Wabash Valley —
Look at them now.
That seemed to be the theme for families of Wabash Valley wrestlers Tsali Lough of Terre Haute South and Aaron See of Northview as their stellar careers were winding down at the state finals Saturday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
When I asked Jeff Lough where to find his son that evening, before the final round of matches started, he said he didn’t know — but he knew what Tsali was doing: beating himself up over two losses earlier in the day.
(Twitter can confirm that, by the way.)
“He’s not very happy,” Jeff said, “but I told him to look back when he was in middle school and see if he thought then that he’d wind up one of the best seven wrestlers and one of the 50 best football players in the state his senior year.”
I haven’t met Aaron’s mother, but I’m certain she shares that feeling. Coach Dan Mikesell of Northview said late Saturday night that when Aaron’s seventh-grade wrestling season started, his mother had expressed surprise that her son was going out for the sport again. He hadn’t won a match his entire season when he was, in Mikesell’s words, “a chubby little sixth-grader.”
(I’m writing that a second time only because I don’t think Aaron knows where I live.)
I enjoyed the long weekend with those guys for a couple of reasons: they are both fantastic interviews (honest, candid and occasionally hilarious) and because I could always find them in a crowd, the pre-match chat with Tsali’s father notwithstanding.
Tsali always wore that bright yellow hoodie that may or may not glow in the dark (I’m betting it does) and Aaron could easily be spotted in his pink stocking cap; in a sport with more than a little posturing involved, I got a big kick out of that.
Aaron told me the cap was to honor an aunt fighting cancer (not to dare somebody to say something about it, although I hold out the possibility that could be a secondary reason). I don’t know if there’s a story involved with the yellow hoodie or not.
I do know that in a sport with as much family atmosphere as any (admittedly the kind of family where the best thing about the family is the chance to beat up your brother), our guys were usually in the middle of a crowd, swapping stories with other wrestlers and making friends around the state; they also both had big contingents of fans to support them. I was as proud of both of them as you all are.
I was also happy to see the best matches of both their careers: Tsali’s pin of previously unbeaten Swade Oser of Heritage Hills (picture a 160-pound cement block, only bulgier) for the semistate championship, and Aaron’s come-from-behind win over previously unbeaten Seth Biberstine of Southern Wells (now make that a 220-pound bulging cement block) in the state quarterfinals.
As Aaron rallied from an 8-3 deficit to dominate the kid picked to win the state in his weight class, the wrestling was almost as much fun as watching Mikesell, assistant coach Zach Stultz and manager Keirsten Mikesell, who abandoned her scorekeeping chores in the excitement. I was also tickled to see that Tsali used his “cement mixer” throw, or a variation of it — the one that makes coach Gabe Cook make faces on the sideline, I’m told — for the last pin of his career, just as he’d used it on Oser.
Other notes from a wacky state finals, that saw upsets galore and plenty of excitement. Unbeaten wrestlers dropped like flies. Evansville was shut out of the championship matches for the first time in many years. Everyone was vulnerable except …
• Clark Kent — I watched the Crown Point wrestlers parade in on Friday and noticed one kid who seemed out of place. The Bulldogs, coached hard and tough by former Sycamore wrestler Scott Vlink, had one guy with them who was obviously a wrestler (the ears, duh) but who wore glasses and looked like he should have been giving me computer advice.
Once he took off the glasses, I realized I was right about him not belonging with the other wrestlers — he was way better than all of them. It was, of course, Jason Tsirtsis, the best 145-pounder in the nation, who wrapped up his fourth straight state championship approximately 24 hours later in brutally efficient fashion.
• No Miracle ... yet — I made a special effort to be there for Friday’s 106-pound matches to see sophomore Kayla Miracle of Culver Academies, the first girl to reach the state finals. She lost 4-0 to eventual third-place finisher Hayden Lee of Garrett, but she’ll be back. For one thing, she looked as strong as any 106-pounder at the meet.
Cook remembers Miracle, who is from Bloomington, from youth wrestling. “She used to kick my kids’ butts, and then afterwards they’d all flirt with her,” the South coach said.
In a couple of nonwrestling items:
• One of my favorite people who is also an athlete has been nominated for a national award.
Aly Bennett of Sullivan, whose Golden Arrow basketball career ended Saturday (and who may be in a batting cage getting ready for softball as we speak), is the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s nominee for the national Spirit of Sport Award.
While recovering from her bout with cancer, the three-sport athlete designed a chest protector to cover the chemotherapy port that can be used in competition by athletes who are also cancer patients.
The national award will be presented during the National Federation of State High School Association’s summer meeting.
• Gatorade’s Indiana girls soccer Player of the Year is Brooke Backes of Carmel.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321. Follow @TribStarAndy on Twitter.