Although Garrett Pepple remains the last area wrestler to win a state championship, claiming his second title as an East Noble senior in 2015, two grapplers from northeast Indiana competed under the spotlight in the state championship match last February at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Garrett graduate Clayton Fielden took second at 170 pounds and now wrestles for the Army Black Knights at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Bellmont junior Isaac Ruble stands as the region's top returner after coming up just two points shy in the finals at 106. Ruble highlights an impressive crop of wrestlers ready to get back on the mat with an eye on capturing a state title.
Garrett: Although Fielden's graduation gives coach Nick Kraus a monstrous hole to fill in the lineup, the Railroaders derailed host Carroll's nine-year run as sectional champions last season. Sophomore Hayden Brady (state qualifier at 106 as a freshman) headlines one of the area's largest rosters, and Garrett looks to claim a Class 2A state championship at the Team State Duals after finishing second in the event a year ago.
Carroll: The Chargers took second at both sectionals and regionals before finishing fourth in the team standings at semistate last season, and return several dominant wrestlers in the upper weights.
Bellmont: After winning the Class 2A championship at Team State, the Braves earned sectional and regional titles a year ago before placing second as a team at semistate, just seven points behind champion Western.
Wawasee: The Warriors added a sectional championship to the trophy case before placing third in the Penn Regional a season ago, returning regional champions Logan Stuckman (106) and Jace Alexander (126) to a perennially tough roster guided by coach Frank Bumgardner.
Columbia City: Jarrett Forrester, who lost one match shy of qualifying for state at 132 a season ago, headlines a deep, talented roster that could push Bellmont for Northeast 8 supremacy.
Reeve Muncie, Carroll: The Chargers big man earned three victories at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to finish fifth at 285. He enters his senior season as the 13th-ranked senior wrestler – regardless of weight class – according to IndianaMat.com. Fellow state qualifier Matt Lepper (195) and All-SAC offensive lineman Kyler Bills (220) will give opponents a torturous trio to handle at the top three weights.
Alex Currie, Adams Central: The son of Flying Jets coach Tony Currie finished seventh at 145 last season as a sophomore after qualifying for semistate at 126 as a freshman.
Aidan Sprague, East Noble: The junior finished sixth in the state at 113 pounds last winter, and his classmate Keegan Malott qualified for state at 106 in 2019-20.
Landon Bertsch, Bluffton: The junior returns ready to improve on a sophomore season that saw him win his first 42 matches, finish as the semistate runner-up at 126 before dropping a 6-4 decision in the opening round at state.
Ian Heath, Leo: The Lions senior will seek his fourth straight state finals trip. After qualifying for state as a freshman at 120, Heath took fifth at 126 as a sophomore before placing sixth at 132 last year.
Al Smith Classic canceled: Because of COVID-19, directors of the Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka recently decided to cancel this year's tournament, a disappointment to wrestling fans statewide as the 32-team, two-day event competed in late December widely draws reviews as the toughest tournament in Indiana outside of the state finals.
Snider strength of SAC: The Panthers graduated three semistate qualifiers from last season, but Reakus Shelton returns after finishing second in semistate at 132 a year ago along with fellow qualifiers Elijah Talamantez (145) and Jacob Kreager (160).
Smoker time in Butler: Longtime area coach Doug Smoker, who made his name at Northeast Corner Conference powerhouse Prairie Heights before taking over the program at Angola, now will guide an Eastside squad eager to push NECC heavyweight and neighboring rival Garrett.
Silver anniversary special for Oberlin: After serving as an assistant at Norwell, DeKalb and Homestead for a combined 24 years, Andy Oberlin, a three-time semistate qualifier and one-time semistate champion during his prep career at DeKalb, will assume the head coaching role this season for Homestead.
Squashing super duals: Coronavirus concerns have led some area programs to shy away from the super dual format this year, where 6-10 teams converge at one school for a daylong series of dual matches, rather opting for a series of single dual matches such as in the Northeast Corner Conference, or inviting fewer teams to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread.