TERRE HAUTE —
If you line up members of Terre Haute South High School’s wrestling team one by one, whether they be in their wrestling gear or street clothes, senior Ryan Uppal would not be singled out as the most intimidating.
Standing 5-feet-6 and weighing in around 106 pounds when he skips a meal, Uppal and one other wrestler are the lightest on South’s team.
But rest assured, the impact of Uppal on coach Gabe Cook’s Braves is far from small.
Even after a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (MIC) tournament Saturday at Warren Central, Uppal owns a 28-5 record and he’s helped the Braves compile a 20-10 mark in dual matches.
Cook figures Uppal will be a No. 2 seed heading into the Northview Sectional this coming Saturday.
Despite Uppal’s disappointing finish in the MIC tourney, he still hopes to qualify for his first state finals in 2013.
South has been represented in the last four state finals with P.J. Montgomery in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and Tsali Lough in 2011 and 2012. But Montgomery and Lough have graduated, so Cook would like to see some of his current wrestlers fill that void.
Uppal is raising his hand to volunteer, although he realizes he’ll need his best performances of the season to accomplish that goal.
“If someone comes out wrestling hard, I need to be able to deal with that,” Uppal told the Tribune-Star.
Uppal didn’t get to show off his talents in the dual match against Terre Haute North last Wednesday because the Patriots didn’t have an opponent for him, so the result was a forfeit victory.
But Cook said the vast majority of Uppal’s triumphs have occurred on the mat, with 11 coming via pins, so this has been a breakout season for the 106-pounder.
“Ryan won the Super 16 holiday tournament we go to at Ben Davis every year [in December],” Cook mentioned. “At Northview [for the Gregory S. Stultz Memorial Tourney in December], he got one of his losses on the season. That was to [Isaac] Gomez from Plainfield.”
Uppal’s success story is unique because he attended Park Tudor in Indianapolis as a freshman and did not wrestle. In fact, he had zero interest in the sport.
Then his family moved to Terre Haute before his sophomore year and Uppal tried out for wrestling at South.
“I just decided to try it because I thought it would be fun,” recalled Uppal, who said he had dabbled in jiu-jitsu previously.
Uppal and Cook agreed that the youngster’s potential was not obvious two years ago.
“I didn’t really know where I was on the mat,” Uppal admitted. “I wouldn’t keep track of the score in my head. I wasn’t that technical at all.”
As a junior last season, Uppal improved enough to qualify for the regional.
“He’s just made such huge gains,” Cook noted. “When he first started [as a sophomore], we couldn’t get him to attack. We just couldn’t get him to get in there and take risks on the mat and score.
“Now he’s got so many reps in — thousands and thousands of duck-unders and high crotches — he deserves this [recognition].”
Uppal agreed with Cook’s assessment that he wasn’t aggressive enough as a sophomore, but he’s worked hard to eliminate that flaw in his approach.
“I went to a couple of camps over the summer [and the previous summer],” he mentioned. “That helped a lot.”
“The thing about him is his body matured at 106 pounds as a freshman,” Cook added. “When he got here, he did not know much wrestling. It was obvious. But he went to every camp and clinic. He drove himself all over the country this past summer to different camps by himself.”
Now Uppal knows plenty about wrestling, listing his best moves as the snap-down go-behind, the snap-down shuck and the front headlock ankle pick.
He can perform these moves effectively because he’s stronger than the average wrestler his size.
“He does pull-ups with a 45-pound dumbbell between his knees,” Cook said, pointing out that Uppal got stronger each year at South while maintaining the same bodyweight.