At 43-0 and coming off a regional championship, Cardinal Ritter High School wrestler Dylan Faulkenberg may be a surprise to some -- but not to the junior himself.
"This is sort of where I expected to be," said Faulkenberg, who is ranked 15th in the state and will compete at 220 pounds in the New Castle Semistate beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. "I've just sort of conditioned myself not to lose this year. I've just been working hard to get to this point."
Faulkenberg is in a weight class that includes six other wrestlers ranked in the top 20. Half of those are in his half of the bracket, but that doesn't change Faulkenberg's plans for the day.
"(Semistate) is not just about getting through to state," he said. "It's about doing well enough to set myself up to place in the top eight at state. That's the goal."
Area wrestlers will also be competing at the Evansville Reitz Semistate beginning at 10 a.m. at the Ford Center.
Top-ranked Perry Meridian will have 13 wrestlers in the field at New Castle. The hope, Falcons coach Jim Tonte said, is to get nine through to the state meet, the same total as last year's state champions.
"We want to do at least as well as we did last year," Tonte said. "Anything less than that is going backward. I'd like to see all 13 go. Everyone has a fighting chance."
Second-ranked Warren Central will have 10 at New Castle, as will Noblesville. "We're shooting for all 10 getting through," Warriors coach Danny Williams said. "I'm not going to downplay our plan at all. That's our goal."
At Evansville, Danville -- coming off the school's first regional title -- will have nine wrestlers in the field, while Franklin will have eight. Danville coach Steve Pugliese hopes last Saturday's success will carry over.
"The goal this weekend is to keep doing what we do: go hard, compete for six minutes or more and not worry about the score," he said. "Hopefully, we will wrestle well and use the momentum from the regional to help us compete for a semistate championship."
James rounding into form
As a freshman last season, Perry Meridian's Brandon James went 51-1, losing only to eventual state champ Jared Brooks of Warsaw in the state semifinals. James made the jump from 113 pounds to 126 this year and, although he's currently 30-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, it hasn't been easy for the sophomore.
In December, James was forced to miss time -- including the Marion County tournament -- because of an appendectomy.
"After the appendectomy, I wasn't wrestling as well as I needed to," James said. "But I feel like I'm starting to get back into it. I'm starting to feel really good."
After the state-finals round, most Indiana high school wrestling fans will say that the most exciting part of the state wrestling tournament is Saturday's second around, aka the "ticket round." The winner earns a trip to Banker's Life Fieldhouse for the state meet, while the loser's season is over.
One second-round match-up at 285 pounds in New Castle could have Cathedral's second-ranked Wesley Bernard (41-1) taking on No. 3 Georgio Blades (32-4) of Warren Central. Bernard took seventh in the state a year ago, while Blades' only losses this year have come to Bernard (in overtime) and top-ranked Donte Winfield of Perry Meridian (three times).
Some other potentially intriguing ticket-round matches involving area wrestlers: 106 pounds -- No. 5 D.J. Smith (Franklin) vs. No. 10 Tyler Ferguson (Evansville Reitz); 126 -- No. 2 James vs. No. 11 A.J. Belden (Westfield); 138 -- No. 4 Nick Bova (Perry Meridian) vs. No. 11 Chase Watson (Hamilton Southeastern); 152 -- No. 5 Jacob Stevenson (Franklin) vs. No. 9 Jordan Partee (Madison); 160 -- No. 3 John Tatom (HSE) vs. No. 8 Riley McClurg (PM); 220 -- No. 4 Maximiliano Hernandez (Warren Central) vs. No. 9 Ricky Brown (East Central).