This weekend, the lights get a little brighter and the venue turns from gymnasium to coliseum for Seymour’s wrestlers.
Three Seymour grapplers will represent the program in the Evansville Reitz Semistate on Saturday at the Ford Center.
Individuals winning their first two matches, minimum, will advance to next week’s state championship in Indianapolis.
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While 138-pound sophomore Brandon Penegar returns to the semistate stage, it’s the first trip for Owls sophomore Justin Ruddick (120) and junior Zack Newton (152).
Last year, Penegar, then at 120-pounds, was pinned in 42 seconds in his lone match in Evansville.
In the offseason, Penegar grew near four inches and bumped-up three weight classes.
Despite moving up in weight, Penegar’s success has continued.
“It was an amazing experience last year,” Penegar said. “I was really intimidated in the big stadium. I think I was really timid and nervous. I feel a lot more prepared this year.”
This time around, Penegar, who has a record of 28-5, won’t be intimidated.
Last week, Penegar said he wrestled his best matches of the season at the Jeffersonville High School en route to a third place finish.
“I wrestled harder last week than I have all year, I think,” he said. “I think I was a little more motivated. I could see semistate right in front of me. The better I did, the better seed I would get.”
Penegar faces Brownsburg’s Ryan Bigelow (23-8) in the first round. Should he emerge victorious, he would likely take on North Posey’s Levi Miller (37-4).
Ruddick (25-7) faces a tall task right off the bat in the 120.
He will take on last year’s semistate champion Ty Mills (31-1) of Brownsburg. Mills placed third last season at the state finals in the 1-6 division.
At Jeffersonville, Ruddick placed fourth to claim the final spot from the regional to advance.
“I think I just wrestled my match and didn’t focus on what my opponent was doing,” Ruddick said. “This week, I need to clean everything up. I need to go in and get my points. It felt amazing to finally progress to the (semistate) tournament. Last year, I made it to regional, but I wasn’t satisfied.”
With a win, Ruddick would take on the winner of Castle’s Neal Bealmear (28-5) and Terre Haute South’s Keagan Koenig (29-8).
Owls coach Todd Weaver said that both Ruddick and Penegar’s opponents will come out aggressive.
“Brownsburg really tends to try and get after you quick to get points,” he said. “What we need to do is shrink the match. At the very least, it’s a 0-0 score after the first period. We want to keep it close and win each period, and score at the end of each period to lead.”
While Newton’s advancement surprised some, finishing fourth at Jeff, the Owls aren’t shocked that he will continue to compete with the best.
“The 152 has kind of been that weight class that is under the radar,” Weaver said. “Zack keeps wrestling and winning matches. All of the sudden, he’s a semistate qualifier.”
Like his teammates, Newton (31-9) expects to wrestle at his best and continue to next week.
He will open against Southridge’s Tucker Schank (43-5), who also is in his first semistate tourney.
After that, it would be against the winner of Greencastle’s Trace Thomas (36-5) and Castle’s Clay McNutt (31-9).
“I’m really excited, I feel like my hard work is paying off,” Newton said. “I think I finally snapped myself into this mind state why there’s no reason to stop the season.”
Weaver said that advancing any wrestler to state would be huge for the program.
“We’ve put in a lot of hard work the last couple years,” he said. “This is a sport that’s really tough to qualify for a state tournament. There’s one class, and you start out with 315 kids in your weight class.
“Now we’re down to 64 trying to get to the top 16. I think, for our whole program, for one, two or all three to qualify would be huge. It would legitimize what we’ve been telling these kids. They would be able to see and feel it. You can’t replace that; there are former wrestlers who competed at state 60 years ago who still talk about it.”
Wrestling will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.