By Jake Thompson
INDIANAPOLIS — With a win or go home scenario playing out last night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, five Hendricks County wrestlers made the most of their opportunities. However, of the seven that made the trip, two left with their hopes and dreams dashed.
Danville advanced all three of its wrestlers into the second day and coach Steve Pugliese was very happy afterward and harbors high expectations for today.
“It’s a lot better than losing,” Pugliese said laughing. “That’s what these guys have been working for. You figure after all three won semistate, they should be able to get through tonight.
“We’ve got to wrestle better tomorrow. We’ve got loftier goals than placing in the top eight. With one match at a time, hopefully they will all wrestle under the lights.”
Danville freshman Brock Hudkins (106) overcame any first-time jitters, dominating his match over Plymouth’s Cody Allmon. Hudkins was aggressive throughout his match and won impressively midway through the second period by fall.
“We got here really early and took it all in,” Hudkins said. “Coach said it was just another gym wrestling on another mat. I had butterflies because you never know how good the other kid is. You just have to go out and do what you do.”
Teammate Neal Molloy (145) also advanced by with a solid 4-1 decision over Chesterton’s Chris Katsafaros. While it was not a dominating win, Molloy looked in control the entire match.
“That guy has a lot of stuff,” Pugliese said. “Neal didn’t want to get caught and wasn’t going to put himself in a position to potentially give that guy what he wanted. We knew what we were getting into there and he was trying to stay out of harm’s way.”
Molloy, a former state champ as a sophomore, is looking for another state title to add to his collection tomorrow. But after a loss last year, Pugliese thinks his star pupil may have been a bit vigilant.
“He controlled the match and some of it may have been nerves coming back to the scene of the crime,” Pugliese said. “I think that we would expect to see him put up a lot of points tomorrow morning.”
Danville’s Brayden Montgomery (152) started a bit shaky but picked up where he left off in the semistate, with dominating wrestling. Montgomery took a 10-1 major decision over Ft. Wayne Carroll’s Tristan Wilson. The win was twice as sweet as Montgomery did not advance out of the first round of the state finals last year.
“It feels awesome,” Montgomery said smiling. “I got a little shell shocked again, but I was ready for it this time and let things fall together this year and managed to come away with a victory. I’m ready for tomorrow. Now I can just wrestle to my potential. My goal was to get on the podium and hopefully that’s first place, but we’ll see.”
Avon’s Dylan Jones finished sixth last season at the state finals and enjoyed an undefeated season until last week. Jones (36-1) battled Churubusco’s Jason Nicodemus (28-3) for a 6-3 decision and another chance at a top podium finish in his senior year.
“It’s the goal every year to come back here and place,” Jones said. “It’s exciting, but the important thing is tomorrow morning. I am just going to go after it and make my opponents make mistakes and just go hard.”
First-year state qualifier Connor Ludwig (182) made Brownsburg fans making the trip down to see the Bulldogs’ lone entrant very happy with his 7-4 decision over Portage’s Exvonte Jones. Ludwig looks forward to tomorrow now that the pressure is off.
“It felt great and all I was looking for this week,” Ludwig said. “I feel like I can wrestle (more freely) without the elimination factor in there. Still, the top goal in my mind is getting on the top of that podium.”
Avon had two grapplers that did not advance, senior Jonah Zorniger (182) and sophomore Evan Elmore (170).
Zorniger drew top-ranked Matt Hurford of Culver Community and while putting up quite a fight, fell by major decision 15-7. Elmore also drew the state’s top-ranked grappler in his first round match, Merrillville’s Bobby Steveson, and lost by technical fall, 23-8.
Wrestling begins at 9:30 a.m. today with quarterfinals action at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.