The 2019-2020 high school wrestling season had some significant milestones for Terre Haute South, as the Braves won Conference Indiana for the first time, lost the sectional by half a point, then bounced back to win the regional for what may be a Vigo County first.
The Wabash Valley's only state-finals qualifier, however, was Sullivan freshman Lane Gilbert, so there are plenty of incentives for teams from the area: for the Braves, getting wrestlers out of the semistate (senior Josh Howell made it to the state finals as a sophomore in 2019); for their rivals, catching up to the Braves; and for every team in Indiana, dealing with what comes with COVID-19 in a sport predicated on close, physical contact.
Here's how Terre Haute North coach Beau Pingleton describes a routine practice, for example.
"We take [the wrestlers'] temperatures when the kids come in," he said. "We ask the questions [about potential exposure]. We have foot-wash pads. We work in pods of four or less. And we disinfect like crazy before and after every practice."
"We're fighting everything everybody else is fighting," added coach Seth Rohrbach of West Vigo, who has often had two separate practices — with different personnel — in a day. "It seems like we're spinning our wheels right now, but we're coming to practice."
But if the season can be salvaged, here's what the Vigo County schools and Northview have to look forward to.
• Northview — "It's been a hectic week, with prepping for eLearning and figuring out plans for wrestling without being able to practice," coach Tony Sanabria reported recently.
The Knights return two semistate qualifiers in junior Logan Moore (126 or 132) and sophomore Seth Cowden (113). Also returning are seniors Kaleb Rowe (152-160), Guy Fleming (170) and Jaden Cox (195-220); juniors Joe Whitesell (145-152), Isaac Torbert (160-170) and Landin Moore (the Moores are twins); and sophomores Devon Barnhart (220), Cain Garrison (120-126), Dalton Simmons (195-220) and Josh Whitmarsh (285).
Northview newcomers include junior Zach Ferris (160-170) and freshmen Jayden Whitesell (160-170), Tommy Gilliam (182-195) and Tyler Lee (138-145). The Knights also have one of the larger contingents of girls in the Valley with senior Madison Slaughter (120), sophomore Daelynn Torbert (138-145) and freshmen Mece Tellechea (160) and Varzidy Batchelor (182-195).
"We are looking to build upon last year and continue to grow as a team," Sanabria said.
• Terre Haute North — Senior leadership for the Patriots will be provided by Jazz Brown (a semistate qualifier at 220), Brandon Greene (a regional qualifier at 145) and Gabe Bignell (195), Pingleton said.
Juniors for North include Sammy Saunders (170) and Nicolas Sconce (a regional qualifier at 160); Sconce was fourth and Saunders seventh at the frosh-soph state meet in March. Also returning are sophomores Ethan Proffitt (138 this season) and Collier Schell (113). And there are plenty more.
"Our numbers are up; we have close to 30 [wrestlers]," Pingleton said, "and we haven't had this much experience since I've been here.
"South and West, until we consistently beat them, are the front-runners," he added, "but I'm excited about the opportunities we have here [mentioning the weight room and administrative support]."
• Terre Haute South — COVID-19 has hit very close to home for the Braves. Coach Gabe Cook has recovered from it, and was able to attend his first practice of the season earlier this week.
He saw plenty of familiar faces.
South has six semistate qualifiers back from last year: seniors Howell (220), Nick Casad (170) and Nate Recknor (one of the heroes of the regional championship, at 138) and juniors Christian Verst (195), Nate Lommock (160) and Harrison May (120). Those weights, Cook cautioned, are last year's and there should be some good challenge matches before the lineup is set.
"We have a really good, competitive room," the coach said, "and I feel good about the guys who will be stepping up for the seniors that left."
The Braves have two more regional qualifiers back in sophomore Alex Rose and junior Austin Dalton. Other sophomores are A.J. Sauer, Justin Pemberton, Jorge Franco and Seth Brown, the latter a transfer from North. There are two female wrestlers for the Braves, junior Paisley Sanquenetti (eighth in the girls state meet last year) and promising freshman Kaylee Miles.
"I really would like to see our seniors finish this season on the mat," Cook concluded.
• West Vigo — Rohrbach also had to miss some practices because of quarantine. "The first time in 27 years," he reported. But he has some familiar faces too.
Three seniors return from semistate qualifications a year ago: Johnathan Otte at 145, one of the school's all-time greats and already a three-time semistate qualifier; Jarrell Sholar at 152, who was there for a second time last year; and Keith Holder at 126.
There's also junior Torie Buchanan at 106, who is a wrestler who happens to be a girl rather than a girl wrestler. She's been a boys varsity regular from her first day and has already won two state titles in girls competition.
Other senior Vikings are Peyton Bell (220), Levi Saude (170 or 182), Mekhi Higgins (220) and Braxton Elkins (285) and Logan Welker is an experienced junior.
"I'm hoping beyond hope we can get this season in," Rohrbach concluded.