One final hurdle stands in the way of nine wrestlers from Whitley County. Saturday, the Indiana high school individual semistate tournament splits the contenders from the pretenders.
Across 14 different weight classes, 224 wrestlers are vying for a top-four finish that will get them to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for the 73rd annual individual state finals tournament.
The path for five Wildcats and four Eagles goes through the Woodlan semistate held at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
Among them, three Whitko wrestlers return to the semistate round.
Both Chas Busz and Jordan Gilbert look for a second consecutive trip to the state finals after each jumped up two weight classes this season.
At 119 pounds, Busz (24-1) goes into semistate with the fewest losses of any wrestler in his class. The junior Wildcat has only one loss and will face first-round opponent Bobby Keuneke (28-12) of Bellmont.
As Whitko’s lone senior, Gilbert (35-5) takes his sectional title into the 125-pound weight class with a tough path — first against Peru’s Braxton Simpson (34-9), then possibly Jimtown’s Nick Crume (43-1).
The Wildcats share the bracket with Churubusco in the 140 and 189-pound weight classes.
The Eagles’ two seniors, Zach Armstead and Braxton Siddons, led Churubusco with third-place finishes at regional.
Siddons (33-2) comes in after going undefeated in the regular season. Narrow losses in the sectional and regional rounds puts Siddons up against Elkhart Central’s Carson Volhiem (32-7) to open semistate.
Whitko’s Austin Striggle joins Siddons at 189 pounds. Striggle (7-3) is on the other half of the bracket against Goshen senior Brandon Dillenbeck (37-3).
Armstead and Whitko’s Cody Bays have run into each other at 140 pounds and could have a potential meeting in the semifinal round.
Bays comes off a win over Armstead and a second-place finish at regional. Bays (24-11) will first have to take on Manchester’s Payton Sorg (26-12).
Armstead (31-4) has a tall task to face in Southwood’s Joshua Brainard (31-9) with potentially top-seeded Kevin Marsh (43-3) of West Noble waiting in the wings.
Two ’Busco underclassmen make their semistate debut. Junior Adam Boggess (28-10) goes up against a tough Jimtown senior in Collin Crume (41-3) to lead off the day in the 130 weight class.
Sophomore Brian Richardson will have his own share of senior troubles at 171 pounds. Richardson (24-11) squares off against Bellmont’s Ryley Hankenson (37-1).
The heavyweights will feature the big cat from Whitko. Ben Hinora (29-13) takes on Eric Forrest (38-6) of Jimtown in the 285-pound first round.
Semistate action gets underway at 9 a.m. with the first two rounds. Semifinal matches are set to start at 3 p.m. at the Coliseum with the finals following at 4 p.m.