BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
INDIANAPOLIS — It was a low-key ending to an epic season for Rochester wrestlers Alex Deming and Brady Beck.
Wrestlers walk to the mats as part of the Parade of Champions prior to the IHSAA state finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse Friday. The IHSAA said that 107 schools were represented at state. Rochester had four wrestlers at state – Layne Horn, Brant Beck, Alex Deming and Brady Beck. Tippecanoe Valley had senior Bazle Owens, who was eliminated Friday night.
That epic season ended Saturday with the team scoring eight points and finishing in a tie for 43rd place at the IHSAA state finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Deming (195) and Beck (220), both juniors, were Rochester’s lone scorers. Each placed seventh to gain a spot on the podium. Each beat a familiar opponent in their respective seventh-place matches.
Deming came in ranked No. 6 in his weight class, and Beck was ranked No. 2. They saw teammate Marshall Fishback win the state title at heavyweight last year under the spotlight. Wrestling at 6 p.m. at a sparsely filled Fieldhouse might not have been the way they envisioned it.
“It wasn’t the weekend we were hoping for,” Zebra coach Clint Gard said. “I know that sounds pretty selfish and sounds ungrateful, and I don’t mean it to sound that way at all. We got two state place winners. … That’s important. That’s big. It’s awesome. But we expected probably a little bit more. … We’ll be happy with it. We’ll take it home. We’ll build off it. Hopefully, it motivates guys, not just Brady and Alex, but motivates some other guys.”
Still, Gard saw great pride in what they accomplished under the circumstances.
“These matches here are so hard to wrestle,” Gard said. “And again, that goes back to the way we preach about going about our business and representing ourselves the right way and finishing strong, and it’s kind of the same thing with team state. That’s one of the hardest things you’ve got to do, and I think that’s true in any sport.
“But to wrestle back for a place that you didn't come here to get, it’s really, really hard.”
Deming finished his day Saturday with a 9-8 win over Concord’s Armen Koltookian in the seventh-place match. Trailing 6-2 after two periods, Deming relied on a Granby roll, a powerful move from the bottom position, to get a reversal on Koltookian. He then squeezed a side headlock to earn five points and take a 7-6 lead.
Koltookian then got his shoulders off the mat and got a two-point reversal to go back ahead 8-7. But a tiring Koltookian was called for a stalling penalty, which gave Deming one point to tie the match. When Deming got back to his feet and got an escape, that turned out to be the decisive point.
It marked his third win over Koltookian this season. He also beat him at the Rochester John McKee Memorial Invitational on Dec. 17 and in a semistate semifinal in Fort Wayne on Feb. 11.
“It’s pretty tough because we know what each other is going to do, and he clearly won the beginning, and I was just letting him take me down a lot in the beginning, and I have to work on my defense there, but thankfully, it worked out for me,” Deming said.
Deming finished the season 45-2 with both of his losses coming at state. He started his state finals with a 5-2 win over Clinton Central’s Cael Albaugh in the first round on Friday.
In the quarterfinals, Brownsburg’s Gunner Henry, who rides bulls as a hobby as part of his family’s cattle business, earned four takedowns and a reversal and beat Deming 10-4. In the consolation round, Deming then dropped a 7-3 decision to Roncalli’s Luke Hansen.
Deming said he had plans to get an MRI on his left shoulder after the state finals. He had the shoulder taped and wore a Sully brace on it to stabilize it.
He said he believed he hurt the shoulder last spring.
“It comes and goes because it gets irritated,” Deming said.
Deming made state in 2022 but lost his Friday match.
“I was coming to shoot to place higher, but I placed this year, and I didn’t place last year, and I was not too overwhelmed this year, I would say, because last year I was pretty nervous,” Deming said. “But now I know what it’s like getting into the second day, and my competition is what I need to train for next year.”
Beck avenged his 3-2 loss to Fort Wayne Northrop’s Julante Hinton in the semistate final at Fort Wayne by beating Hinton 4-1 in the seventh-place match at 220 at state.
Beck led 1-0 going into the third period before immediately turning Hinton and earning three points for a near-fall.
