ST. JOHN | There's a first time for everything. But why did it first have to happen here?
"I've been coaching for 28 years, and that's the only time I remember being hit with a strap violation," Lake Central wrestling coach Rod Wartman said about his team's penalty point when returning Indian state champion Kyle Ayersman removed the top portion of his singlet in the wake of defeating Highland's Danny Rodriguez 8-0 in the 119-pound championship match at the Lake County Wrestling Tournament held Jan. 8 at Clark High School.
"Kyle really wanted to pin the guy, and he was a little mad at himself when he didn't," Wartman said. "Still, you usually get a warning.
"It was one of those things you've got to accept."
The penalty ending up costing the Indians their first outright Lake County title as they tied rival Munster for a share of the championship.
"It was something I learned from," said Ayersman, who remains undefeated this season, which includes a Duneland Athletic Conference title earned the weekend after the Lake County tourney.
"I know it won't happen again," Ayersman said. "I'm just going to focus on going out there and wrestle."
Last year at the IHSAA State Finals, Ayersman defeated Mishawaka's Paul Beck in overtime for the 112-pound title. It was an especially sweet victory since it avenged Ayersman's only loss in 41 matches last season.
The year before, Ayersman took third in the state as a 103-pounder. This season he's ranked No. 1 in the 119-pound class by IndianaMat.com.
"You still got to try to get better," Ayersman said when asked about how to improve on being a state champion. "I'm always working on new moves, better technique."
If anything, tying the Mustangs for Lake County honors should motivate the Indians to "uneven" the score at the East Chicago Central Sectionals on Jan. 29. The last three sectionals, the Indians have finished runners-up to the Mustangs.
In East Chicago, Wartman's nephew, Bradley Wartman, will be going for his third sectional title in a row for Lake Central. At 140 pounds, Wartman is ranked No. 3 by IndianaMat.com. Last year as a junior 135-pounder, Wartman took fifth at state.
Fellow senior and 2011 DAC tourney champion Pat Biancardi will defend his sectional heavyweight title for the Indians.
Wartman also expects contributions from his underclassmen.
"We have five freshmen on varsity," he said of a group that includes Gelen Robinson, son of NBA All-Star Glenn Robinson.
"(Robinson) has 23 wins as a freshman 215-pounder," Wartman said. "You don't see that too often. He's done real well for us like the rest of our freshmen. They've made us solid. We don't just roll them out there to get beat."