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The Journal Gazette

  • Indiana Tech After losing in last year's national championship match, Indiana Tech's Erique Early decided to return this year, winning that elusive title in the process.

  • Courtesy Indiana Tech Indiana Tech wrestler Sawyer Miller joined teammate Erique Early as a national champion as the Warriors placed fourth at the national meet. In all, five Warriors earned All-American honors as Tech earned its fourth consecutive top-10 team finish at nationals.

Thursday, March 14, 2019 1:00 am

Early's return pays off with NAIA title

Snider grad almost walked away last year

Josh Patterson | For The Journal Gazette

After losing in the 2018 NAIA national championship match, Erique Early decided he was done with his wrestling career.

The Snider graduate and then-redshirt junior, armed with a degree he'd finish at the end of spring semester and a career with Enterprise awaiting him upon graduation from Indiana Tech, figured he'd performed about as well as possible, and stood ready to open his life's next chapter.

With time still on his athletic clock, Warriors head coach Thomas Pompei had another suggestion.

“I was really broken up about it,” Early said about his defeat. “But (Pompei) stressed to me that it'd be good for me to come back, and that I could get my master's (degree), so I decided to come back and work toward winning a national title. It was all about doing better than I did last year.”

Early avenged his loss in the national finals at 133 pounds, joining teammate Sawyer Miller as national champions as Tech placed fourth at the national meet. In all, five Warriors – including Early's high school teammate Bobby Humphrey at 149 – earned All-American honors as Tech earned its fourth consecutive top-10 team finish at nationals.

“He's been a rock in our lineup, and he's worked his way up,” Pompei said of Early. “His national tournament was just a release of emotions in the finals. It's everything he's been carrying on his back, coming up short in the finals his junior year. From this time last year, it'd been 365 days of living the lifestyle of a national champion.”

Miller, a South Adams graduate and a fellow redshirt senior, more than lived up to his billing as the second-ranked 125-pounder in the NAIA ranks. Unbeaten against NAIA competition all year, Miller's journey to a title served as a culmination of a different sort.

“(It was) both a relief and an expectation,” Miller said. “It was just my mindset this year. Even going into practice I had a mindset, a mean mindset this year. I just went into competitions with that mindset this year as well.”

While Early and Miller stand out for their exploits this season, Pompei noted that the IHSAA Fort Wayne semistate continues to serve as fertile recruiting grounds. A graduate of Hamilton Southeastern, Pompei admittedly knew little of this region before enrolling at Trine (then known as Tri-State).

But the two-time MIAA champion grew to learn where to spot talent that would fit his roster. While it may not have manifested in state titles, many of those wrestlers found success just a stone's throw from Tech's East Washington Street campus – namely, at Memorial Coliseum for the state tournament's penultimate competition.

“People are first and foremost seeing the vision,” Pompei said. “Humphrey never made it to state coming out of high school, but he put in the time and put in the work, and seeing him make the podium was one of the best feelings of the tournament.

“Our recruiting class has really been coming together as well. We have 14 coming in, including the Gimson twins out of Jimtown (Matthew, who placed fourth at state at 132, and Connor, who finished third at 138). It's going to be fun moving forward.”