EAST CHICAGO — The Merrillville wrestling team took home 12 of 14 individual titles at the E.C. Central Sectional, and nearly doubled the total team score of the second-place team, Gavit, winning 345.5 to 180.5 Saturday.
Merrillville head coach David Maldonado said that his team was effective at gearing up for the Hobart Regional on Feb. 2.
“This tournament will set us up for next week, so hopefully we continue,” Maldonado said. “I think the most important part now is staying healthy, avoiding the flu, avoiding infections, avoiding the outside stuff that can hurt us.”
Rivera wrestles despite injury
Merrillville junior Anthony Rivera nearly wasn't healthy enough to wrestle on Saturday. He tweaked his knee earlier in the week in practice.
“I was a little nervous because of my knee, so I was holding back,” Rivera said of his pin of Gavit’s Will Earls at 4:37 in the 138-pound title match. “By the end I was just wrestling hard. I worked my position, got him on his back again, and I actually hit the move right and stuck him.”
Maldonado said that he gave Rivera (21-7) the decision to wrestle or not. Maldonado added that Rivera missed his entire sophomore year with a fractured vertebrae from his soccer season and that likely played a role in Rivera pushing through the pain.
“I said, ‘Hey, that’s your spot. You earned it. If you can go, you go,’” Maldonado said. “(Him missing the entire previous season) I think that played a part in (wrestling at sectionals). It showed a lot of character.”
Johnson savors victory
Gavit's Jaymiere Johnson stood on the top of the podium alone after the other finalists at 160 pounds had left. In one of the final pictures he posed for, he held just his right index finger in the air as he held his winner’s bracket in the other hand.
Johnson recorded a 10-2 major decision over Merrillville’s Elijah Sandridge in the final to move to 31-4 on the season. For Johnson, a senior, the win was a long time coming.
As a sophomore he took fourth at sectionals after hurting his meniscus in the semifinals, and he didn’t wrestle at sectionals in 2018.
“It’s good to be back in the room, and to come out on top,” Johnson said. “I’m just proud of myself, basically. (The injury) motivated me tremendously. I’ve just been doing what I’ve had to do to get back.”