FORT WAYNE – East Noble’s Garrett Pepple and Connor Knapp push each other – in the wrestling room and in meets – and are right there beside each other when it counts the most.
The juniors are practice partners and wrestle in back-to-back matches at 113 pounds (Pepple) and 120 (Knapp). It has proven to be a good combination.
Garrett and I have been training partners since we were freshman, Knapp said. It’s always been like that. He goes out and wins, and I go out and win. We bust them out. Usually it gets the team going too because we have gotten to that highest level at semistate. It’s kind of a rivalry thing. I have to go out there and top that.
Both wrestlers were semistate champions last week at Memorial Coliseum, Knapp his second title and Pepple his first. Pepple (38-1) is ranked No. 4 in his weight class in the state, while Knapp (35-2) is No. 5. At last year’s state finals, Pepple was runner-up at 106, while Knapp was fourth at 113.
It is an advantage having a practice partner like that every day, Pepple said. (In the meets) one guy goes out there and gets the W, and then the next guy goes out there and gets the W.
The practice core of four for the lower weights at East Noble also includes freshman state qualifier Nate Weimer (106) and senior Sterling Lutter (126).
We never expected this, Knapp said of the success. We are just a bunch of misfit kids who come together and wrestle our butts off and look what happens. We wrestle as a team at East Noble, and that helps. We wrestle like brothers.
Pepple entered this season ranked No. 1 in the state before falling 2-1 to Munster’s Jason Crary.
I learned from that loss, and hopefully see him at state and get my revenge, Pepple said. I was ranked No. 1 coming into the season, and I had a target on my back, and I took that loss. It woke me up. It made me work harder in practice.
Pepple lost to New Palestine’s Chad Red 4-0 in the 2013 state title match.
It gave me an advantage coming into the season, Pepple said of advancing to the state title match a year ago. That’s a lot of pressure being under the lights. I feel like I am wrestling at the top of what I can right now.
Knapp had high expectations as well and seems to be peaking at the right time. He beat No. 3 Forrest Flogouski of Fairfield in the semistate finals and No. 4 Sawyer Miller of South Adams in the quarterfinals. Miller beat Knapp 5-3 last year in the third-place match at the state finals.
It’s one good week of practice and keeping my mind in it and take it one match at a time because it’s not going to be easy, especially in my weight class, Knapp said of the state finals. There’s a good chance I could lose (tonight) even being a semistate champ, so you can’t overlook anybody and go in and wrestle my butt off; it should be a good tournament for me.