By Chris Reed
EMMA — For the most part, Saturday’s Northeast Corner Conference wrestling meet featured much of what coaches, players and fans expected to see.
The league’s upper echelon of teams — Central Noble, Garrett and Prairie Heights — each finished in the top three of the team standings, with Garrett’s 218 points claiming the tourney’s team title, while Heights came in second with 211 and the Cougars third (196).
On top of that, star individuals, such as Angola’s Jett Boots at 106 pounds, Eastside’s Laike Minnick (170) and West Noble’s Draven Rasler (195), just to name a few, all showcased their talents by earning top finishes in their respective weight classes.
But don’t let that fool you into thinking the meet was boring or even monotonous. Of the 14 championship matches wrestled, only two were won by fall. Six more matches were decided by five points or less.
As Central Noble head coach Chuck Fleshman — a pillar in the conference for years — put it, the amount of talent on display, from top to bottom, made for an exhilarating day.
“There was a lot, I mean a lot, of great wrestling put on display here today,” he said. “Coming into the season we knew there were a lot of talented kids in our conference. There have always been a handful in years past, but this year there were just several more.
“It’s fun. It gives our conference an extra push and kind of puts us out there more than maybe we have been in the past.”
Fleshman’s team left the meet with the most first-place finishers, four, than any team — Tanner Schoeff, 126 pounds, Austin Moore (138), Giran Kunkel (145) and Levi Leffers (220) — but it was the Railroaders who stole the show.
Garrett’s team title ended a three-year run in the NECC in which Prairie Heights never surrendered its stranglehold on the conference title.
Nick Kraus’ team had come close before, finishing second last year and third the year before that, but could never get over the Prairie Heights hump, until now.
“We haven’t done this since I’ve been the coach, so it feels good,” Kraus said. “It’s not like (Heights) has blown us out of the water these last few years. We have competed hard with them, and it’s great for our guys to be able to get this title.”
Kraus also noted that with the amount of talent within the conference, no champion is safe for long.
“As long as both of our programs are in the NECC, as well as teams like Central Noble, Eastside, Lakeland, and maybe a couple others, it’s going to be tough.”
Garrett placed eight wrestlers into championship matches, and two more into third-place bouts, but did not have the success in those duals that Kraus wanted to see, as the team went just 2-8 in those matches — the two wins coming from first-place finishes by Brayden Shearer (113) and Drake Baker (160).
According to the coach, the poor round showed his team has one key area to improve upon before it travels back to Westview next week for sectional.
“The mental aspect,” Kraus said. “Some of our kids wrestled way too tight during their matches, and there’s just no need for that. They need to be able to get out of their own minds and just have fun out there.”
As for the defending champion Prairie Heights, the Panthers placed a meet-high 13 wrestlers — getting a person on the podium in every class except for 106 — including a first-place finish from sophomore Isaiah Levitz at 152 and four wrestlers coming in second.
Levitz defeated Garrett’s Clayton Fielden in a thrilling 12-8 decision in which he trailed 6-1 into the second period, but ended the match with an 11-2 burst.
Central Noble placed 10 wrestlers during its third-place finish, including going 4-1 in championship matches. The Cougars came into the meet banged up in a few areas, but impressed Fleshman with what he saw on the mat.
“We fought hard,” the coach said. “We left some points out on the mat in some areas, but every team does that. Now we have to get ready for the big one next week.”
Other top finishers included: Fairfield’s Malachi Walters at 120 pounds, Angola’s Zach Burrell (132), Lakeland’s Alex Cary (182), and Vince Yoder of Fairfield (285).
NECC Wrestling Tourney
1. Garrett 218 points; 2. Prairie Heights 211; 3. Central Noble 196; 4. Lakeland 144; 5. Eastside 142.5; 6. Angola 136; 7. Churubusco 121; 8. West Noble 110.5; 9. Fairfield 109; 10. Fremont 42; 11. Westview 16.
Championship match results
106 — Boots (Ang) by dec. 8-3 over Chandler Shearer (Garr); 113 — Brayden Shearer (Garr) by fall 2:55 over Weimer (WN); 120 — Walters (FF) by major dec. 13-4 over Wertman (Garr); 126 — Schoeff (CN) by major dec. 9-0 over Hoyer (PH); 132 — Burrell (Ang) by dec. 8-7 over Rowdon (PH); 138 — Moore (CN) by major dec. 12-2 over Rasler (PH); 145 — Kunkel (CN) by dec. 8-1 over Leazier (CH); 152 — Isaiah Levitz (PH) by dec. 12-8 over Fielden (Garr); 160 — Baker (Garr) by dec. 12-8 over Crisp (CN); 170 — Minnick (ES) by tech fall 27-11 over Jed Levitz (PH); 182 — Cary (LL) by fall 3:42 over Bevis (Garr); 195 — Rasler (WN) by dec. 5-0 over Davis (Garr); 220 — Leffers (CN) by dec. 10-4 over Smith (Garr); 285 — Yoder (FF) by dec. 5-0 over Bergman (LL).
Third-place match results
106 — Curtis (LL) by dec. 5-4 over Hull (Fre); 113 — Reister (CH) by dec. 4-2 over Phiplott (PH); 120 — Burns (ES) by fall 3:50 over Clay (CN) ; 126 — Miller (FF) by dec. 4-0 over Reyes (WN); 132 — Brown (WN) by major dec. 12-3 over Custer (Garr); 138 — Burns (ES) by fall 2:22 over Roy (WN); 145 — Meyer (Ang) by dec. 13-8 over Evans (Fre); 152 — Leeper (ES) by fall 0:36 over Purkey (Ang); 160 — Johnson (PH) by fall 1:29 over Lanam (Ang); 170 — Owen (CN) by dec. 12-8 over Sears (Ang); 182 — Mooney (CN) by fall 1:24 over Blodgett (PH); 195 — Bergman (LL) by dec. 8-5 over Shafer (PH) ; 220 — Wicker (CH) by dec. 3-1 over Miller (ES); 285 — Leeper (ES) by dec. 5-1 over Hathaway (Garr).
106 — Prater (CH) by fall 2:10 over Mata (WN); 113 — Yoder (FF) by major dec. 10-0 over Luker (ES); 120 — Marple (Ang) by fall 2:25 over Bailer (PH); 126 — Michael (Ang) by dec. 10-9 over Hawkins (Fre); 132 — Bollinger (CN) by fall 2:41 over Terry (LL); 138 — Parson (CH) over Miller (LL); 145 — Rowdon (PH) over Tierney (WN); 152 — Yoder (WV) by dec. 8-3 over Lounsberry (LL); 160 — Gephart (LL) by fall 2:59 over Abramson (FF); 170 — Hammond (LL) by fall 3:22 over Kezar (FF); 182 —Martenies (ES) by major dec. 11-1 over Keener (CH); 195 —McKee (Ang) by fall 4:43 over Winebrenner (CN); 220 — Deetz (PH) by fall 2:04 over Delapaz (LL); 285 — Rennaker (CH) by fall 1:29 over Messer (PH).