CULVER — Wrestling championships are often decided long before any championship match, before a wrestler even takes his place on the mat opposite his opponent.
If anyone was prepared to win Saturday’s 73rd Annual IHSAA Individual Wrestling State Finals, it was Jeremiah Harvey.
The Culver Community heavyweight capped off a stellar 45-4 senior season at the tournament, spinning away from a shot by Plymouth’s Damon Howe and taking his back at the 26-second mark of overtime to win the 285-pound title. But while Howe entered the match ranked second in the state by IndianaMat.com and Harvey was rated No. 7, the 3-1 decision was anything but surprising.
For one thing, he’d already beaten Howe each of the previous two weeks at the Rochester Regional quarterfinals and the Merrillville Semistate championship.
“I kind of knew what to expect when facing him for the third time,” said the soft-spoken Harvey. “I knew he was going to change some things when he faced me a third time because he had kind of changed a little bit in the two times facing him.
“The coaches kind of prepared him to do something different for a third time, but I guess it just didn’t really work out that well,” he added without any trace of smugness.
For another, there were few wrestlers in the state better prepared to go overtime. Harvey estimated he wrestled a total of seven overtime matches his entire wrestling career, and five of those came either during this year’s state series or in the weeks leading up to it, including a pair of double overtime bouts with No. 6-rated Bremen grappler Abraham Hall and a 3-2 overtime win over No. 1 Bellmont senior Daniel Meyer in the semifinals Saturday.
“The big thing is, almost all of his big ticket matches were overtime,” said Culver head wrestling coach Mike Buschman. “That’s the big key to me because it seems that all his matches are overtime and the ones that aren’t overtime he’s pinning the kid in a minute, and it’s game over. Then when the chips are on the line and it’s overtime, double overtime... I think he’s learned from that not only his strategy in what to do on the mat but also in terms of how to handle himself mentally and emotionally and how to keep himself calm and under control.”
Then there’s the quality of Harvey’s opponents. In addition to Howe and Hall, Harvey had beaten eighth-ranked Eric Forrest of Jimtown in Northern State Conference action. And his wrestling room partners were top-notch with a former Trine University All American in Culver assistant wrestling coach Lewis Bosley and another state-ranked wrestler in No. 5 189-pound teammate Matt Hurford.
“Those guys do a great job; they don’t back up,” Buschman said. “To Matt Hurford, every single thing is a competition, every single thing that happens in practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sprint, if it’s a match, if it’s a drill, and it didn’t matter to him that Jeremiah was a state qualifier, every time they wrestled it was a competition, and that was huge for Jeremiah’s success, that was huge for his ability to do what he did this weekend.”
While the humble Harvey said he wasn’t himself convinced he could win the state title until his 3-2 quarterfinal win over then-undefeated Meyer, Buschman said he was given a glimpse early in the year.
“I think the first time we really started to see a glimmer of what might happen was probably the first Saturday of the year,” he said. “Not even so much when it was happening, but when we reflected back on the five guys he wrestled that Saturday, which he pretty much just buzzed right through, and they turned out to have 20, 25, close to 30-match seasons, about three or four of those guys, and we’re looking back going “Oh, wow, this could be a special season.’”
Indeed, Harvey’s championship had a touch of destiny in it as Culver’s girls basketball team won the school its first team regional at home Saturday night, and 500 fans stayed around at John R. Nelson Gymnasium to watch a live webcast of Harvey’s state title match with Howe, willing him to victory from 100 miles away with chants of “Harvey! Harvey!”
“It’s a great day to be a Cavalier. It’s hard to put into words,” said Culver Community High School principal Albert Hanselman following Harvey’s win Saturday. “We hadn’t ever won a team regional championship, and obviously, we never had a state champion, and now, for it to be happening on the same day; what are the odds of that? It’s surreal.”
“I found out (about the girls basketball championship) before my match so I kind of pushed myself in the last match to get the win and bring it home for Culver Community,” said Harvey.
“It blew my mind to know how many fans were here (at Culver) watching me. It’s awesome to know that you have so many fans watching you and everyone down at Conseco watching you getting the state championship.”
Harvey will leave Culver Community as one of the school’s most decorated athlete ever, with the Cavaliers’ first-ever state championship in wrestling as well as a whole host of decorations in football and track and field. But while the legacy he leaves as an athlete is important, it’s his legacy as a person that makes him even more memorable, says Hanselman.
“Jeremiah works extremely hard. But as good an athlete as he is, he’s an even better kid, and he’s humble,” said the Culver principal. “I called him (Friday) night to congratulate him after his first win. He said, ‘Thanks, Mr. Hanselman,’ and he said he was ready to prepare for the next day.
“He’s going to play college football. Some school is going to get a very good football player, but they’ll be getting an even better person. He’s such a leader at our school, a quiet leader. Everybody loves that kid.”