The pins are piling up

Northridge's Ibrahim Khaoucha (in green), here wrestling Warsaw's Brock Hueber at the prestigious Al Smith Tournament earlier this season, has posted a 21-2 mark for the Raiders this season at the 195-pound weight class.

MIDDLEBURY — There's not much suspense when Northridge junior wrestler Ibrahim Khaoucha competes in a wrestling match.

Khaoucha owns a 21-2 record this year at 195 pounds, with 20 of his wins coming by pin. 

"I don't know how to explain it," said Khaoucha about the pins. "I just put a lot of pressure on the guy and have a killer mindset out there."

Northridge wrestling coach Eric Highley thinks that mindset became part of Khaoucha almost a year ago.

"He kind of figured things out and started to believe in himself after the Coaches Association Team State Super Duals during the first weekend in January," said Highley. 

Khaoucha avenged a regular season loss to Goshen's Julio Navarro and beat him 7-3 for a sectional championship. Khaoucha had lost to Navarro by major decision during the regular season. 

That momentum carried into the regional where Khaoucha pinned his three opponents on his way to a regional title. 

At semi-state, Khaoucha lost to Norwell's Cale Gray, 4-2, in a second round match. Gray would go on to finish sixth in the state.

"I was pretty good on top and I was starting to pin people," Khaoucha said.

Khaoucha, who finished 25-9 a year ago, has continued to improve this year. At the prestigious Al Smith Wrestling Invitational on Dec. 28, Khaoucha placed second. He was pinned by Mishawaka's Jacob Laplace in 3:23 in the finals. 

"I didn't like how my day ended but I was still happy with how I did," Khaoucha said. "I've definitely improved on my feet and doing a better job finishing matches.

"I'm wrestling pretty well this year. There's definitely stuff I can improve on, but I feel pretty confident in my wrestling."

Highley has high expectations for Khaoucha.

"As long as he's working on the things he needs to do I feel he can place at state and finish in the top eight," Highley said. 

Khaoucha didn't wrestle on the varsity as a freshman. Instead he was on the junior varsity, waiting his turn while senior Dan Wickersham wrestled at 195 and qualified for state.

Khaoucha didn't lose a match while participating on the junior varsity.

"I was a little disappointed that I wasn't on the varsity," Khaoucha said. "But there was someone in front of me who was one of the top wrestlers in the state. It didn't affect my attitude towards the sport. I just went out there and wrestled."

Some of his toughest matches came in practice, as Khaoucha competed against Wickersham and eventual 182-pound state champion Conner Graber.

"Dan towards the end of the season was still beating me," Khaoucha said. "I wasn't getting pinned by Conner, but he was still able to beat me.

"I learned a lot from them. Their attitude coming into practice was to get their work done, go home and then come back to work and repeat the work ethic."  

Khaoucha has had more success in practice going up against his older brother Omar, who's a senior 220-pounder. Omar, who made it to the regionals last year, owns a 17-4 record.

"He's doing pretty well," Ibrahim said about his brother. "We do wrestle against each other in practice and I win those matches. He hasn't got past regionals so I do have bragging rights on him."

Led by the Khaoucha brothers, Northridge owns an 18-0 overall record and a 6-0 Northern Lakes Conference record this year. The Raiders are aiming for their fourth straight conference title and third straight sectional championship.

"It means a lot to me to see the team succeed," Ibrahim said. "It feels great to see your teammates and friends doing well." 

Since he was very young, wrestling has been a big part of Ibrahim's life. He wrestled at Jefferson Elementary School and for the Northridge Wrestling Club.

"Being pretty athletic helps me a lot in the sport," Ibrahim said. "It comes naturally to me."

It's not the only sport he plays at Northridge, as Ibrahim also started as an offensive guard and defensive end for the Raiders football team.

"I'd have to say that wrestling is my favorite sport because I'm better at wrestling," Ibrahim said.

But Ibrahim is proudest of what he's done away from sports. Academically, he owns a 3.8 grade-point average and he's think about getting into the medical field for his career. 

"That's more important than sports in my opinion," Ibrahim said.  

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