By Jake Thompson
INDIANAPOLIS — As the wrestling postseason started four weeks ago, teams and individuals were whittled down one by one. Five county wrestlers advanced from a total of seven on Friday night into the final day of the 75th Annual IHSAA Wrestling State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last night.
In the end, only one was left standing at the top of the podium; Danville’s Neal Molloy.
This was the second time in Molloy’s prep career that he has occupied that spot — the first coming in his sophomore year — and the victory was certainly a little more than satisfying to the outgoing 145-pound senior.
“It felt real good to finish on top,” Molloy said smiling. “Having all of these people around me makes it great. The town of Danville is behind me and it just feels awesome.”
For Danville coach Steve Pugliese, the ride with Molloy over the past four years has been a wild one and culminated with a gripping end in their final bout together.
“The match was a little more exciting than I wanted it, but winning never gets old,” Pugliese said. “I don’t know that I can put it into words.”
Leading 4-3, Molloy appeared to have possibly given up a takedown to Yorktown's Eli Walker in the closing seconds of the third period. As the two wrestlers stood on the mat awaiting the official outcome, it was finally ruled time had expired before the possibility of a takedown could be considered according to Pugliese.
While Molloy led all Hendricks County wrestlers on the weekend, his teammates Brayden Montgomery and Brock Hudkins also came away with hardware.
Hudkins, a freshman, took fifth place, losing only to the eventual state runner-up in a loss that is likely to stick with him for a while. In the wrestleback rounds, Hudkins convincingly defeated the state’s No. 2 and No. 3-ranked 106-pound wrestlers to earn his spot on the podium.
“I just went out and wrestled and this is something else,” Hudkins said. “I’ve wrestled in big places and big matches, a lot of Team Indiana teams and this is just like it with tough competition. I wouldn’t say I had a bad day. I wrestled to the fullest, but I wish I could have changed what place I got. I wrestled the hardest I could and I had no regrets afterwards, they were really good.”
Montgomery, a senior, has come a long way in his tenure with the Warriors and closed his career with a sixth place finish. After advancing past the first round Friday night, Montgomery, like Hudkins, lost to the eventual state runner-up. A loss in his last prep match dropped Montgomery to sixth.
“I didn’t want that to happen again and put in the work all year,” Montgomery said of his Friday night last season. “I wish I would have ended my career with a win but I can’t say I haven’t had fun here. We have some guys on the team that make it worth being here… and that’s what I loved about this team.”
Pugliese beamed with pride when talking about the accomplishments of the program and how far it has come thanks to the dedication and hard work of his wrestlers. Of the 69 teams represented in the state finals, Danville finished tied for 11th.
“We’ve never had more than one guy place in any year,” Pugliese said. “So, to win all three matches last night and bring home three medals, and more importantly bring home three guys in the top six, it is just a product of what we’ve been doing the last six years at Danville.”
Brownsburg’s Connor Ludwig started the day up against a state runner-up from last season and this year — Perry Meridian’s Jake Masengale — and could not get past him. Another loss in overtime put the Bulldog in the seventh and eighth place match, one he won by injury default for seventh.
“It was fantastic,” Ludwig said. “My goal was to get to last night and win and I got that goal. I just wanted to do as well as I could today and it was a great experience with all of the fans, the crowd and the atmosphere. It was great to get here my senior year.”
Avon’s Dylan Jones made it to semistate before being beaten and found himself up against Indiana’s No. 1-ranked wrestler Saturday morning in the 220-pound class. After taking just his second loss on the season, Jones reinjured his arm and could not continue. He injury defaulted that round and the next to secure eighth place.
Going out by way of injury certainly was disappointing, especially after placing sixth last season.
“Definitely not the way you want to go out your senior year,” Jones said fighting back tears. “I’ve been working so hard in the room and it just sucks. I know I can beat all of those kids out there and if I was healthy I know I would. It’s just tough that I really don’t have a chance to.”
The loss may have been almost equally as devastating for Avon coach Israel Blevins who, as his eyes welled up, was emotional while talking about Dylan.
“It’s definitely tough and he’s been battling that injury all season,” Blevins said. “He’s been going through the season with it and did well for what it is. For all the young kids we’ve had, he’s been a remarkable leader. It’s just upsetting to have to see one of your wrestlers have to finish his career that way.”