By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Just one look, just one victory, is all it takes. Easier said than done on the wrestling mat, where culling quickly separates the contenders from the rest.
Bedford North Lawrence wrestlers James Covey, Derek Hutchens and Gunner Connaughton will compete in the IHSAA regional, the second stage of the state tournament series, on Saturday at Bloomington South.
The top four in each weight division will advance to the semistate in Evansville on Feb. 15. Each class will include eight competitors (four each from the sectionals at Southridge and Bloomington North), which means a first-round win guarantees qualification for the semistate.
Of course, a first-round loss is instant elimination. No second chance.
“It would be nice to see all of them go to the semistate, that’s for sure,” BNL coach Greg Stevens said. “I wouldn’t be surprised. They’re good enough to move forward.”
Covey (30-3 as a junior this season) will face Bloomington South sophomore Aiden Akers (14-20) in the opening round at 220 pounds. Covey won the sectional title at Southridge.
Hutchens (15-14) will clash with Edgewood’s Lane Deckard (27-7) in the first round at 132, and Connaughton (19-7) will meet Terre Haute South’s Christian Verst (18-7) in the opener at 195.
“I feel very comfortable with Covey,” Stevens said. “I think he has a good chance of winning the whole thing. It will be interesting to see what Gunner does, because it looks like he’s matched up well with his opponent.
”If Derek wrestles like he has been, he has a pretty good chance. He’s extremely fast, so he just needs to stick to take-downs. If he tries to tie-up and throw somebody, he could be in trouble. It depends on which Derek shows up.”
With so much pressure and emphasis on one win-or-go-home match, especially against an unfamiliar foe, focus will be crucial.
“Just wrestle, breathe, don’t freeze up,” Stevens said. “Just focus on what is going in around you. If you get tunnel vision and don’t pay attention, you won’t get anywhere.”
The top four in each class in the semistate will qualify for the state finals on Feb. 21-22 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.