Raider strongman a reluctant star

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Senior Ethan Schwoeppe, right, is on track to become the Southridge wrestling program’s career wins leader this season — even though he admits wrestling isn’t exactly his favorite sport. Teammates, friends and family had to talk Schwoeppe into wrestling his first three seasons. This year, though, a motivated Schwoeppe is chasing the school wins record as well as a berth in the state finals, which he’s been close to achieving the last two years.

Herald Sports Editor

By now, the stories of brute strength sound like something out of a folk tale.

Ethan Schwoeppe: the bold gladiator who can hoist heavyweight wrestlers above his head. Just as he did to Tell City’s 285-pound wrestler in the PAC Super Duals over the weekend, lifting his foe above his head like a bag of feathers and casually dropping him to the ground.

“And it looked like he wasn’t lifting anything,” teammate Alex Merkel points out.

Ethan Schwoeppe: the robust warrior who, in similar fashion, forced a Heritage Hills wrestler from ground to air and back again during a match last season.

“He picked him up and basically flipped him over his head and walked away like nothing happened,” Merkel recalls.

Ethan Schwoeppe. He looks like he could benchpress vending machines, pins everyone in his path, and could very well end up with more wins than anyone in Southridge history.

So who has the power and the clout to humble the Raider intimidator?

Well, her name is Sam Schwoeppe, and when she discovered her son was thinking about not wrestling last season, she delivered her own takedown, of sorts.

“She just told me she’d be very mad at me if I wouldn’t do it,” Schwoeppe recalls, with a wry smile.

And that was that. Back to wrestling.

“That was pretty much it. Didn’t need much more than that,” he says, laughing.

His freshman year, Schwoeppe had to be talked into wrestling by coach Dave Schank. As a sophomore, Schwoeppe was intent on quitting but shook on a bet with teammate Jacob Mundy: if the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series that year, he’d wrestle. (And that bet was hatched when the eventual world champ Redbirds toiled about eight games out of the wild-card slot in September 2011). As a junior, Schank — and mom — waged a successful intervention to get Ethan back on the mat.

Schwoeppe went to a few preseason practices, briefly called it quits, then was talked back into the sport where he’s become a reluctant star. His secret’s out: Schwoeppe is a football player at heart who, truth be told, would rather not be wrestling.

“I don’t like the sport at all,” he admits, sheepishly. “I just like to win. That, and my friends, they wouldn’t like me too much if I just quit my senior year. And I do want to have the wins record, just so I can be remembered in high school for something.”

Schwoeppe began his senior season needing 37 victories to catch 2007 graduate Chad Wertman and his 147 all-time wins. A year ago, Schwoeppe won 45 matches. So far this season, South Spencer’s R.J. Shaw is the only fortunate soul who’s lasted the entire six minutes in the circle against Schwoeppe.

Perhaps it’s best that few wrestlers make it to the end, hopelessly wriggling on their back with 285 pounds of Schwoeppe on top.

“If you’re wrestling him and you get a little bit of an upper hand on him, it just makes him mad,” says Schank, who no longer tries to joust with Schwoeppe and handed that task over to assistant coach Brian Taylor. “So then he goes harder and about hurts you.”

“Oh ... it might be the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. I won’t lie to you,” Merkel says, as assistant coach Brad Ohanian passes through the conversation and declares “I’m not scared of (Schwoeppe).”

“Yeah, but a couple years ago, Ethan threw him against a wall,” Merkel recalls the instance of Schwoeppe accidentally flinging Ohanian. “So if he’s telling you he’s not scared of him, he’s kind of lying.”

Merkel, all of 220 pounds, has been there before in practice. Schwoeppe gets one of his legs up in the air, “and then automatically my other foot comes off the ground. I put both forearms on the ground, like, ”˜put me down,’” Merkel says, explaining his usual surrender.

Few are brave enough to want a piece of a guy who benchpresses 325 pounds, power cleans around 300 and squats 500. Not even his older brother, Wyatt, a semistate qualifier as a junior who had a reason for not wrestling last year as a senior.

“He didn’t want to wrestle me. That’s his words,” Ethan says, almost apologetically.

Then, there’s this: Good as Ethan is, he doesn’t bother performing many actual wrestling moves.

Schank says he’s improved with some pinning combinations and has gotten better on his feet. But when it comes to form, Schwoeppe’s not a disciple of technique. Sheer brawn works just fine, thank you very much.

“I’ve ran one move this year (a cradle) and have 12 wins. I just do what I do, I guess,” Schwoeppe says. “Schank said I create some moves, but they’re not really moves. I just somehow trap people into getting spots I need to put them in, and it works for me. About the only moves I do know is like a cradle and a half-nelson.”

So, he doesn’t particularly like to wrestle and he essentially ignores form. But as Merkel points out, there’s something striking about those scarce instances where someone stretches Schwoeppe to the limit.

“It’s not so much technique, but he fights hard for six minutes, every single time,” Merkel says.

“I’m hoping he feels confident in tight matches and knows how to win them, because he’s been in enough of them. Heavyweight matches tend to be those 3-2, 4-3 kind of matches, and he comes out on top of most of them,” Schank adds. “He doesn’t panic, and he’s just so much stronger this year, I think it’s going to help him.”

Some self-fueled motivation could do the trick, too.

When this year’s wrestling season rolled around, no one had to strong-arm Schwoeppe into returning to the mat. Semistate setbacks from the last two seasons helped provide the tug. There was the 3-2 defeat as a sophomore. And another 3-2 loss last year, when Schwoeppe had grip of his opponent’s leg but the final buzzer blared about two seconds before he was poised for a match-winning takedown. Both setbacks came in the semistate’s ticket round, where a win secures a state finals bid.

“I definitely want to do that. It’s one of my goals to make it to state, I’ve been so close for the last two years,” Schwoeppe says. “May as well try my best, and I should be able to get there.”

If so, expect that wins record — and a few of his heavyweight opponents — to fall and fall hard along the way.

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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