The wrestling state tournament can be one of, if not the most, nerve-racking postseason events for high school athletes.
Should an athlete finish in the top four at a sectional to continue their journey to Indianapolis, the matches immediately turn from mere competition to survival.
At last weekend’s regional, all a wrestler had to do to advance to the Evansville Semistate was win their first match.
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Win and you’re in.
It’s not an easy task because there are no “bad” wrestlers left at that point in the tournament.
Three of the eight Seymour wrestlers succeeded in winning their opening matches, two more came agonizingly close and there was plenty of anxiety before the day began.
A lot of wrestlers probably did what Nate Banister (26-13) did and tried to disguise how they were feeling.
“Before that match, I was trying to make it look like I wasn’t nervous,” Banister said. “But on the inside, I was thinking, ‘It’s either I win this and go on or I lose this and I’m done with wrestling forever.’ But if that kid was going to win, he was going to have to battle me, and I wasn’t going to let him win easy.”
Banister was one the three Owls to qualify for this weekend’s semistate at the Ford Center in Evansville.
Sam Castetter (22-12) was another, who pinned his first-round opponent.
The 126-pound wrestler said he had some nerves, but it wasn’t the most nervous he has felt this postseason.
“I was definitely nervous, but not as nervous as I was for the finals at the sectional,” he said. “I felt like I needed to go out there, wrestle my match and get the job done.”
Now, this weekend, the same win-and-you’re-in mentality holds true again, but it’s doubled.
In order to qualify for Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a wrestler has to win twice at their respective semistate.
No one knows that more than Jake Rotert, the Owls’ third semistate qualifier.
Making his second trip to the Ford Center, Rotert (35-7) is sort of the elder statesman of the Seymour trio.
At last year’s meet, Rotert won his first match of the day pretty convincingly by fall. Yet, in his second, he fell short in a 2-0 decision to Brownsburg’s Peyton Asbury.
The two could meet again this time around, should they both make it to the quarterfinals, but Rotert has a tough-as-nails matchup in the first round in Castle freshman John Purdy (36-3).
Purdy, who is ranked sixth in the state at 160 pounds, according to Indiana Mat, has already defeated Rotert once via fall at the Mooresville Holiday Classic 160-pound championship.
Two of Purdy’s three losses have come to the top-ranked wrestler in the class, Evansville Mater Dei’s Eli Dickens. Yet, the most recent loss came just last week when Purdy fell to another senior, Vincennes Lincoln’s Cadon Deffendoll.
Like Rotert, Deffendoll isn’t ranked in the state’s top 20.
Banister, too, has a difficult first-round match against Avon’s Tyler Conley (29-7), who is a two-time state qualifier. Conley is ranked eighth in the state at 132 pounds, and no matter who wins is likely to challenge Mater Dei’s Kane Egli, who is ranked fourth.
Those are tough odds for any wrestler, but Banister has been all about defying the numbers this season.
For him, he’s playing with house money.
“It’s kind of like how I didn’t think I was going to be a sectional champion,” he said after qualifying for semistate. “Now, I’m a semistate qualifier, and I hope I can make it to state.”
Perhaps the easiest first match — if you can call it that — belongs to Castetter. He takes on fellow sophomore Nicolas Castelluccio (28-4) of Bloomington South.
Making his first trip to Evansville as a competitor, Castetter isn’t about to change up his routine just because of the moment.
“I’ve just got to go into the room with the mindset that if I’m going to be the best, I’ve got to beat the best,” he said. “I’ve just got to push my limits until I break.”
Win two and you’re in. That’s the mindset this weekend.
Should one of the Owls get their hand raised twice, they’ll have their first state qualifier since 2007.