INDIANAPOLIS — Jace Alexander wanted so badly to compete as a wrestler at the IHSAA State Finals Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Just the second Wawasee High School grappler to qualify for four state finals — Kevin Carr was the other in 1990’s — Alexander wound up in fourth place at 138 pounds to conclude his senior season. He went 135-23 during his career, including 26-3 in 2020-21.
Alexander did not place at 106 in 2018, came in sixth at 120 in 2019 and did not place at 126 in 2020.
In Friday’s first round, Alexander bested Floyd Central senior Gavin Alstott 7-4.
Prior to action Saturday, Alexander let Wawasee coach Frank Bumgardner that he was experiencing a twinge in his back.
In an action-drenched quarterfinal match Saturday morning, Alexander beat Oak Hill junior Brody Arthur 16-14. The score was 4-0 in Alexander’s favor after one round and 11-4 after two. The crazy third period saw Arthur pull within 11-10 and Alexander hold him off.
“Immediately after the match his back and hamstrings locked up,” Bumgardner said. “He legitimately was having a hard time standing or walking.
“But he told me ‘there’s absolutely no way I’m not going to wrestle.’ He was going to give himself a chance. That shows his character and who he is as person.”
In the semifinals, Bloomington South sophomore Delaney Ruhlman pinned Alexander in 28 seconds.
The third place match resulted in Alexander injury defaulting to Evansville Mater Dei senior Blake Boarman. Alexander went to an Indianapolis area hospital to be checked out.
Alexander’s postseason run included championships at the Northern Lakes Conference, Plymouth Sectional and Penn Regional meets and a third-place finish at the East Chicago Semistate.
Alexander has finished his Wawasee course work a trimester early and is due to report to the U.S. Marines in late March.
“True character is what we’ve seen from him for four years,” Bumgardner said “In big matches, he’s performed.”
Northridge senior Ibrahim Khaoucha (195) placed sixth while wrapping up a 94-18 prep mat career.
On Friday, Khaoucha pinned Franklin Community senior Harris Eason in 2:42. It was Khaoucha’s 27th pin of the season.
In Saturday’s quarterfinals, Chesterton junior Gage DeMarco topped Khaoucha by 10-2 major decision. Khaoucha scored the first takedown early in the first period but trailed 5-2 going to the third period. DeMarco finished his scoring with a reversal and three-point near fall.
In the wrestlebacks, Khaoucha earned three near-fall points in the third period and edged West Lafayette junior Connor Barket 4-3.
The Raider wrestler sprained his ankle in the final moments of that match.
“He battled pretty much one one leg for fifth and sixth,” Northridge coach Eric Highley said.
In the fifth place match, North Posey junior Wyatt Willman defeated Khaoucha 4-2. A reversal by Willman in the last minute made the difference.
Khaoucha won the NLC, Elkhart Sectional, Goshen Regional and up Fort Wayne Semistate championships this season.
“His career was pretty impressive,” said Highley of Khaoucha, who was varsity his last three seasons and was behind a state qualifier as a freshman. “He’s a guy that always brought in a positive attitude and was always trying to get better.
“He knew how to finish matches. If you exposed your back to the mat, you probably weren’t getting off it. He’s definitely the best pinner I’ve ever coached.”
Khaoucha expressed his gratefulness that there was a complete wrestling season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m just very thankful and happy to even get an opportunity to wrestle,” Khaoucha said. “I’m very happy with my career. I’m very grateful for how it ended.”
With social distancing in mind, Friday’s first round was broken into two sessions. Wrestlers in the consolation matches were photographed and given their medals immediately after their matches.
“It was a lot different (at the State Finals) this year,” said Khaoucha, a state qualifier in 2020. “There was a lot of caution.”
After finishing high school, Khaoucha plans to study Business at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Goshen junior Nick Olson (126) finished eighth.
On Friday, Olson pinned Hobart sophomore Devin Wible in 1:04. It was his 18th fall victory of the season.
Brownsburg freshman Brady Ison pinned Olson in 2:35 in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
In the wrestlebacks, Penn junior Matteo Vargo pinned Olson in 1:30.
Olson, who went 33-5 this season to push his career mark to 69-16, did not compete in the seventh place match against Roncalli sophomore Bryce Lowery.
There were NLC, Elkhart Sectional and Goshen Regional titles for Olson before a second-place finish at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
IHSAA STATE FINALS
Goshen senior Vicente Eckman (106) — lost in first round.
Northridge freshman Beau Brabender (113) — lost in first round.
Northridge senior Justin Puckett (120) — lost in first round.
Goshen junior Nick Olson (126) — Eighth place.
Wawasee senior Brenden Dilley (126) — lost in first round.
Northridge senior Logan Hooley (138) — lost in first round.
Wawasee senior Jace Alexander (138) — Fourth place.
Northridge senior Ibrahim Khaoucha (195) — Sixth place.