Seymour wrestlers face challenges on two fronts

Part of amateur wrestling’s image revolves around dieting into lean, mean fighting machines at optimal weight.

Coaches cast skeptical eyes on the grapplers who want to compete at higher weights.

Turns out the only silver lining to quarantining is freedom to eat more — for some. Instead of squeezing his package of bones and muscle into the 132-pound division, this season, Ben Kriete is going after it at 138.

“I had a bump,” the Seymour junior said of moving up. “I can eat more pastas. I’m able to splurge more.”

As if the Owls don’t have to worry about opponents beating up on them, this year, they have twice had their season halted by issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a world that emphasizes social distancing, wrestlers are more touchy-feely than ballroom dancers. Some might view their sport as the most contagious prone of all since foes’ bodies are pretty much in contact for up to three 2-minute periods per match.

Takedowns, pins, intertwined limbs are all necessary elements to score, to compete, to win. Essentially, wrestlers must do everything the rest of the world’s population is told to avoid.

The Owls have twice been quarantined, once for two weeks, during this campaign with regularly scheduled matches routinely scratched from the original plan, major invitationals reduced to small events and even dual matches becoming rarer.

“It’s definitely the weirdest season,” Kriete said earlier this week after Seymour squeezed in a home match against visiting West Washington.

Permission to swallow pasta may be the only good part for him among the 2020-21 season’s quirky elements.

Victory of sorts is declared the moment a match begins. Real victory on the record stems from the individual showdowns afterwards. No doubt the other wrestlers are equally as eager, have probably gone through similar schedule stoppages and are also just happy to be there.

Senior Brody Shipley, a winner by pin at 220, said being quarantined twice was no fun. Lalo Buster, who won by pin at 170, said it was mentally taxing — “very difficult.”

This young team with just three seniors sought experience during the regular season to peak at the right moments. The girls regional meet is scheduled for today in Franklin, and the Hoosier Hills Conference tournament is Saturday.

“We didn’t get as much competition,” Kriete said.

Under the Indiana High School Athletic Association guidelines and the county and schools’ rules and policies, teams on quarantine may not practice together, even if the athletes are able. If they are sitting out, they are sitting out.

“It was really frustrating,” said coach Adam Wolka. “You have to stay at home.”

Wolka hoped his athletes stuck to their nutritional goals and refrained from gaining significant amounts of weight, and even if they could not wrestle, adopted some kind of workout plan, running, doing push-ups or just engaging in some sweat-provoking activity.

“They’ve got to continue those good habits,” Wolka said. “They have to find a way to get better.”

The virus grew into an international plague with vast ramifications in all walks of life, not only sports, starting last March. Time passed, and while everyone hoped the spread would subside, it has not. As of Thursday, 87.6 million coronavirus cases had been recorded around the world.

COVID-19 has struck in some unpredictable ways, even afflicting some who worked their hardest to follow rules and protocol.

“We were hoping and praying it wouldn’t be us,” Wolka said. “Pre-COVID, I’d never think we’d take a month off.”

Except for a few parents present for Senior Night, spectators were not allowed into the Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium for Seymour’s 43-21 win over the Senators. Just conducting a meet felt special, and to win big was a bonus.

“This is a big up,” said sophomore Hector Ruiz-Rosa, a winner by pin at 182 pounds.

Unlike Kriete, Ruiz-Rosa was not on a weight-gain program during the hiatus, but he still added 5 pounds due to time away from the mat.

The matches moved along swiftly, from 113 pounds to 220 pounds. COVID restrictions have led to several Owls forfeits on different occasions this season. This night, Ed Ramirez won by forfeit at 120 pounds, and Kylee Nowling won by forfeit at 126.

Nowling and Celeste Huddleston (145) will be Seymour’s representatives at the girls regional.

Nowling really wanted to get a match in after all of the cancellations, but at least she was back in a wrestling environment. When there is a forfeit, she said, “Sometimes, it makes you think, ‘Am I doing all of this for nothing?’ But I’m glad we got in a match.”

The most action-packed match was Rolando Baltazar’s meetup with Mason Jones, a 16-5 triumph for the Owl that had some flips and pretzel-like twists. Baltazar thought he was just seconds shy of a pin a couple of times.

“It just felt good to be back in the room,” Baltazar said.

When the meet ended, there were no traditional handshakes between athletes, no extra mingling. Instead, the wrestlers stood at opposite ends of the mat and waved to one another to sign off for the night.