Jimtown has challenge of replacing talented trio

Elkhart Memorial's Clayton Lundy (red) looks for an opening against Elkhart Central's Austin Garcia during a championship match of the Elkhart Wrestling Sectional. Lundy returns for his senior year for the Crimson Chargers.

The high school wrestling season is set to get underway, with Jimtown having the great challenge of replacing the terrific trio of Hunter Watts, Conner Gimson and Matt Gimson. 

Watts, who's wrestling at Central Michigan University this fall, was a four-time state qualifier, with the highlight being a state championship performance at 120 pounds as a junior. The Gimson twins, who are wrestling at Indiana Tech University, were three-time state qualifiers.

Led by that threesome, the Jimmies won a semi-state title last year.

"Replacing guys like Watts and the Gimson's is never an easy thing to do," said Jimtown coach Jerimiah Maggart. "Those three aren't only great wrestlers but outstanding people. What will be missed most with those three is that they were always guys you could count on to lead by example. They never missed a practice, did well in the classroom and made good decisions off the mat. They made a great impact on our program and I think they have passed some of their great traits on to our younger guys."

Back from last year's team, which finished 16-4 and placed second at the sectional and regional, are senior Henry Gratzol, sophomore Landon Buchanan and senior Jacob Werts. Buchanan and Gratzol were each semi-state qualifiers last year, while Werts is a three-year varsity starter.

"Expectations at Jimtown are always high," Maggart said. "We want to be able to compete with the best in the state and push ourselves to the next level. We return some experienced guys who should be able to make an impact for us. We'll also have some young guys who will be stepping into action for the first time."

Also in the NIC, Elkhart Central returns seniors Eric Garcia, Peyton Anderson and Sea Davis, who were semi-state qualifiers last year.

"We're excited to compete this season," said Blue Blazers coach Zach Whickcar. "We'll have a handful of holes we'll be looking to fill after losing several seniors from last year's team. The good news is our numbers are solid and we should have competition for those spots. Ultimately, our goal will be to get better every day and be ready for sectionals. We'll be led by Eric Garcia, Peyton Anderson and Sea Davis as they look to end their senior year with a trip to the state finals after coming up short at the semi-state last winter."

Penn is looking to continue its championship streaks for the NIC (8 straight), sectional (9 straight) and regional (9 straight). 

Heading the list of returning wrestlers for the Kingsmen is senior 285-pounder Yehezquel DeVault, who placed fifth at the state finals a year ago. Other semi-state qualifers that return are seniors Alex Slates, Vince Sparrow, along with sophomores Ryan Purvis and Brayden McMillen. Another semi-state qualifier Michael Garcia suffered an injury during football season and there's no timetable for his return.

"We have a great group of young wrestlers in the room this year," said Penn coach Brad Harper. "Our young team might take a few bumps early on, but we don't care about the wins and losses early, only how we finish." 

In the Northern Lakes Conference, Northridge has had one of the premier local programs in recent years. The Raiders are aiming for a fourth straight league title and third straight sectional championship.

"Our expectations for this season are the same as every year," said Northridge coach Eric Highley. "We want our wrestlers to perform at their very best and learn how to earn what they want in life. We have a lot of work ahead of us and know if we want to win an NLC title and a sectional title we have to focus on learning, improving and mental toughness."

Semi-state qualifers from last season that return are Jasper Graber, Justin Puckett, Caid Lacey and Ibrahim Khaoucha.

"We're counting on these young men to step up and be leaders on the mat and continue their success," Highley said. "They've proven they have what it takes to be successful and are working to improve on last year's results."  

Elkhart Memorial has back the talented duo of Kamden Goering and Clayton Lundy, who were semi-state qualifiers last season. Lundy was a sectional and regional champion at 160 pounds. 

"They're looking really good," said Crimson Chargers coach Brian Weaver about Goering and Lundy. "The problem is that every year kids grow and they're both right now at 170. One of them is going to have to go up or down. 

"The majority of our varsity guys are back, but our numbers are low. We're just trying to do the best we can with what we have."

Among the returning wrestlers at Concord is Christian Pfeiffer-Laguerre, who was a semi-state qualifier last year.

"We have a mix of veterans and new wrestlers," said Minutemen coach Brian Woodworth, whose team posted a 15-11 record last year. "We should be competitive in our matches."

Goshen is hoping to continue the momentum from a strong 2018-19 season. The RedHawks were 19-6 overall and 5-2 in the NLC.

Among the wrestlers back from last year are semi-state qualifiers Nick Olson, Rasheek Bonds, Kaleb Kilmer and Jose Rosales. Those four went a combined 113-44 last season.

"We're looking for a lot from those guys and others," said Goshen coach Jim Pickard.

"Our numbers are back up to over 60 to start the season. We hope to be competitive in the NLC. We're going to be very young.  We may have as many as 10 freshmen and sophomores in our varsity lineup."

At NorthWood, Jake Lone hopes to be in the mix for the state title at 182 pounds. Lone, who's currently ranked third in the state at 182, placed sixth in the state last year at 182 and ended up eighth at 170 in 2018. Lone has been an NLC, sectional and regional champion the last two years. His career record is 92-18. 

Another Panther wrestler that should pile up the wins is Jaden Miller, who was a semi-state qualifer at 170 pounds a year ago.

"Our team is a good mix of experience and youth this season," said NorthWood coach Nate Andrews. "There are upperclassmen that have been program guys for six or seven years. It's time for those guys to step up and lead. We expect them to reach their potential and hold each other accountable to do so.

"There is a good core of underclassmen that have been involved in the program and have put in the extra time competing out of season. We might be asking some of them to step up and get the job done as well.

"Everyone has to do their part. If every wrestler on this team keeps striving for their personal best we can see success as a team. The mindset is very positive in the room right now. We're excited for the season because the numbers are up and we have a great group of young men willing to work hard together."

In the Northeast Corner Conference, Fairfield must replace state qualifier Vince Yoder.

The Falcons do have back regional qualifiers Joseph Senn (113) and Jonathon Ortiz (138). 

"I'm very excited for this year," said Falcons coach Kyle Marsh. "I feel we'll have a complete turnaround from last season. We didn't have many kids come out last year, but that is definitely not an issue this season. There are a few kids who I expect can make a deep run in the state tournament this year."


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