Philosophies range top to bottom for Cats, PatsJanuary 16, 2017
By MICHAEL HUGHES
JASPER — Nearing the end of the fourth overtime period, Heritage Hills wrestling coach Troy Bell had no doubts in his man on the mat, Beau Heeke. With only a couple seconds remaining, the match was stopped after Heeke and Jasper’s Chase Mehringer wrestled out of bounds, so Bell had a decision on how to restart the match.
He could either put Heeke on bottom, where if he were able to escape could earn a point and end the match. That’s not the Patriot style, however, so Bell started Heeke on top, where he was able to flip Mehringer and earn a point just as the buzzer sounded and win the match at the 113-pound weight class during Saturday’s Jasper Quad Duals, where the Patriots and Wildcats also wrestled against Evansville Memorial, Gibson Southern and Washington.
“It’s supposed to be easier to score on bottom, so you would like to take a bottom because it’s supposedly easier,” Bell said. “I don’t do that because the way I coach is I want to tire my opponent out. That’s why those overtime matches, I feel good about overtime matches. If you’re on top you’re wearing your opponent out so I do a lot of leg-riding coaching.”
That style is behind a bit of resurgence for the Patriots this season. Last year, Bell had two wrestlers win more than 20 matches. Now, seven Patriots on track to finish the season with 25 or more victories.
One of those seven, Sam Scott, ended with an individual crown at 106 pounds Saturday after a perfect 4-0 day. Scott is one of a few wrestlers Bell said he’s comfortable going against his preference and starting on bottom because of his explosiveness once the match restarts. But for Scott, his preferences lie with the rest of his teammates.
“When you constantly ride them out on the top they’re just not as conditioned,” Scott said. “You just keep wearing them out like that and it gives you the ability to choose in the third period to be top or bottom.”
The difference between the two rests in the mentality. Starting on bottom allows a wrestler an opportunity at a quick point if he’s able to escape or score a reversal. On top, however, the strategy is offensive, with a wrestler pursuing a pin instead of simply attempting to wiggle free.
Most teams choose to start on bottom, making Heritage Hills a bit of an anomaly. It also gives Bell an advantage, since he typically knows he can defer his decision until the final period and still end up with what he wants.
“He likes to defer because we can out condition a lot of people because we’re in better shape,” Patriot 220-pounder Wyatt Keller said. “We can last longer and if the guy’s super tired and we just need a point we’ll go on bottom and get our escape, or if he’s super tired, we know we can pin him and we just need one point we’ll go on top and turn him.”
That’s not to say starting on bottom doesn’t work. For Jasper’s Logan Smith, the strategy earned him a championship in the heavyweight class.
Since Smith is smaller than most heavyweights, it’s difficult for him to start on top.
“My moves work on bottom, and on top I’m giving up 80 pounds to these kids,” Smith said. “I just can’t break them down.”
Up until last year, Smith didn’t possess a way to combat that weight difference. Then he picked up an advantage from the father of one of his teammates, Ethan Wigand, who finished 3-1 at 145. That edge is a move called “The Peterson,” which Smith estimates he used about four to six times in his final match, a pin against Heritage Hills’ Aidan Rea that capped a 4-0 day.
Whenever Smith elects to start of the bottom, he’ll reach back to grab his opponent’s leg and arm before rolling through him and forcing him onto his back, earning Smith an escape point and shifting the advantage to himself.
Smith said any time he has a choice he’s electing to start in what appears to be the disadvantaged position. That puts Smith in line with most other wrestlers, including his teammates Logan Niehaus (160) and Zach Flynn (170), who both finished 3-1. Flynn’s three wins also all came via pins, while Noah Heim (152) picked up a pin of his own during Jasper’s 51-18 win against Heritage Hills on his way to finishing 2-1. Cameron Eckstein (106) also earned a major decision for Jasper in the Wildcats’ 45-24 loss to Memorial. Jasper also topped Washington 60-23 and fell to Gibson Southern 41-27.
The Patriots came up just short against Gibson Southern (42-33), while also falling to Memorial (65-15) before topping Washington 42-27 to end the day.
Keller dropped his only match of the day against the eventual weight class champ, Memorial’s Alex Lichlyter, in part by never choosing to start with his opponent’s arm around him and instead wanting to begin as the aggressor.
Both Keller’s and Scott’s performances not only Saturday, but throughout the season, have Bell believing his young team possesses a chance to improve upon last year’s sixth-place showing at the Pocket Athletic Conference meet this weekend in Lincoln City.
“We have a lot to improve still but just from last year we’ve come super far,” Scott said. “We didn’t have a lot of wins last year but now we have a bigger team and we’re starting to win a lot more.”
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