The Brown County High School wrestling team looks a bit smaller this year than last.

The roster is down by about half, and eight of the 11 on the team are wrestling in weight categories at 152 pounds or under.

Four members of the team — two juniors and one sophomore — have never wrestled before this season.

Three freshmen are wrestling varsity, though two have several years of experience.

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Yet, there was no loss of the cohesion that has defined the program in past years. And the team bond has been reinforced by wrestlers helping each other out and cheering each other on, junior Levi Mullins said.

“We’ve lost a lot of good guys, but we’ve come together as a team,” he said.

The team also has had lower team scores than normal this year, often having to forfeit several classes in a row. However, they’ve seen a lot of progress on an individual level, senior Evan Bullock said.

Mullins’ win-loss ratio at the end of last season was 3-15. Now, it’s 17-16.

Mullins attributes most of that improvement to a growth spurt, but he also acknowledged what anyone who has seen him wrestle knows: he approaches everything with a stubborn determination.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” he said with a shrug.

Mullins stands out for his dedication, head coach Josh Sparks said. “He got sick one time, and never missed anything else.”

Sophomore and first-time wrestler Christian Fouts has yet to miss a practice this year. Fouts is 5-19 for the season, but he has been working hard to improve, Sparks said.

Most of the team seems to really love the sport, said freshman David Tucker, who wrestled throughout junior high.

With a 24-4 record for the season, Tucker is the only younger wrestler with a record that approaches seniors Job Lawson, 16-4, and Bullock, 26-3.

“I think, as a whole team, we’re all pushing each other to be better,” Tucker said.

He said he noticed a change in the skill level required to compete in high school wrestling.

“You have to be able to master a few good moves, but you can’t just focus on two or three moves. You’ve got to mix it up a little bit, throw some people off guard,” he said.

Even as a freshman, Tucker said he would like to qualify for state, though he knows how unusual that would be for a freshman. But he enjoys the challenge.

“Just seeing the progress that I can get, just being pushed and challenged and thrown around and wanting to quit the sport and everything — just to see my end results later on, it’s a big accomplishment, and it makes me feel better and it makes me want to continue,” he said.

Aim high

When asked about goals, most teammates say they intend to place at the Western Indiana Conference Championship and advance through sectionals.At the end of last year, sophomore Bryce Denton was 8-14. This year he’s already 18-12, and his goal is to place first in the WIC Championship.

“Every day before we leave practice, every single one of us, we walk up and we give a fist bump to coach and say, ‘state champ,’” he said.

Senior Bailey Mosier, 12-8 for the season, said even though the team is small, it’s dedicated. They have had fewer wrestlers drop out during the season than in other years.

“I really wouldn’t trade them. These guys work hard. We come in every day, even when we don’t have school,” he said. “It’s been pretty awesome to see even the younger-classmen take it as serious as the seniors.”

He said his main goal is to make it out of sectionals, which he hasn’t done yet in his high school career.

“I’m also looking toward Evan and Job,” Mosier said. “If, unfortunately, I don’t make it, I’d still like to see those guys do as much as they can.”

“They say wrestling’s an individual sport, but your partners push you,” said junior Matthew Duncan, who is 3-2 as a first-time wrestler. He credits Mosier with never letting him slack in practice.

Mosier recalls the older wrestlers who did the same for him, especially Bristen Dial and Andrew Gardner who graduated last year.

“Both of them, they never let up. They were very passionate about wrestling,” he said. “There weren’t days off. I had those two to really push me, and so I feel like I’m trying to pass that on to the younger ones.”

Leading

The highlight of the season for Sparks so far was seeing his team interact with the wrestlers who will follow them one day.Bullock and Fouts were running laps on the gymnasium stairs with elementary-aged wrestlers, and “Evan finished up and turned around and gave the guys high-fives as they came through. And he stood there smiling for a second, then said, ‘Well, I’d better go make sure the rest of them finish,’” Sparks said.

That moment exemplified some of the traits Sparks wants to instill in his own son as he grows up, he said. It was gratifying to see it out of someone who is one of the top wrestlers and expected to go to the state championship.

Bullock said he became aware this year that other wrestlers are looking to him to lead, and that has been an adjustment.

“The top guy, he’s always got to be there on time, he’s always got to work as hard as possible, set an example for the rest of the team,” he said. “I never go easy, because you don’t want to let them think that’s normal, for them to go easy like that.”

Last year, Bullock qualified to wrestle at the state championship, but did not compete after failing to make weight. “I’m not screwing up like that again,” he said.

Eagles wrestling

Freshmen: David Tucker, Kenneth Eason, Hunter Newsome

Sophomores: Bryce Denton, Christian Fouts

Juniors: Ben Rygiel, Levi Mullins, Matthew Duncan

Seniors: Job Lawson, Evan Bullock, Baylee Mosier

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.