Beck said his previous experience against Hinton paid off.
“I knew the switch was coming,” Beck said. “He tried to hit it last week, and he ended up just getting one (point) out of it. So I positioned my head to the other side so that he couldn’t get in between to my leg. As soon as he turned, I pulled his arm back, and I got my count.”
Beck was motivated to face Hinton again. Had he beaten Hinton at semistate, then it would have set up a more favorable state draw where he would not have had to face top-ranked Will Clark of Crown Point in the quarterfinals.
“I felt very incomplete after that loss, and it shouldn’t have happened obviously,” Beck said. “4-1 is a pretty good win coming off a 2-3 loss. That match, I feel like, still could have got me higher today. Obviously, my second and third matches weren’t the greatest, but that match would have meant a lot last week, but we got it back, so I’m happy about it.”
Beck began his state tournament with a 3-2 win over Noblesville’s Austin Hastings Friday night.
That marked Beck’s third win over Hastings this season. He also beat Hastings twice in December in a tournament at North Montgomery High School.
That set up a quarterfinal between the top two ranked 220-pounders in the state, according to IndianaMat.com – No. 2 Beck against No. 1 Clark. Beck got the first takedown, but Clark got a pair of escapes – one at the end of the first period and another early in the second – to tie the match. Beck offset a single-leg takedown by Clark with an escape and stayed within 4-3 going into the third period.
Clark turned Beck from the top position to earn three points, and while Beck staved off Clark’s near-fall, Clark went on to win 7-4. Clark went on to win the state title later that night.
Beck then lost 3-1 to Mount Vernon (Fortville)’s defensively oriented Devin Kendrex in the consolation bracket to set up another meeting with Hinton. Kendrex got a first-period takedown to take a 2-0 lead and then traded escapes with Beck.
Beck is the first Rochester wrestler since Cory Fornal to place multiple times at state. Fornal was seventh at 140 in 2005 and second in 2006. Beck was sixth at 220 last year.
“It feels good,” Beck said. “It’s the first time in a long while that it’s happened. Not where I wanted. We’re coming back one more time. … We’ve got another year. Looking to improve.”
Layne Horn and Brant Beck, Rochester’s freshman phenoms at 106 and 160, respectively, both lost in the first round Friday and were eliminated.
Horn dropped a 4-2 decision to Avon’s Nathan Rioux. Rioux scored both of his takedowns on counter moves, including the decisive takedown in the third period, before riding Horn from the top position to close out the match over the final 1:30.
Brant Beck lost 14-6 to Crown Point’s Sam Goin. Goin, who went on to win the state title 24 hours later, defended Brant Beck’s straight-forward style with effective footwork and notched seven takedowns. Beck was the only wrestler to last six minutes against Goin; he won his other three state matches on two falls and a tech fall.
Crown Point made it back-to-back state titles with 167 points. Center Grove was second with 131, and Brownsburg was third with 129.5. Gard said Rochester strives to be on the same level as those programs, but those programs have inherent advantages.
“They have resources we just don’t have,” Gard said. “You know, you look at Brownsburg and Center Grove in this area, and a lot of these Indianapolis schools and Evansville, they’ve got resources – not just numbers of kids walking the hallways but down here just in this area alone, you’ve got Central Indiana Wrestling Academy, you’ve got Contenders Wrestling Academy, and you’ve got Red Cobra Wrestling Academy. And Contenders has one on the west side and the south side. … And you can do that almost year-round, and some kids do.”
Gard addressed the physical demands of wrestling. Battling through nagging injuries is commonplace, so Gard tries to give his athletes time to recover. He said that he and certified athletic trainer Christina Hughes work together to see how each wrestler is recovering.
“It takes a toll,” Gard said. “They're going to need a break. We’ll be back in the weight room lifting for my class for most of my guys. We’ll give them a little bit of break but not much. There are some tournaments coming up that I want to see our guys wrestle in, But I may not get what I want early in the offseason. Some of these guys are probably going to need to heal up a little bit.”
Gard was asked if kids need to be protected from themselves.
