Wrestling team opens season against New Palestine tonight at home


Sam Findley

Then-freshman Silas Stits rides out his opponent during the 2021-22 regionals.

Charlie LaRocca, Staff Writer

In the 2021-2022 season, the Center Grove wrestling team saw success on a level not seen before in school history. Coach Maurice Swain brought home a 4th place finish in the IHSAA state tournament, a record high for the high-school wrestling program, headlined by two senior state champions: Hayden Watson at the 145 weight-class and Drake Buchanan at the 182 weight-class. Despite losing these senior studs, Swain believes the team will fare even better in the coming season. 

“There’s an abundance of returning starters who we feel will do a great job leading this team to success,” Swain said. “Losing two state champions as well as 14 more seniors to graduation is a big loss, but we have the guys to fill those big shoes.” 

Swain’s high expectations are not without basis. The Trojans will hit the mat with two returning state placers from the previous season, junior Wyatt Krejsa, who finished 5th individually in the 132 weight-class, and sophomore Eddie Goss, who capped off his freshman campaign with an 8th place medal in the 113 weight-class. Along with Krejsa and Goss, junior Nate Johnson will return at the 220 weight-class for the Trojans after qualifying for state as a heavyweight last year, rounding out the list of state-level competitors returning from the 2021-2022 season. Goss understands the pressure to perform as one of the athletes who made the podium last year.

“I feel lots of pressure and want to do a lot better than I did last year,” Goss said. “If I don’t put in the work and don’t have the right mindset, I won’t be able to achieve that goal.” 

Junior Reese Courtney shared similar thoughts concerning the mental aspect of the coming season. Last year, Courtney battled through a hard-nosed, 120 weight-class, winning a sectional title and taking home a 1st place finish at the Al Smith Invitational Tournament, but a 6-5, ticket round loss at Ford Stadium stopped him from replicating his freshman-year state qualification. 

“It [the semi-state loss] motivated me a lot,” Courtney said. “I know now how hard it can be to get out now. This season, I have just prepared more mentally. I realized the big wins during the season won’t mean anything if I don’t compete well at the end of the season.”

Mental maturity is an essential component for the very young Trojan lineup. While the team saw four major exits from the senior-class of last year — Watson and Buchanan as well as 2021-and-2022 state qualifier Michael Tharpe and Bryce Crump — Swain retained many of his starters from the previous season due to the youth of the 2021-2022 team, including Krejsa, Goss, Johnson and Courtney as well as junior Charlie LaRocca, sophomore Silas Stits, senior Andre Merritt, junior Noah Clouser and sophomore Julian Weems. 

“The benefits of having a young team is our intensity and that we are easily motivated,” Kresja said.  “The culture of the room is very relaxed and easy going, but when it’s time to go hard, we do a great job of flipping that switch.”

Joining these returners, senior Hyatt Yeager will be back in the varsity lineup after wrestling behind Tharpe in the previous season, junior Jack Greenwood will start for the first time, junior Kaden McConnell will fill in the void left by Crump, and junior Tyler Schott will assume the heavyweight position. Adding to this list of talent, freshman Justus Thrasher will begin his high school career in the starting lineup. 

 In the off-season, Swain challenged his wrestlers to find out who would be the leaders in the wake of last year’s senior class. 

“We have a group that enjoys training hard and getting better,” Swain said. “That is what we are looking for, and we have many leaders, all of which have their own unique style of leading.” 

Krejsa is one of many who has stepped up to the plate to elevate the focus in the room. 

“As an upperclassman, I have been challenged to step up and push all of my teammates to help make practice as good as possible.” Krejsa said. “I know that how you practice is one of the most controllable factors you have in wrestling, so you just have to focus to give it your best every day.”

As head coach, Swain is not afraid to put his wrestlers through adversity as the team will face off against the best the state of Indiana has to offer throughout the course of the season. 

“Each competition is important to this group,” Swain said. “I expect our athletes to exhibit a good attitude and effort each day in practice and competition. If we do those things, the results will take care of themselves, and we will have a successful season.”

Notable weekday duals include a skirmish with the Fighting Irish of Cathedral on Dec. 7, a senior night match against the Greyhounds of Carmel on Dec. 14 and a home bout against the Orioles of Avon in January. Courtney pins the period from the start of winter break to the first few weeks of the New Year as the largest test for the team.

“I think our biggest challenges as a team before the state series will be the three tournaments around Christmas time,” Courtney said. “It will be Al Smith, team state and then a tournament in Detroit.”

The Detroit Catholic Invitational presents a unique, new challenge as it will pit the Trojans against the cream of the crop on a national level. As it stands today, Center Grove is ranked No. 45 in the country as a team, and due to the IHSAA’s new ruling, which has opened the door for athletics programs to compete on a wider scale out-of-state, Swain’s wrestlers will get a chance to show their skills against top programs in the nation. 

“There is very good competition beyond Indiana,” Clouser said. “I feel like it will help our team improve drastically.”

The Trojans will have their work cut out for them, but Krejsa is confident in his own and his teammates’ training.

“In the off-season I focused on becoming a student of the sport,” Kresja said. “I’ve focused on learning as much as possible to give me a competitive advantage. My coaches have helped immensely with my wrestling, and I have been working with them to fine tune my technique. My teammates have helped me make those jumps too by coming in every day and giving it their best to help improve me and themselves.”

Boasting a No. 3 ranking as a team in the state, the Trojans will open their season at home against the Dragons of New Palestine tonight at 6 p.m. Expectations are certainly high for the 2022-2023 season, but the wrestling team is prepared to meet them.