WARSAW – Just two wins.
That’s all that separates Warsaw wrestler Luis Munoz from a trip to the State Finals.
Munoz will try to earn those two wins and cap his senior season in style Saturday as he competes in the Merrillville Semistate.
Action at Merrillville, one of four semi states in the state, begins at 9:30 ET. The top four finishers in each weight class at Merrillville, as well as at semi states in Fort Wayne, New Castle and Evansville, earn a berth in the State Finals set for Feb. 15-16 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Munoz heads into semi state competition fresh off a regional title last weekend at Rochester. The senior standout improved to 23-3 on the season by winning the title in the 120-pound class a week after claiming a sectional championship at Plymouth.
Warsaw coach Justin Smith is not surprised by how well Munoz has fared in the state tournament series.
“No, I am not surprised by his success this year,” said Smith of his lightweight standout. “Two years ago Luis was one match away from going to state, and he was wrestling well last year as a junior before he got injured.”
“I think that he has realized that this is his last year and he wants to end it down at State. He has worked hard in the room and listened to the coaching staff when we have tried to help him prepare for some of these big matches. He knows what he is good at on the mat and he wrestles to his strengths.”
Munoz has returned to form after being sidelined late in the regular season.
“He took a hard hit to his left eye during the last tournament we wrestled before going into NLCs and he had to sit out some matches while he was going through the concussion protocol,” explained Smith. “He missed the last conference match and NLCs and we got him back up in the room before sectionals. I think it affected his conditioning a bit and that concerned us going into sectionals, but he wrestled well, and I really think he is back to 100 percent.”
Munoz, a top seed at Merrillville, will face Twin Lakes freshman Cody Widner (35-6) in the first round Saturday.
“Well, Luis is two matches away from going to State, so the goal is to go and win at least two matches and qualify for state,” said Smith. ”I think he has a good draw for Semi State and if I could hope for something more for him it would be for him to win three or four matches.”
Smith also says the work this week in the practice room has not changed.
“The focus this week in practice has been the same as it has been in the previous two weeks, which is to work on a strong neutral position for Luis and to make sure that he can escape on bottom, and if given the opportunity put the other kid on his back,” Smith said. “We have been helping him refine his best moves in each phase of the match, and practice this week will help give him the confidence that he can take the other kid down as many times as needed, and if Luis is given the opportunity put the kid on his back.”
The area will have a quartet of other competitors at Merrilville Saturday. Wawasee will be represented by the trio of seniors Nick Rozow (160) and Brian Clark (195), along with freshman Tristan Ponsler (113). All three placed fourth at the Rochester Regional last Saturday.
The Tippecanoe Valley program will be represented Saturday too. Sophomore Wyatt Nelson, who was a regional runner-up, will compete at 126 for coach Scott Smyth’s squad.
“I am not surprised by any our wrestlers being in the semi state,” said Wawasee coach Paul Meyer. “They are all quality young men who have a passion for the sport. My hopes and goals for Saturday are that all three of them will represent their school, themselves and their families to the best of their abilities.”
Ponsler and Clark each have daunting first-round matches. Ponsler faces Portage freshman Gaige Torres, who is 30-1. Clark will tangle with Crown Point sophomore Morgan Kral, who is a perfect 33-0. Rozow faces McCutcheon senior Caleb Medrano (23-4) in his first match and Valley’s Nelson takes on Lafayette Jeff sophomore Cordaro Armstead (33-14).
The Merrillville Semistate includes qualifiers from regionals at Rochester, Calumet, Crown Point and Logansport.