“Kids want to please you,” Gard said. “At least I feel like most of our guys do. Our guys and girls, they want to please the coaches. They want to stay and work hard. They want to win. They want to be part of the program. They don’t want to disappoint us. We tell kids often you’re not going to disappoint us if you’re hurt and you need a break.
“We’ve learned that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.”
Gard also said he has two metal rods in his back and issues to this day with his hips and his knees. He said he uses himself as an example as to why wrestlers need to be honest about the nature and severity of the injuries with which they are dealing.
Gard said that nine Zebra wrestlers earned Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association academic all-state recognition.
While all four kids who wrestled in the state tournament will be back next year, semistate qualifiers like Ethan Holloway, Aaron Swango, Greyson Gard, Gavin McKee and Carlos Orduňo all graduate. Gard said they will shoot high when they set goals for next year.
“There’s that fine line. We’ve got to get better. I think next year, we can still be a really, really good team. Right now, we’re in first place in 1A for getting invited back to team state. We will be invited back. We’re going to finish as the number one team in 1A again. … We’ve got a couple eighth-graders coming up that are going to help us out a ton. And we’ve got a great nucleus of kids. So the future’s bright for us.”
A photo of 2022 Rochester grad Marshall Fishback was on the cover of the state championship program, and a similar photo of Fishback appeared through Gainbridge Fieldhouse on video boards and in hallways. Fishback, now a freshman at Indiana University Kokomo, became Rochester’s first ever state wrestling champion when he defeated Westfield’s Mihail Platonov in an ultimate tiebreaker in the 285-pound weight class last year.
“It was kind of funny,” Brady Beck said. “I mean, four-time state champ Jesse Mendez (of Crown Point), but Marshall got on there. So it was kinda weird seeing it, but it was really cool. A 1A school, and he’s on everything.”
Gard said he did not know that Fishback would be “everywhere.”
“Robert Faulkens, who is our (IHSAA) wrestling commissioner, I went over and thanked him,” Gard said. “Whatever hand he had in that, I don’t know how that’s decided, but I just thanked him for doing that, appreciative of it. He said that they go through 12 and 13 thousand pictures from the state championships to decide which picture to use. This year, they felt like they had a lot of great pictures, but they felt like that picture captured the emotion of what it’s truly like to be excited and thankful and win something huge that nobody expected him to do. So that was pretty cool – 12, 13 thousand photos and that’s the one. That’s awesome for him, and that’s awesome for our program.
“That’s not just neat for Marshall, but it’s neat for our community and his family and our kids. … We’ll put one in the trophy case back home.”
Top Left: Rochester’s Alex Deming and Roncalli’s Luke Hansen vie for next and wrist control during their 195-pound match in the wrestlebacks during the IHSAA state finals Saturday. Hansen went on to win 7-3. (Photo provided by Paul Deming)
Top Right:Rochester’s Brady Beck tries to control Crown Point’s Will Clark from the top position during their 220-pound match in the quarterfinals of the IHSAA state finals Saturday. (Photo provided by Paul Deming)
Second Row from top Left: Rochester’s Brady Beck lifts Crown Point’s Will Clark during their quarterfinal match at the IHSAA state wrestling finals Saturday. Clark won 7-4 and went on to win the state title at 220 pounds. (Photo provided by Paul Deming)
Second Row from Top Right:Rochester’s Alex Deming applies a side headlock to Concord’s Armen Koltookian during their seventh-place match at 195 at the IHSAA state finals Saturday. Deming defeated Koltookian 9-8 for his third win over Koltookian this season. (Photo provided by Paul Deming)
Third Row from Top: Rochester’s Alex Deming puts Concord’s Armen Koltookian on his back during their seventh-place match at 195 at the IHSAA state finals Saturday. Deming rallied from a 6-2 deficit to win 9-8. (Photo provided by Paul Deming)
Bottom Row: The referee raises Rochester’s Brady Beck’s arm in victory while Fort Wayne Northrop’s Julante Hinton gives a fist bump to Rochester’s coaches following Beck’s 4-1 win in the seventh-place match at 220 pounds at the IHSAA state finals Saturday. Beck finished his junior season 43-3. (Photo provided by Paul Deming)