ANDERSON — Wrestling is a team sport centered on individual results. For the team to reach a championship level requires each of its members to collectively earn high marks.
Saturday’s Madison County Tournament at Anderson High School features 95 wrestlers that make up eight teams, all with the same goals in mind — win an individual title and help capture the team championship.
Four teams — Anderson, Pendleton Heights, Frankton and Elwood — have full squads. Having the opportunity to compete for points in each of the 14 weight classes gives them an advantage over the remaining teams that will be forced to forfeit matches in any weight class they don’t have a competitor for.
As the area coaches gathered to seed the wrestlers and construct the brackets, three teams emerged as favorites in the numbers game.
“In the team race, I think Pendleton is the team to beat,” Frankton coach Courtney Duncan said. “They have huge numbers and a lot of good kids coming through the program.”
Each bracket consists of four seeded wrestlers and four that are placed based on a blind draw. Two-time defending champion Pendleton Heights leads the way with 12 of its 14 wrestlers achieving ranked status.
The Arabians return four of their seven individual champions from last year, but Tyler Flood, Wes Robinson and Spencer McCool will face new challenges as each jump two weight classes from last season’s championship run.
“The style of wrestling is different from one weight area to another,” Pendleton Heights coach Dave Cloud said. “The kids are going to have to adjust.”
Anderson is one back of the defending champs in the total number of ranked wrestlers, but the Indians are far ahead in the number of top-seeded participants with six.
The Indians also boast the largest number of undefeated wrestlers with four — Mike Fetters at 120 pounds, Zach Amos at 145, Bryant White at 195 and Rome Kayzer at 220.
“I feel good about our undefeated wrestlers, but the thing the seeds and the records don’t show heading into the county meet is that Pendleton wrestles a very, very tough schedule,” Anderson coach Cary House said. “I look for some of their lower-seeded wrestlers to wrestle a lot higher than they are seeded.”
House went on to say that Anderson is a better and more competitive team than in the past due to having a complete team with the ability to fill all weight classes.
What may be surprising to some is that it is not Pendleton Heights with the second most top seeds. It's the Elwood Panthers with three — including Indiana’s newly crowned all-time leading rusher, Sammy Mireles.
“Elwood has a pretty rich wrestling tradition, and they have a great coach,” House said. “Our county is full of some really good coaches. Nobody should be surprised at anyone's success, and I don’t think they should take anybody lightly.”
Frankton has had to overcome significant injuries in order to be the final school to field a full squad, and its coach knows what it takes to be the last one standing to hoist the trophy.
Duncan is in his first year as the Eagles' head coach and his second year on the coaching staff. He spent the previous seven years as an assistant coach with Pendleton Heights.
“I think if our guys wrestle well we are right there in the top of the hunt,” Duncan said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores in our lineup. That is young and inexperienced kids that have deer-in-the-headlights look. If they go out and wrestle like the are capable, I think we can go out and knock off some top seeds.”
While Pendleton Heights is considered a favorite, the other seven teams have no plans of rolling over for an easy path to a three-peat.
“We can’t walk in and think we won the last few years, we are going to win again,” Cloud said. “We are bringing the trophy with us — I can’t bolt it down to the table and say there is no way we are going to lose it.”