PORTLAND, Ind. — Jay County and Delta boys wrestling have quickly formed an exciting East Central Indiana rivalry.
The programs, both coming off terrific 2021-22 seasons, are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in Class 2A, respectively, according to Indianamat.com. The teams met at Jay County High School on Tuesday for the Patriots' annual Double Duals, which also featured Yorktown and Winchester, and the hosts topped the Eagles 42-29.
For an early-season wrestling meet, it was as good a show as the athletes, parents and fans could've hoped for, with several matches being tightly contested and the end result coming down to a couple close comeback victories.
"Just having a No. 1 v. No. 2-ranked matchup like this a month into season I think just lets us know where we're at, lets us know what we're doing right, what we're doing wrong," Delta head coach Cody LeCount said. "This was a fun duel, but the one that really matters is the one at team state, and I think if we end up matching up again, I think it's going to be just as fun and just as exciting."
"It was a lot of fun. I think it's great for the sport wrestling, great for the area," Jay County head coach Eric Myers said. "Last year, I think we underestimated Delta a little bit."
Delta upset Jay County 43-36 last year, prompting the Patriots to enter the rematch with more determination. Myers said he's frequently thought about that previous loss and sensed that his kids had an extra spark.
Jay County 138-pound junior, Tony Wood, was one of six Patriots to earn crucial victories by fall that led to the team win. He and 145-pound junior Cameron Clark were the team's two state qualifiers from last season, and now as upperclassmen, they have made more of an effort to set the tone before big matches.
Staying locked-in was the message prior to facing Delta.
"We weren't focused last year, so sometimes when we wrestled at home meats, we were not focused, too worried about who's in the crowd, who's watching, talking too much to our friends," Wood said. "(We) just had to focus on our match, and we did that well tonight. We executed."
Myers has led several strong Jay County squads in recent years. The team was ranked No. 3 heading into its Double Duals a year ago, but there's a different feeling for his boys this winter.
The Patriots (4-0) have high expectations for the team and its individuals. Last year, Jay County was the 2A team state runner-up and placed third at sectionals, second at regionals and sixth in its semistate. The program has just one sectional title (2018) in the last 20 years, hasn't hoisted a regional trophy since 1988 and holds a single semistate title (1982).
This could be the group to end some of those droughts.
"This is the best team I've had. From top to bottom, we just had guys that ended up being the right weight class, the right weight to fill all the weight classes, and for us to have quality guys everywhere," Myers said. "Then we had a couple of guys that put in some extra offseason work. We may have not felt like we were solid in that weight class, and now we are."
Whereas Tuesday victory will act as a "confidence boost" for Jay County, according to Wood, LeCount saw the intense defeat, when Delta's opponent brought its A-game, as a good learning experience.
The program went 14-5 and won a sectional title last season in his first year at the helm, and the Eagles are 8-1 to start 2022-23. Five wrestlers are ranked in the top-16 in the state for their weight class, with sophomore Ayden Bollinger (106 pounds, No. 3) and junior Neal Mosier (120 pounds, No. 7) leading the pack.
Graduating state qualifier Dillon Tuttle was a significant loss, but the program still has a bevy of young talent in both the high school and lower levels, so LeCount's expectations have remained the same, if not increased.
He cited 160-pound senior Garrett Clay, who's currently 9-0, as someone who made significant improvement during the offseason. Heath Sprague, a 195-pound senior who is 7-2 after notching nine wins total last season, is also a major improver.
The Eagles' roster is deeper than a year ago, and pressure is off to prove that they're deserving of entry into the team state tournament. Yet LeCount will utilize the defeat as a teachable moment that will hopefully be beneficial come the postseason.
"We preach all the time, 'Little things matter the most.' Staying off our back, going to get bonus points," LeCount said. "There's a couple of matches were we were winning and end up getting pinned. So just learning how to fight through some adversity and figuring out how to go score the next point I think is what's going to help us get some of those matches."
Regardless of the future implications of the matchup, both coaches agreed that the environment itself, filled with hollering spectators and teammates, was a sight to behold.
It was clear how highly anticipated the matchup was for both sides. Having an early-season crowd of that quality can only act as a positive for two groups with lofty postseason aspirations, when tournament crowds grow larger as individuals and teams progress.
Tuesday's competition simulated a high-stakes atmosphere, despite the actual impact being nothing more than a single match. Everyone agreed that it was cool to be a part of.
"I'm just really excited about duel like that, the fans that were out here. That's just the atmosphere that you want in high school sports, especially for us," Myers said. "High school wrestling doesn't always draw the crowds that basketball does, that football does, and to have a crowd like we had tonight ... that's an experience (our boys wills) remember forever. So that was pretty neat."
Gus Martin is a sports reporter at The Star Press. Follow him on Twitter @GusMartin_SP, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: IHSAA wrestling: Jay County, Delta battle in matchup of 2A's top teams