EAST CHICAGO | Adam Garcia couldn’t hide the excitement.
It was like walking into a family reunion and getting all the attention.
Garcia, who grew up wrestling in East Chicago, returned to his roots with his Merrillville teammates and they dominated the scene with nine individual champions in taking the team title with 306 points ahead of runner-up Lake Central (237½) at Saturday’s E.C. Central Sectional.
“I was so pumped we were going to be wrestling here. I was really looking forward to it,” said Garcia, who improved to 28-1 at 120 pounds with a 12-6 decision over Morton’s Ruben Rodriguez in the championship. “I love wrestling here – actually I’ve never lost here. It’s my hometown and I started young in the (wrestling) club here. I remember all those tournaments when I was little in this gym. It was really cool to see some old friends.”
Likewise for Pirates coach David Maldonado, a former state champion at E.C. Central, who guided his team to its ninth straight sectional title, and first at his old stomping grounds. Merrillville moved over from the Calumet Sectional this season.
“It was a different feel. I haven’t been here since I was (coaching) at Noll,” Maldonado said. “It’s good to be back. These are my roots and where (my family) came from. Being in this gym brought back a lot of memories.
“I saw some familiar faces and some old friends. It was good.”
Besides Garcia, the Pirates had champs in Michael Garza (106), Michael Martin (126), Jacob Covaciu (132), Isaac Rentas (138), Willie Armstrong (145), Bobby Steveson (170, 28-0), Eric Deluna (182) and freshman Shawn Streck (285).
Lake Central junior man-child Gelen Robinson remained unbeaten at 38-0 at 220 pounds, while teammate Cody Christenson took the title at 152.
Other champions included Morton’s Rickie Rodriguez at 113 and Gavit’s Derrick Medley at 195. Bishop Noll’s Damian Gomez, who wrestled his first two seasons at E.C. Central, won the title at 160.