By Jake Thompson
— Hendricks County high schools sent 25 wrestlers to the Evansville Reitz semistate last Saturday to see who would become a state qualifier. Grapplers had to finish in the top four of their respective weight classes to advance to the state finals.
Seven wrestlers were up to the challenge of becoming one of the state’s elite; 16 headed to the finals in their respective weight class.
Danville, winner of sectional and regional titles, finished third in the team aspect and came away with three semistate champions on the day.
“Our team finish was nice … we were looking for kids to show up and compete and that’s all we ask them to do,” Danville coach Steve Pugliese said. “To be top three at that semistate, we’re not the biggest school down there. We’ve come a long way.
“We knew we had some tough matches going into the day. What was disappointing was we were winning a few matches that we should have won. It’s not that we lost but how we lost that was disappointing.”
The Warriors’ Neal Molloy (145), Brayden Montgomery (152), and Brock Hudkins (106) all came away with top honors. All three were sectional and regional champions and now sit in one of the four coveted No. 1-seeded slots next weekend.
“Those guys have earned it and it’s a result of what you put in,” Pugliese said.
For Molloy, it was his third consecutive semistate championship and is now his final chance for another state title after winning his first championship two seasons ago.
“It does not ever get old,” Molloy said with a chuckle. “Last year I didn’t finish where I wanted to, but it motivated me and now I’m here knocking at the door again.”
Montgomery placed third at semistate last season and this will be his second trip to the state finals, finishing as a state qualifier. He is coming on strong at the end of the year according to Molloy.
“Brayden turned it on,” he said. “He normally does not score a lot of points but he did today. He has been wrestling phenomenally in the room the past couple of weeks. He really wants it this season.”
Hudkins, a freshman, took home his first semistate title after starting the season late due to a broken arm. Since then, he has been on a tear, going undefeated with a 21-0 record. With two teammates having been there before, Hudkins hopes to lean on that experience.
“I’ve always asked Neal about stuff and Monty is good about that too,” Hudkins said. “They’ve really helped me out with everything I do and what’s going on. They are preparing me for state.”
Danville was not the only county team that had a successful day. Avon is also sending three wrestlers to the state finals.
Dylan Jones (220), Jonah Zorniger (182), and Evan Elmore (170) all wrestled well enough to punch their tickets to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Elmore finished fourth after winning his first two matches of the day, as did Zorniger.
However, Zorniger and Jones also had something in common as they each lost their final match of the day in an ultimate tiebreaker scenario. For Jones, it was his first loss of the season and came in the finals as he finished as runner-up.
Both Jones and Zorniger went to the state championship last season, with Jones taking sixth and Zorniger finishing as a state qualifier. Much like Molly and Montgomery with Hudkins, the pair of Orioles wrestlers will have to take Elmore under their wing and prepare him for this weekend.
The final county wrestler headed down to the finals is Brownsburg’s Connor Ludwig (182) as he finished as the semistate runner up and was the only Bulldog out of four that advanced out of Evansville. Ludwig won the sectional this season and was last year’s regional champ, so he has the necessary postseason accolades to prepare him for what now lies ahead.
The 75th Annual Indiana Wrestling State Tournament opens with first-round action at 6 p.m. Friday night, preceded by the parade of champions. Wrestlers must win their first match to advance into Saturday’s wrestling that begins at 9:30 a.m.