FORT WAYNE — Led by 195-pound Fort Wayne Semistate champion Ibrahim Khaoucha, Northridge qualified a single-season school record four wrestlers for the IHSAA State Finals Saturday at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
Seniors Logan Hooley (third at 138) and Justin Puckett (fourth at 120) and freshman Beau Brabender (fourth at 113) helped the Raiders score 64.5 points and place third in the team race behind semistate winner Oak Hill (76.5) and runner-up Western (67.5).
“It was good day,” said Northridge coach Eric Highley, who saw his team double the previous school mark for state qualifiers. “We had some other guys — even though they didn’t qualify — that just battled. I feel like our guys wrestled their tails off. Even in defeat, they left it all on the mat.”
Goshen (38) came in 10th with a pair of semistate runners-up in senior Vicente Eckman (106) and junior Nick Olson (126).
The top four in each weight division advanced to the first round of the State Finals Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The four Raiders and two RedHawks advanced, while 20 others from The Goshen News coverage area also competed Saturday.
Senior Khaoucha (29-1 on the 2020-21 season) fell behind 2-0 early, responded with a quick escape then pinned Carroll senior Matt Lepper in 2:41 for the 195 title.
On the way to the finals, Khaoucha pinned Western sophomore M.J. Norman in 20 seconds, Leo senior Hunter Prahl in 1:07 and Kokomo freshman Chad Washburn in 1:18.
After the semistate win, two-time state qualifier Khaoucha reflected on his career.
“My confidence level is everything,” Khaoucha said. “I put myself above where I think I am and I end up achieving that goal.”
Khaoucha’s regular practice drill partner is senior Andrew Lockwood (who lost in the “ticket round” at 182 Saturday) along with Northridge head coach Eric Highley and assistants Chad Eppley and Trenton Bixler.
“They push me to work hard,” Khaoucha said. “They will break you sometimes, but it’s all for good reasons.”
Hooley credited the improvement in his mat (and time) awareness for getting this far.
“Lately, I’ve had a couple of close matches and I’ve done well finishing them,” said Hooley, who counted 145-pound senior Brady Snyder as his main sparring partner. “He’s bigger than me so that’s challenge. He has good technique. He’s a tough wrestler.”
Hooley also carries words from his head coach.
“Coach Highley always tells us that he wants us to be great wrestlers,” Hooley said. “But, at the end of the day, he wants us to be great people.”
Puckett (30-4) scored a technical fall and a decision before losing two decisions Saturday and talked about his State Finals path.
“We come into the (practice) room and push each other everyday,” Puckett said. “Getting through the tough practices is just a barrier you’ve got to break through. I broke through today.”
Brabender (29-5) racked up a pin and a decision before losing two decisions Saturday and became the first freshman in Northridge history to qualify for the State Finals.
“I just really try to enjoy my teammates in the room, absorb it all and have fun,” Brabender said. “That always helps me get better. (Assistant) coach (Grant) Martsolf tells me I can beat anybody. That always helps me mindset-wise.”
For a long time, the Raiders have had a motto: “You get what you earn.”
“There’s a lot of times we think we deserve things in life, but did you earn it?” Highley said. “We preach that everyday.”
Eckman (27-4) scored two pins and a decision, then lost a 9-3 decision to Western freshman Tanner Tishner in the 106 final.
Getting to this stage has been quite a climb for Eckman, who was junior varsity as a freshman, did not make it out of sectional as a sophomore and was ineligible much of his junior year.
“I’m proud of myself, but there’s still some things I can work on,” Eckman said. “Like my confidence. I don’t really take shots. I always think about the risk and not the reward. I like to defend more than I like to attack.”
After a pin and two decisions in his first three matches, Olson (32-2) was topped by 15-0 technical by Bluffton junior Landon Bertsch for the 126 semistate championship.
What has gotten Olson to this point?
“I show up to practice every day with a positive attitude,” Olson said.
Goshen coach Jim Pickard has watched Eckman down come down from 113.
“We waited until he got close to the state tournament to cut down,” Pickard said. “He’s had a great run the last few weeks. He works in the room with guys of all sizes.
“(Olson) has done a great job. He’s only had two losses — the No. 1 kid at 120 (Chesterton sophomore Sergio Lemley) and then his loss today.”
Editor's note: Also advancing from The Goshen News coverage area at the East Chicago semistate were two Wawasee wrestlers: Brenden Dilley (126) and Jace Alexander (138). Alexander becomes the second wrestler in Wawasee history to advance to the state meet all four years.
