This one was as hard-earned and as it was dramatic.
However it happened, the Cathedral Irish are Indiana state wrestling champions again.
Junior Elliott Rodgers and senior Jordan Slivka won individual state titles, and the Irish won the Indiana High School Athletic Association state team title over a competitive, tightly-bunched field at Bankers Life Field House in downtown Indianapolis on February 15-16.
“This year might even have topped last year,” Irish wrestling coach Sean McGinley said. “I didn’t know how we could top last year’s tournament. We won so many matches in the last second (in 2018); it was an incredible feeling.”
Rodgers and Slivka clinched the team state title with dramatic victories that clinched their individual state titles. It was the Irish’s second consecutive state title and the third since 2014.
“We were behind in some big matches, with some overtime matches, but winning the two final matches was really icing on the cake,” McGinley said.
The Irish won the ’19 title with strong postseason performances by five state qualifiers: Rodgers, Slivka, freshman Zeke Seltzer and seniors Alex Mosconi and Lukasz Walendzak.
Slivka (36-3), whose 145-pound state title as a junior helped clinch Cathedral’s ’18 title, again was clutch in the season’s biggest meet. He beat 37-2 senior Donnell Washington of Portage 12-7 in the final to win the 160-pound state title, rallying from a third-period deficit in the final.
Slivka also won sectional, regional and semi state titles as a senior.
“If you ever have to win a match, or you ever have to throw somebody out there and it’s, ‘Who do you want wrestling?’ … Jordan’s one of those guys,” McGinley said.
Rodgers (41-4), the 152-pound state runner-up as a junior, defeated junior Cooper Noehre (41-4) of Greenfield-Central in a 9-7 sudden victory in the 152-pound state final.
Rodgers, who McGinley said had perhaps the toughest postseason road of any Irish wrestler, rallied to win in overtime in Friday’s first-round match and rallied from a six-point quarterfinal deficit before again coming from behind to win in the final.
Rodgers – who won sectional and regional titles before finishing second at semi state – tied the state final with six seconds remaining on a reversal, then won in overtime. That clinched at least a tie for the team state title.
Seltzer (42-2) won sectional, regional and semi-state titles. He finished as the state runner-up at 113 pounds, losing to Portage senior and defending state champion Jacob Moran (37-1) in 3-0 decision.
“He wrestled well,” McGinley said. “Sometimes you get beat and he got beat by a kid who’s seventh in the country. He did a great job.”
Mosconi (42-4), who won sectional, regional and semi-state titles, finished as the state runner-up at 145 pounds and lost to Evansville Mater Dei junior Matthew Lee (41-0) in a 5-2 decision in the final. Mosconi scored huge points with a fall bonus in the state semifinal.
“When you’re in a tournament this close, all those bonus points are really important,” McGinley said.
Walendzak (37-10), who was sectional runner-up before finishing third at the regional meet and first at the semi-state meet, finished eighth in the state at 126 pounds. He wrestled during the state meet with an injury sustained at semi state the week before.
“He went out and battled best we can,” McGinley said. “We would like to have had another week of rest, but you couldn’t rest him. He battled through it.”
The Irish finished six points ahead of Avon at the state meet (78-72), a victory that came after finishing second to Roncalli at the New Castle Semi State meet.
“I thought going in there were about six teams that really had a shot at it,” McGinley said of the state meet. “It was that close. Even if the teams wrestled the best they could, they weren’t going to blow anybody out. It was that close.”
The Irish prepared for a difficult postseason with multiple matches against nationally-ranked, out-of-state programs. And the postseason indeed was grueling, with several potential state-meet scorers eliminated in a difficult semi-state round.
That left the Irish with little margin for effort at the state meet.
“We knew going in we had to compete at the highest level, all of our guys, or it’s just not going to happen,” McGinley said. “Every match was a nail-biter. If any of them had a bad match or got caught in a move, our chances of repeating were pretty much down to zero. You didn’t have any wiggle room.
The Irish won the Arsenal Tech Sectional with 285.5 points, then won the Pendleton Heights Regional with 181.5 points. The sectional title marked the 37th in program history and the regional title was the 21st in program history.
Also key for the Irish in ‘19:
That’s a mostly young group, and one McGinley said could help the Irish to a future that compares well with its immediate past.
“We have several guys who are right there who will make huge contributions next year,” he said “It’s the old saying: ‘We don’t plan on rebuilding; we plan on reloading.’ ”