Wrestling has served as a vehicle to take Stevan Micic many places.
For all his travels, the Hanover Central senior and two-time state champion still ranks the high school finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse near the top of his list.
"I love it," Micic said after his Merrillville Semistate title at 126 pounds. "I've wrestled a lot overseas, around the country, and state is still one of my favorite tournaments in the world."
Micic hasn't lost since the state semifinals of his freshman year. The Northwestern recruit won it all at 106 as a sophomore and 113 as a junior.
"I've got two," he said. "I want a third."
Capital G: Gelen Robinson's winning streak isn't quite as long as Micic's, but still impressive in its own right. The defending 220 champion hasn't lost since the state semifinals as a sophomore.
"People are starting to hit their peaks going into state," Robinson said. "There are always big upsets, great matches. It's exciting. I'm going to work hard to pull off another win."
Back for more: Shawn Streck of Merrillville accomplished the rare feat of placing at 285 as a freshman last year, finishing seventh after giving eventual champion Donte Whitfield his closest match of the tournament, 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Among last year's eight medalists, it was Streck and seven seniors.
"(The tournament) won't be as big to me," Streck said of his year's experience. "I'll know what to expect. Four more (matches)."
First-timers: Like Streck last year, Griffith's Jeremiah Reitz (106) and Munster's Jason Crary (113) will be making their state debuts. Though they're young, both can lean on their out-of-school experience.
"(That) really does help in big matches," Crary said. "You just try not to think about it too much."
"You have to look at it as just another tournament and stay calm," Reitz said. "That helps you fight the nerves."
To dye or not to dye: After bleaching his hair blonde last year and winning the semistate, Lowell's Drew Hughes decided to go with the look again. He's two for two after hanging on to edge Merrillville's Jake Covaciu 6-5. Hughes' brother Kenny, who didn't dye his hair, suffered his first loss of the season in the 160 final, 6-1 to Penn's Joey Mamolenti.
Not this week: Hanover Central's Tyler Scott faced Crown Point's Morgan Kral in the 195 final at the sectional and regional, but Penn's Kobe Woods beat Kral in the semistate semifinal, preventing another meeting. Scott topped Woods and credited some of his success to Kral and Valpo's Derrick Suttles.
"Going head to head with the best people prepared me for this," Scott said. "I was fortunate to have those two guys in the sectional and regional."
New faces: While region powers Merrillville (six), Lowell and Hanover Central (three each) account for half of the area's state qualifiers, a few schools not known for their mat prowess are on the list. Morton's Ruben Rodriguez Jr. advanced at 120, as did Andrean's Mike Krzyston at 138 and Kankakee Valley's Tim Schoonveld at 182.
Awaiting word: If South Bend Clay's Jake Hartman is unable to wrestle at state, Hobart freshman Brendan Black will take his place at 120. Black gave eventual champ Jake Sinkovicz of Mishawaka his closest match, losing 5-2 in the quarterfinals. During the same round, Hartman hit his head and couldn't continue his match with Portage's Gaige Torres. Hartman was awarded a contested disqualification victory as Torres was called for an illegal slam with 10 seconds left. Hartman defaulted his semifinal and third-place match, leaving his status for state up in the air.
"We'll see," Clay coach Al Hartman, Jake's dad, said. "He may not be cleared."
Not on the list: As always, several big names with big resumes didn't advance. Notables among the ranks are C.P.'s Zach Donaldson (34-2 at 132) and Josh Fuqua (138), a two-time state qualifier who was the 103 runner-up as a freshman, Hobart's Scottie Sopko (170, 28-3), a 2012 medalist at 160, LaPorte's Mike Eldridge (182, 40-2) and River Forest's Robert Yanez (285, 33-2).