Stars preparing for the ‘meat grinder’ on the mat

BNL senior Jorj Filler returns as a regional qualifier for the 2023-24 season.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – The path could be more difficult, but the ultimate goal of the rugged journey remains the same.

The IHSAA shifted Bedford North Lawrence, which competed in the sectional at Southridge for 11 seasons, to Bloomington for the first round of the postseason tournament for 2024. That potentially means, with so many historically tough programs in that sectional, a harder road to the second stage. BNL coach Chris Branam called it “a meat grinder.”

Here’s how the sausage gets made. The Stars have hungry returning veterans, including six competitors who finished last season with quality winning records, including a senior who advanced to the regional a year ago. They have aged, they have survived.

The meat of BNL’s lineup in the 14 weight classes includes a core group with valuable experience. Leading that cast will be senior Jorj Filler, who went 31-9 last season and advanced to the regional at 126 pounds.

“Jorj has big goals for himself, and I expect big things out of him as a team leader,” Branam said. “We have a good amount of returners. The nice thing about being young last year is we have a lot of people returning this year.”

BNL’s Ethan Stancombe is coming off a 28-win season.

Familiar names pop up everywhere on the roster. Wyatt Philpott went 26-17 at 106, Ethan Stancombe was 28-8 at 152, Jaxon Powell went 24-17 at 170, and Tate Tanksley posted a 21-14 mark at 195. Junior Arellano returns at 285.

“Jaxson was, far and away, the most improved last year,” Branam said. “So if he keeps going like he did last year, he will make it through this year. Ethan and Wyatt spent the summer going to camps, working out hard and getting a lot stronger. Wyatt is a dedicated kid who never complains. Junior has that fire lit again. That joy of wrestling and love of wrestling has been reignited.”

BNL has greater numbers, thanks to an influx of freshmen and those hoping to make an immediate impact.

“There are a lot of freshmen coming in, a lot of people picking up the sport for the first time,” Branam said. “As we’ve seen some success, interest has picked up.

“We have to pick it up this year, in a new sectional, and the competition will pick up. It’s not an easy path through. The thing about being in a tough sectional is the regional won’t be that much harder because you’ve already been through a meat grinder. Wrestling is a sport where you get out what you put in it. I hope these guys stay encouraged and let themselves get good.”

The Stars will open the season by hosting the Super Six Duals on Nov. 18.

BNL’s Tate Tanksley was a solid force at 195 pounds as a sophomore.