MERRILLVILLE | Amid all the emotional highs and lows of Saturday's Merrillville Semistate, the smile on Mark Maldonado's face after he won the 160-poind weight class title shined the brightest.
"Oh my God. You have no idea," the Highland senior said. "Just making it (to state) is awesome. It's going to be fun. I'm going to be ready for it."
Maldonado (36-1) expected to make it last season, but was left on the outside looking in after a quarterfinal loss. He not only advanced this time, he took down Lowell's previously unbeaten Kenny Hughes 1-0 in the semifinals and Bishop Noll's Damian Lopez 3-1 in the finals. All four 160 qualifiers were from Lake County.
Region strong: The Region Wrestling Academy's fingerprints were on the success of many of the area's top finishers Saturday, including Hanover Central's Stevan Micic (113) and Lowell's Drew Hughes (120), who are practice partners in the club.
"It was nice winning with Stevan," Hughes said. "He's been my partner since we were really little. We got our first state titles together when we were like 9."
Back for more: After the experience of winning state last year, the undefeated and top-ranked Micic is excited about another run.
"I love it. It was an awesome feeling and I want to do it again," he said. "I'm going to push myself in the room, train hard, make sure I perfect my technique. I had a few mistakes I want to fix."
Hungry man: Bobby Steveson of Merrillville finished fifth in the state at 160 as a freshman, a great accomplishment by most standards, but not his. He's been driven by the disappointment.
"The fire's burning," he said. "I worked very hard in the summer time. I'm mentally and physically strong. This was four wins. I'm hoping for another four to come."
'Dogged determination: Crown Point seniors Trevor Burlison (132) and Dusty Schurg (152) both credited their hard-fought finals victories to their Monday through Friday preparation.
"In the room, there are no friends," Burlison said. "We put our nose to the grindstone and get after it. It's worth everything. I love Crown Point."
"I've been wrestling all my life," Schurg said. "It's my last year. I want to be looking from the top of the podium."
One up, one down: Schurg hung for a 2-1 win against South Bend Adams' Samuel Ferdig, who turned Schurg to his back just after time expired. The officials conferred and upheld the decision.
Josh Fuqua wasn't as fortunate at 126. Trailing Twin Lakes' Blake Denton 2-1, he scored an apparent go-ahead takedown near the edge of the mat with 17.1 seconds left. After a consultation, the call was overturned, and Fuqua was unable to score in the remaining time, sustaining his first loss.
Conspicuously absent: Top local wrestlers who didn't advance to state included C.P.'s Darden Schurg (138) and Morgan Kral (195) and Hobart's Tony Rodriguez (182). The trio came in with three losses among them. Kral, who was undefeated, lost 6-4 to Delphi's Justin Berumen in the quarterfinals.
Long day: The addition of wrestlebacks to determine fifth place tacked on about 90 minutes to the tournament, which ended just after 9 p.m.