AN IMPROBABLE RUN THROUGH THE GAUNTLET
Ink Free News / Sports on Monday, February 22, 2021
By Mike Deak
INDIANAPOLIS – Some people choose to carry on their business with flash and flair. Others prefer to operate under the radar. Both parties can get to the same point and feel good about it. While some in the 182-pound wrestling weight class chose to handle their business with some gusto, Warsaw’s Brandon Estepp just went about his business.
A month later, he was wrestling for a spot in a state championship match.
Estepp had never been to the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals before, and in 2021, he had been toeing the line of elimination along the way. Estepp didn’t win a title in any of the three stepladders of the state tournament, finishing a befuddling third at the Plymouth Sectional where he was the top seed. At the Penn Regional, he would recover to win his first two matches to make the final, only suffering a loss to Mishawaka’s Cody Timmerman, who had Estepp’s number all season in three victories by the Mishawaka road grater.
But Timmerman was upset at the semi-state, which opened the door for Estepp to make a move. And he did, winning his first two matches to earn the automatic ticket to Indianapolis. But Estepp would fall in his final two matches of the day to finish fourth, which meant he would have to take on a big seed at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
“He just flat out had a bad day at the sectional, and that gave us the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart,” said Warsaw head coach Kris Hueber. “The regional, he was much sharper and put him in a good position for semi-state. Then he ran through his bracket.”
Estepp, who missed three weeks of his season to injury as well as another two weeks as the Warsaw program was shut down with COVID, was later than normal. While most wrestlers are coming into their own for conference and sectional rounds, Estepp showed he was still rusty in the early rounds. But that changed for the state finals, where he put on a good show in an 8-1 decision over New Haven’s Jacob Saylor.
The two didn’t meet in the regular season even though New Haven was part of Warsaw’s home invite, Saylor wrestling up at 195 and Estepp out with an injury. But the ability to see Saylor in action in the tournament, then get him in person with a podium finish on the line worked in Estepp’s favor.
“We knew the type of offense he wanted to run having seen him at our tourney, it worked out well for us,” Hueber said. “We just focused on Brandon and what he does well. Let’s just represent our team and ourselves well and go out and put on a good show.”
Estepp started hot with a 4-2 lead over Southmont’s Riley Woodall Saturday morning in the quarterfinals, but would need an escape to tie the match at five in the third period. With five seconds left, Estepp took his shot and hit it, getting a takedown and the hallowed ‘twwwwooooo’ to win, 7-5.
But as had been his design in the semi-state, two wins to start would end with less than favorable results down the stretch. Against Center Grove’s Drake Buchanan, a 4-4 lockup in the first period quickly turned to 10-4 to Buchanan, and the snowball rolled downhill.
“After Drake’s first takedown, Brandon looked over to the corner and was like, ‘whoa’,” Hueber said of Estepp’s match with Buchanan, who closed the deal with a second period pin. “The top three were legit, and we saw that. There were three clear cut at the top, no doubt.”
The gauntlet remained the same in the third-place match, where Aiden Warren of Perry Meridian stormed out to a 7-1 lead then ran three straight takedowns as Estepp had no answers in his final match as a Tiger.
As Hueber’s five years with Estepp, who mentored him as an eighth grader along with four years of high school work, came to a close, Hueber noted the ability to see Brandon’s success happen with Dylan Estepp on deck was even more beneficial. Dylan, a 2017 Warsaw graduate, joined the coaching staff and got to sit in the corner to see little brother make good.
“Dylan poured himself into wrestling, and to see him get into coaching was cool to me,” Hueber said. “I loved to see him invested in it. A lot of good programs have that, where their former athletes come back to influence the program for the next wave. It was one of the coolest things to have the two together and share that moment this weekend.”