5 team points en route to the sectional win, besting runner-up West Noble’s 192.5.
The battle between the Knights and the Chargers lasted for much of the day. EN entered the final two rounds of the meet with a 14-point lead over the Chargers. But, the race for the sectional title was just heating up.
West Noble placed five grapplers into the finals to East Noble’s six, including head-to-head matchups in the 126- and 132-pound weight classes. The Chargers, though, won only two of those matches and the Knights pulled away on the strength of their depth.
Kainon Carico (195) and Noah Schooley (285) each placed third in their respective matches, while a couple others fought back from early losses in the consolation bracket. Jacob Everson also qualified for the regional with a fourth-place finish with 160.
“They finally learned that, if you lose early on, the day is not over,” Riesen said. “Even though they couldn’t win their classes, they fought hard, battled back and they put the team first. That’s why we won.”
The Knights are strongest in the lighter classes, and it showed Saturday. Keegan Malott (106) and Aidan Sprague (113) won the first two title matches of the championship round in convincing fashion, each pinning their opponent. Blaine Malott (126), Garner Owens (145) and Jacob Graden (170) also claimed titles in their respective weight classes. The Knights’ lone championship defeat came at 132, when Grant Owens fell by fall to West Noble’s Kyler Brown.
For the Chargers, the meet was unfamiliar territory for the team’s grapplers. It’s been a while since West Noble’s program has been as competitive as it was this year. Coach Tom Marsh, who has helmed the team for the past 16 seasons, said this was his first time in a sectional title mix.
The Chargers edged third-place DeKalb by just 1.5 points for the runner-up spot.
“They genuinely care about each other’s success, and they’re all great friends. When you mix that selflessness with the natural talent we have, these are the results,” Marsh said on what sets this group apart from others he’s coached.
“I’ve been coaching for more than 30 years between wrestling and football. This year has been the most fun I have ever had with a group of kids.”
West Noble got titles from Brown (132) and Gustavo Taylor (152) Saturday, with both victories coming by fall. Brown’s performance was especially memorable, said Marsh, because of his relative newness to the sport.
“It’s just his second year wrestling, but the kid is so athletic, so talented, and he’s such a hard worker,” Marsh said. “When a kid like that grinds himself to the top, you just love to see it.”
West Noble also advanced 138-pounder Jose Cervantes, who finished third in his class; PJ Bradley, who finished fourth at 170; Chastin Lang, who was fourth at 195; and Jeremyah James, who was fourth at 285.
Barons place third, Heights fourth
Saturday’s meet ended Prairie Heights’ five-year run as sectional champs. The Panthers finished fourth in the meet with 178 points, despite placing a combined 10 wrestlers into championship and third-place matches (five apiece).
Isiah Levitz highlighted the effort at 160, staying unbeaten on the year (34-0) after defeating West Noble’s Shayne Tierney, who had to forfeit the championship match after he suffered an injury to his left shoulder in the third period.
Levitz was the only Panther to win a title, though Sam Levitz (132), Luke Severe (145), Tyler Curtis (152) and Hunter Allen (195) all finished second. Gavin Roberts (113), Hunter Yoder (170), Austin Wells (182) and Kole Schrock (220) all placed third. Kaleb Lounsbury was fourth at 132 to advance to regional.
DeKalb, who finished third, pulled ahead of the Chargers briefly at the beginning of the final round, but losses in two of the team’s three championship matches proved costly. Highlighting the Barons’ day was a title from senior Blake Rowe (182), who defeated Fremont sophomore Jacob Behm.
Baron freshman Chase Mason fell by fall to Keegan Malott in the 106-pound match, while Carter Miller finished second at 170 falling to Graden.
The Barons advanced six other grapplers to regional. Braxton Miller (120) and Mitch Snyder (160) each finished third. Elijah Knepper (138), Jackson Lee (145), Rafe Worman (152) and Dominic Blevins (220) all placed fourth.
Hornets crown three champs, Eagles two
Championships from Jett Boots, Coy Brames and Brandon Villafuerte capped strong showings from Angola’s stars.
Boots’ match, a rematch against Lakeland sophomore Ben Miller, highlighted the day after Miller defeated the Hornet senior in the Northeast Corner Conference Tournament a week ago.
“It’s harder wrestling someone so many times, because at this point each one of us knows what the other is going to do,” Boots said.
The matchup was the third of the season between the two, this time Boots won in a 3-0 decision.
Brames claimed the 220-pound title with a quick, first-period pin against West Noble’s Kevin Lara, while Villafuerte battled his way to a 5-2 win over Lakeland’s Miguel Delapaz in another rematch from the NECC Tournament finals.
Isaiah McCue was second at 113. Gage Spreuer (106), Erich Baade (126) and Trevor Marple (132) also advanced out of the sectional meet after placing third in their weight classes.
Fremont finished fifth as a team Saturday, but still placed two wrestlers atop the podium.
In one of the meet’s more entertaining matches, Eagles senior Isaac Hawkins outlasted Prairie Heights sophomore Sam Levitz, 9-3, in a battle of attrition that saw neither grappler lead by more than two points until Hawkins scored five late points on a reversal and nearfall.
RJ Dilbone (195) also brought a title back to Fremont after defeating Allen by major decision, 11-1.
Other wrestlers advancing to regional were three Cougars. Daniel Leffers (145) and Kyle Bolinger (152) each placed third and Ben Golden was fourth at 182.
The regional meet will be held on Saturday at Goshen High School.