CROWN POINT – The way Bobby Whitenack saw it, his son Hunter having to wrestle a six-minute match for just the second time this season wasn’t that big of a deal.
“We practice for way more than six minutes a day,” the New Prairie coach said with a laugh. “I think he’s fine as far as that goes.”
The Cougars sophomore 285-pounder went the distance in the sectional and did it again Saturday in the Crown Point Regional final, where he downed Lowell’s Bryce Stoner 7-2.
“It was a hard match, it was very fun, too, everyone watching you under the lights,” the younger Whitenack said, catching his breath after the champion’s photo. “I’m very happy with my performance. Most of (my matches) have been like a minute long at most. I feel like I’m in good shape. I just need to breathe better. Earlier in the day, I got a bloody nose and it’s been bothering me all day. I feel like it’s the best performance I’ve ever had in my life.”
While he was never serious danger, Whitenack (42-3) had to earn the decision.
“I know what I need to work on for semistate, how I can improve my overall wrestling,” he said. “We need to get better on bottom, with escapes. I think, like neutral, I took him down pretty easily, I got some back points. I’m happy with how I’ve done so far. I’m two wins from going to state. I’ve set myself up really well. I just need to execute.”
Whitenack capped a day that featured three La Porte County champions in the meet. Slicers Tyson Nisley (138) and Matt Neff (170) garnered their second titles in as many years to lead the way for LP, which also qualified Jerome Trae Anderson (fourth, 152), Jaden Browder (third, 182) and freshman Ashton Jackson (third, 106). Michigan City’s Kamare Dunlap placed fourth at 160, as did New Prairie’s Josh Brewer at 220.
“We always make those goals early in the year. We thought we had five potential finalists and we’re to that point now,” LP coach Louie Kuzdas said after the fourth-place finish with 73.5 points. “We brought a lot of youngsters for the experience. That’s stuff we’re going to have for the future. We wrestled well, brought some competition, pushing the pace.”
Nisley (40-4) was a decisive winner in handling CP’s Nick Tattini 11-1.
“I think my neutral game is getting a lot better,” Nisley said. “I’ve always been pretty good at top, but neutral, I’ve always suffered. something I’ve put a lot of focus into. I like scoring a lot. I don’t like keeping matches close. I feel like I’ve always been good at putting lots of points on the board when I need to. I think I’m a lot more focused than last year.
When it comes down to bigger matches, it’s not the major things you need to fix in your wrestling and training. It’s the little things that make a difference. I’m working on those every day.”
After wrestling at 145 in the Duneland Conference tournament, Nisley opted to buckle down on his diet and make 138. The decision, he and Kuzdas agree, was the right one.
“He just decided, let’s go 38. He was certified early enough,” Kuzdas said. “He’s a better competitor at that weight class and it’s showing.”
OK, so he doesn’t get to smash after meets anymore, but the sacrifice is worth it.
“I just had to be more specific about what I eat, not eat like crazy over the weekend,” Nisley said. “Last year, after every tournament, I’d eat as much as I wanted. I’ve dropped lot more weight this year. I had to stay more focused to accomplish what I want to accomplish this year.”
For the third time in four weeks, Neff bested Chesterton’s Gavin Layman, 3-2, in a repeat of a final last season.
“It’s fun every Saturday,” Neff said. “It was a good match as usual. I knew it was going to be another close match. Oh, can I get an easy finals round? I never go in thinking I’m going to win. I know I have to wrestle my best if I’m going to come out with a win. If I was in his position, I would be frustrated. I keep working and working, and losing to the same guy. It just gets us both better.”
Neff (39-4) managed the solitary takedown of the match and absorbed a harmless penalty point for stalling in the final seconds.
“He didn’t collar tie me so I couldn’t get my elbow past a lot,” Neff said. “He shot faked more. He also didn’t put his arm down so I could get arm drag like last time. For me, I just tried to maintain focus throughout the whole match, push my pace to the point where I’d get him more tired than I was at the end of the match. The last 10 seconds, I was like, all right, let’s just relax here.
I had him in double underhooks so he can’t get anything out of it.”
Neither Neff nor Kuzdas would mind him seeing Layman another time if not two.
“That means we’re both already going (to state),” Kuzdas said. “And if we see him two more times, it means we’re down at state and already medalists. He and Gavin going toe to toe, he wants to do that and I don’t want to, he’s always a factor in how we prepare. Matt’s just Matt. He’s that hard-working kid who just goes and goes and goes. He has a hard-nosed, blue-collar mentality.”
Coach Whitenack was happy to see Brewer advance in a weight class where he’s giving up about 30 pounds.
“He’s 190 wrestling 220,” he said.
The eight county qualifiers will compete in next Saturday’s East Chicago Semistate. “Now we have another week, we’ll do our homework and get to it,” Kuzdas said.