TERRE HAUTE —
As a sophomore wrestler two years ago, Terre Haute South’s Phoenix Adams placed fifth in the 132-pound weight class of the IHSAA Evansville Semistate in Ford Center and missed qualifying for the state finals by one spot.
He completed his season with a respectable 17-9 record, though, after coming in second in the sectional and third in the regional.
Competing in the same semistate at the same location as a 138-pounder in 2013, Adams again finished fifth and again barely missed a shot at advancing to the state finals.
His final record was much better, however, at 38-8. Plus, he captured his first sectional and regional championships.
“He was as upset as any wrestler I’ve ever seen after losing his match [in the semistate] to qualify for the state,” South coach Gabe Cook recalled. “But he responded in the way that a coach would want to see an athlete respond. He went back to work and continued to push himself in the [wrestling] room. He listened to his coaches about things he needs to improve on. He’s still looking for ways to improve himself.”
Now a senior who’s continued to pack muscle onto his 5-foot-7 frame each year, Adams has amassed a 26-1 mark and he’s ranked sixth in the state in the 152-pound class by the indianamat.com website.
So it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what his aspirations are for 2014.
“My main goal is to go to the state finals and win it,” Adams told the Tribune-Star over the weekend during a weather-related break in South’s schedule. “The kid that’s No. 1 in the state in my weight class [Brendon Kelley of Evansville Central] is in my semistate. That will give me an idea of where I might finish in state.”
“He knows he can compete with the top-tier kids,” Cook said of Adams. “He has beaten state qualifiers and state medalists – this year and last year both. I just try to prepare him for his matches on Saturdays. I feel he can compete with the best.”
Adams admitted that coming so close to being in the state finals the last two years adds motivation as he wraps up his final year of high school wrestling.
“My sophomore year, I really didn’t have any hopes of moving on to state,” he reflected. “Last year, the kid I lost to [in the semistate], I had barely lost to him the season before. But my mindset was off. I lost myself in the moment pretty much. I was kinda thinking about the next week.
“This has been my best season. I haven’t focused on my record too much. … I stayed in the weight room more in the offseason and gained strength.”
Regarding his increased bodyweight, Adams said he likes it.
No surprise there.
“It’s the right amount, where I’m not much weaker [after dieting for a meet],” he emphasized. “Before, I’d have one piece of chicken and a potato or two [for a nightly meal]. Now I can have a whole dinner. Just no snacks at night, no eating after 8 or 9 p.m. Basically, I can eat as much as a regular person as long as I stop at a certain time.”
Also not surprisingly, staying close to the 152-pound mark is a lot easier than trying to hit 138.
“I’m not cutting [weight] as much,” he mentioned. “Now I have more energy so I can move around and keep scoring the whole match.”
Cook pointed out that Adams’ only loss this season occurred when he competed in the 160 class. His opponent was East Central’s Max Dole during a Dec. 21 tournament at East Central.
“He was bigger than me,” Adams analyzed. “I had bumped up [to go to 160]. … Basically, I didn’t try to score. I just tried to fend him off. I was beating him almost the whole match until the very end. We were tied 2-2, then he reversed me and beat me 4-2.”
Cook said that’s the only time Adams has been taken down in a match all season.
On the brighter side, some of Adams’ significant accomplishments so far have been a technical-fall victory over past sectional champion William Newforth of Owen Valley, winning his class in the Giant 16 tournament at Ben Davis and winning his class in the Gregory Stultz Memorial tournament at Northview.
Regardless of how this season ends for Adams, he plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force in July. After that, he may enter some international freestyle wrestling tournaments.
But first things first and that’s finishing this season with a bang.
As Adams continues to train, he credits 170-pounder Duane Deerwester – another one of South’s state-ranked wrestlers – for helping bring the most out of him.
“What people don’t know about him is he’s the hardest worker,” Adams insisted. “He just keeps going throughout practice.”
But Cook stressed that Adams deserves plenty of credit for his own success.
“He spends a lot of time working on his core strength,” the Braves’ coach said. “It’s really important for wrestlers, especially when it comes to countering and wrestling through scrambles, to have a strong core.
“He’s technically sound as well. When he takes risks in matches, he’s looking for ways to score. That’s when he excels. When he holds back, matches stay close and he’s giving the other guy an opportunity to catch up. … He’s done a great job of that [continuing to score for all six minutes] this year.”
Next meet for Adams and the Braves is slated to be the Conference Indiana championships at Southport on Saturday. Then a few weeks later, the sectional will take place Feb. 1 at Northview.