FORT WAYNE SEMISTATE
Team scores: Oak Hill 76.5, Western 67.5, Northridge 64.5, Fort Wayne Carroll 63, New Haven 55.5, East Noble 54, Bellmont 51.5, Jay County 43, Adams Central 39, Goshen 38, Bluffton 36.5, Leo 35, Columbia City 33, Jimtown 32, Fort Wayne Snider 29.5, Angola 29, Eastern (Greentown) 27, Garrett 27, Fremont 24, Maconaquah 23, Wabash 23, Cowan 20.5, Daleville 20, Manchester 20, Prairie Heights 19, Fort Wayne Dwenger 18, Elkhart 15.5, Monroe Central 15, Norwell 15, Fort Wayne Northrop 13, Kokomo 12, Rochester 12, Marion 10, DeKalb 9.5, Fort Wayne Concordia 8, Delta 6, Fort Wayne South Side 6, NorthWood 6, Central Noble 4, Lakeland 4, Muncie Central 4, South Adams 4, Huntington North 2, North Miami 2. Did Not Score — Cass, Churubusco, Concord, Fairfield, Heritage, Homestead, Northfield, West Noble, Winchester, Yorktown.
(Top 4 Individuals to State Finals)
106 — Tanner Tishner (Western) dec. Vicente Eckman (Goshen) 9-3. 113 — Isaac Ruble (Bellmont) pinned Jared Brooks (Wabash) 3:24. 120 — Aidan Sprague (East Noble) dec. Tony Wood (Jay County) 8-6. 126 — Landon Bertsch (Bluffton) tech. fall Nick Olson (Goshen) 15-0. 132 — Ian Heath (Leo) maj. dec. Dylan Stroud (Manchester) 13-5. 138 — Brody Arthur (Oak Hill) pinned Julius Gerenscer (Daleville) 1:38. 145 — Elijah Chacon (New Haven) dec. Hayden Shepherd (Western) 5-0.
152 — Aidan Hardcastle (Oak Hil) dec. Evan Ulrick (Carroll) 5-2. 160 — Landon Buchanan (Jimtown) dec. Logan Farnell (Maconaquah) 7-6. 170 — Jacob Kreager (Snider) pinned Jacob Graden (East Noble) . 182 — Jacob Saylor (New Haven) pinned Jett Thompson (Oak Hill) 1:43. 195 — Ibrahim Khaoucha (Northridge) pinned Matt Lepper (Carroll) 2:41. 220 — Ian Clifford (Columbia City) dec. R.J. Dilbone (Fremont) 2-1 (ot). 285 — Reeve Muncie (Carroll) dec. Braydon Erb (Carroll) 4-3.
106 — Cody Rowles (Jay County) pinned Keegan Malott (East Noble) :58. 113 — Hayden Brady (Garrett) dec. Beau Brabender (Northridge) 4-0. 120 — Austin Lewis (Bluffton) dec. Justin Puckett (Northridge) 12-8. 126 — Logan Uhlman (Adams Central) dec. Harper Dedman (Oak Hill) 7-5 (ot). 132 — Dominic Litchfield (Bellmont) pinned Cameron Clark (Jay County) :16. 138 — Logan Hooley (Northridge) dec. Jarrett Forrester (Columbia City) 4-0. 145 — Toby Abbott (Cowan) pinned Sam Levitz (Prairie Heights) 4:07.
152 — Alex Currie (Adams Central) pinned Chase Leech (Garrett) 2:27. 160 — Eli Johnson (Norwell) pinned Eli Hilger (Dwenger) 1:40. 170 — Brodie Porter (Eastern) dec. Duke Myers (Bellmont) 5-1. 182 — Hunter Page (Monroe Central) pinned Je’kwan Williams (Marion) 3:30. 195 — Blake Heyerly (Adams Central) dec. Washburn (Kokomo) 6-0. 220 — Julante Hinton (Northrop) maj. dec. Coy Brames (Angola) 14-4. 285 — Brandon Villafuerte (Angola) pinned Jacob Sommer (Elkhart) 3:33.
Northridge: 113 — 4th, Beau Brabender. 120 — 4th, Justin Puckett. 126 — Jasper Graber — lost in 2nd round. 138 — 3rd, Logan Hooley. 160 — Ridge Howard — lost in 1st round. 182 — Andrew Lockwood — lost in second round. 195 — 1st, Ibrahim Khaoucha.
Goshen: 106 — 2nd, Vicente Eckman. 126 — 2nd, Nick Olson. 152 — Eddy Flores — lost in 1st round. 170 — Mitch Daniels — lost in 1st round.
NorthWood: 113 — Lynkyn Ratliff — lost in 1st round. 145 — Connor Ratliff — lost in 2nd round. 152 — Hunter Lechlitner — lost in 1st round. 160 — Kaden Lone — lost in second round. 182 – Trey Tobias — lost in the 1st round. 285 — Blake Herr — lost in 1st round.
Lakeland: 113 — Gabe Miller — lost in 1st round. 138 — Ben Miller – lost in 2nd round.
Concord: 152 — Brenden Stockman — lost in 1st round. 170 — Andrew BonDurant — lost in 1st round. 182 — Armen Koltookian — lost in the 1st round.
Fairfield: 106 — Ryan Keller — lost in 1st round. 285 — Mike Stout — lost in 1st round.
West Noble: 132 — Landon Roy — lost in 1st round. 138 — Taiden Chambers — lost in 1st round.