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Ruiz poised for a run

January 6, 2019

NEW CARLISLE — Despite his modest stature, Brayden Ruiz gravitated to the football field rather than the wrestling mat as a young athlete.

“My brother (Garrett) did it a couple years in elementary school, so they put me in (wrestling). I did it in third and fourth grade, but it was football, football, football,” the New Prairie senior said Saturday. “My dad talked me into going back into it in seventh grade to help with football.”

When Ruiz tied for the most wins on the team and scored the most points as a freshman, his interests changed.

“I felt like this is my sport. I fell in love with it,” he said. “The end of my sophomore year, I started going to out-of-season tournaments, camps. I did football until this year. Coach (Russ Radtke) tried to talk me into it. I told him I didn’t want to take the chance of getting injured and he understood. He coached wrestling at Griffith. He was very positive about it.”

The choice proved to be a good one. Ruiz, a two-time semistate qualifier, is in position to break Frank Frazier’s 21-year-old record for career wins (161). He’s made the jump from 120 pounds to 132 comfortably, improving his record to 29-2 with a 5-0 finish in Saturday’s New Prairie Super Duals.

“It’s been different wrestling a lot stronger guys, so I’ve been able to go out there and hold my own,” he said. “It’s been a great year so far. I’m more confident with my strength. I’ve always been pretty decent on top. I need to work on bottom. That’s my main focus. There’s no doubt my one goal is to get down to Indy (state). That’s what I’ve been looking for the past two years when I went to semistate and it didn’t work out. I feel this is my year.”

Ruiz positioned himself well for the La Porte Sectional with wins over Chesterton and Valparaiso, the former a 10-6 decision against Ethan Kaiser, who beat him in the sectional last winter.

“It’s a great look into my sectional run,” Ruiz said. “I was looking forward to the Chesterton match. It was good to come back and dominate the match even though I fell apart a little in the third. I was thinking revenge, if I beat him, it sets me up well for sectionals.”

Cougars coach Bobby Whitenack now wants to see Ruiz take the next step.

“Brayden wrestled really nice,” he said. “Those were two good, close matches. It will help his seeding for sectionals, but we also know he has to perform when the opportunity comes and he wrestles those guys again probably. We have lofty goals, for him and the team. We’ll see what he can do.”

Grant Johnson (195), Hunter Whitenack (285) and Chris McGrew (285) also went 5-0, also securing top sectional seeds at this weights. The question will be who gets the 285 spot. Whitenack wrestled with the first group Saturday, while McGrew rolled with the twos.

“He didn’t show up for practice yesterday, so I got team A, he got team B,” Whitenack said. “We’ll wrestle off Thursday or Friday for conference and do another one for sectionals.”

Whitenack improved to 21-3 with two quick pins, two forfeits and a decision. He is 21-3 with all of his losses coming to 220s who bumped up a weight.

“Someone who comes out there and tries to muscle, that’s what I want right there,” he said. “After my last loss, I was tired of losing to smaller, so I’ve been practicing with Grant. He’s a really good wrestler. He’s way faster. He’s always getting me better.”

New Prairie went 3-2 for the day, losing to meet champion Chesterton 53-24 and Valpo 34-33 by way of criteria tie-breaker (most matches won).

“It gives us good preparation for sectional,” coach Whitenack said. “We need to raise our level to meet the expectations we have as a team. We had a lot of opportunities for some good kids. It’s been a season that’s been enjoyable. We’ve got a good group of kids who really like to have fun and work hard. Obviously, we have things to work on, but the seniors have done well and when we take them out, we replace them with underclassmen and we still get a good performance out there. There’s a lot of good future coming for us.”

Michigan City also went 3-2, edging New Prairie’s B team 37-36, in addition to victories over short-handed Knox and Boone Grove. It lost 58-21 to Fairhaven and 67-11 to Goshen. John Wilcher improved to 29-0 at 220 with two pins and two decisions among his five wins.

″(The decisions) gave me good experience, to see how far I need to come,” Wilcher said. “I need more conditioning. (Assistant) coach (Chris) Deutscher gives me the best (practice) look I’ve ever had.”

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