With Bellmont's signature athletic program forcing the school's trophy case to continually expand, the Braves' wrestlers added a Class 2A state championship to their collection Saturday, taking the IHSWCA Team State Duals at the Memorial Coliseum.
Trailing by two points headed into the final match, Isaac Friedt's 94-second pinfall propelled Bellmont past Garrett, 33-29, for the championship.
The win marked the Braves' second title in the event in the past five years, while the Railroaders finished as the 2A runners-up for the second straight season.
“It means everything, because wrestling is the biggest and most successful sport we've had here,” Bellmont coach Paul Gunsett said. “It just shows the tremendous work our kids do to keep this program going.”
Team State marked the end of a whirlwind fortnight for the three area schools, which included 2018 champion and defending runner-up Wawasee, which defeated Edgewood in the seventh-place match..
The teams had competed the previous weekend at the Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka –widely regarded as the state's best prep wrestling tournament other than state finals – followed by a dual tournament teaming with the state's top squads. It turned the two weeks off from school into anything but a break.
“It was not relaxing at all,” said Wawasee coach Frank Bumgardner, whose team had to replace half of its varsity competitors from last season. “As we looked at our team state performance, we had our seniors who I thought performed pretty well to their capabilities, and I thought our younger kids, some of them you can see it starting to wear on them.
“I think this has been an eye-opening experience. They can see how long the season is.”
The 2A championship marked a rematch from the Carroll Super Dual in which Bellmont handed Garrett a 46-24 defeat that Railroaders coach Nick Kraus predicted.
“We were extremely sloppy against Carroll, and I told them we were going to get smacked by Bellmont,” Kraus said. “I could tell the way we were wrestling that day, and we did.”
Sensing perhaps his squad turned early success into complacency, the defeat served as a stepping stone toward greater focus. Once the Team State draw was announced, Kraus made another prediction.
“I told my wife we were going to make the finals again and we were going to have a chance,” Kraus said.
His squad wrestled to expectations, dispatching Leo and Wawasee in convincing fashion during pool play before upending top-seeded Western 41-27 to advance to the finals.
But Bellmont, which improved to 15-0 in dual meets this season, stood in Garrett's way of avenging the finals loss in 2019. Gunsett noticed the Railroaders' stronger effort that day and challenged his Braves to match them.
“I think they were more prepared to wrestle us this time than they were last time,” Gunsett said. “Garrett dominated everyone going into the finals, and they were wrestling at their best. It was pretty scary knowing they were wrestling as well as they were.
“We knew they were a better team than when we wrestled them before.”
Bellmont, one of four Northeast 8 squads in the Team State field, can wrap up a perfect NE8 dual meet season today against Huntington North, while Garrett (15-3 overall) dispatched Angola (67-10) and Prairie Heights (56-12) Wednesday, capping an unbeaten run through the 10 Northeast Corner Conference.
“We have a pretty strong conference, especially for the 2A teams,” Gunsett said. “(Wrestling a tough schedule) only makes you better. ... That battle testing puts you at another level.”
Snider will play host to Homestead for a dual meet tody, which will double as the Panthers' first annual “Takedown the Stigma” event to bring awareness to mental health. Admission is free, with the school accepting donations for Parkview Behavioral Health.
Snider will also sell T-shirts adorned with the “Takedown the Stigma” logo and a green ribbon along with the initials MCE for former assistant coach Mike Ester, who died last summer.
Several mental health organizations and counselors will also attend the event to provide information on their services, and Homestead coach Nathan Devaux will also speak about mental health prior to the JV meet, which starts at 6:30 p.m.