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Back on the mat: Chesterton returns from COVID pause; dominates La Porte Sectional with 10 champs


La PORTE -- It had been two-and-a-half weeks since Chesterton had wrestled a match, COVID-19 issues keeping the Trojans out of the Duneland Conference tournament and cancelling a dual meet with La Porte.

After winning 10 weight classes and posting 311.5 team points in Saturday's La Porte sectional, it was clear there the layoff didn't affect them one bit.

"Actually I think I benefitted from it," 220-pound champ Evan Bates said. "I didn't have to focus on competing, I could focus on training. Thankfully, I was not contact traced so I was practicing the whole time. We've been training pretty hard the last few weeks."

Not that the undefeated Bates had his stamina tested in the meet, the defending state champion's two matches taking a total of 59 seconds. He's just happy to have the chance to repeat after the shutdown, even if it meant not getting to wrestle at conference.

"It is what it is. I wasn't too bummed about it," Bates said. "I knew it was definitely worth it if it guaranteed I was wrestling at sectionals."

His teammates echoed his feelings.

"I was looking forward to hopefully getting a conference championship, but there was nothing we could really do about it," 195 champ Gage DeMarco said. "(The coaches) are big on, deal with it, keep working hard, and we'll get where we want to down at Bankers Life. Only a couple guys were quarantined, we still had eight of us who were practicing the whole time. We've been going hard in the room all day. It felt pretty regular coming back out here. It felt good."

DeMarco cut through his weight class with three pins, including a fall at 4:09 in the finals. Fellow Trojan Gavin Layman (30-0) did the same at 182.

"It means a lot," Layman said. "I'm just glad we're able to compete, with COVID, even if it means giving up the fans. It's nice to just be able to wrestle. It was a little concerning, just trying to get through all pf that safe. I knew once that was over, we wouldn't have to worry about that in the long run. Giving up DAC and the dual with LaPorte was a sacrifice but it was a smaller price to pay. We weren't risking being able to compete in the state series, a shot at a team state title, getting guys to state. It was more important in the long run."

From 132 to 220, the Trojans racked up eight of the nine titles, starting with Aidan Torres (132). Ethan Contreras (138), Ethan Kaiser (145) and Brock Ellis (152) followed with Cade Johnson picking it back up at 170. Hayden DeMarco (113) and Sergio Lemley (120) also captured their weight classes.

"It's great, but I'm not finished yet," Kaiser said after his pin in 1:39. "I have to get ready for next week and the week after. Our conditioning is really good, so I wasn't too worried. The coaches know what's best for us. We knew we would see (those teams) eventually."

La Porte's Ashton Jackson (106) and Jamaal Salary (160), New Prairie's Hunter Whitenack (285) and Valparaiso's Stefan Vitello (126) accounted for the other titles.

Vitello (13-1) pinned Chesterton's Josh Daniels, competing for the first time following a transfer from Lake Central, at 4:38.

"I learned (he would wrestle) last night," Vitello said. "It was a good match. I expecting to wrestler Dusty (Young from New Prairie). I'll take whoever I wrestle. It doesn't matter. I'll just do my best."

Like Chesterton, Valpo went through its own COVID shutdown, its entire team getting quarantined in December.

"It was about two weeks there right before Christmas and then a little bit before that," Vitello said. "It's surprising I didn't catch it either time. I'm not complaining. Honestly, I was questioning if we were going to come back and have a season. It's nice. I'm happy."

The stakes are high for the unbeaten Whitenack, so he's taking no chances.

"If you see me, I'm always having a mask on just in case something happens, even all the way to when I'm almost up," he said. "If they check the video and I'm standing next to someone that has it, then I'm out."



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