PARK FOREST | Merrillville wrestling coach Dave Maldonado said plans for tough, physical wrestlers at the Rich East Rocket Invitational.
With four individual champions and five second-place finishers, the Pirates were well-prepared, capturing first place in the team competition with 250 points. Adam Garcia, Bobby Steveson, Kourtney Berry and Michael Nickson each took home first place honors for Merrillville. Garcia improved his record to 16-0 on the season and won at the 120 pound level.
"I thought it was a pretty good tournament," Garcia said. "Illinois wrestlers, they fight a lot. My last match was a Greco wrestler so that was different for me and it let's me know I have to work on stuff like that."
Maldonado was happy with the effort out of his team and likes it when his wrestlers face different competition.
"This is one of those matches that is good for us because we're out of our element," Maldonado said. "It's a different style of wrestling. A lot of these kids, they fight. They might not have the greatest technique, but they really fight."
Bloom Township's Shijuan Rogers took first place at 170 pounds with a last-second win over Merrillville's Darryl Peppers. Rogers scored two points as time expired to break the stalemate.
"I like wrestling him," Rogers said of his match with Peppers. "He's good competition. He beat me last year in overtime so I was kind of blood thirsty this time and wanted to win. I didn't want to go to overtime again."
T.F. South's Blake Tisza ran his overall record to 15-1 on his way to a first-place finish at 138 pounds. Tisza said he is looking to improve everyday to make a serious run at a state title.
"I'm making progress till the end of the year," Tisza said. "Every match is step-by-step until downstate. I just want to get downstate and finish how I want to finish."
Thornwood had two champions in Robert Major (113) and Aaron Richmond (152). Bloom Township was third in the team standings with 125 points and the Thunderbirds finished sixth with 96 points.
"We work hard throughout the season, but we still have a long way to go," Major said. "We're not going to be satisfied with this."