A win for Drew

Bai­ley wins con­fer­ence at 220 pounds to high­light Mer­ril­lville’s team ti­tle

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Sports -

Mer­ril­lville se­nior Drew Bai­ley al­most quit.

But mo­ments like the one at Satur­day’s Duneland Ath­letic Con­fer­ence meet in Michi­gan City re­minded the 220-pound wrestler he made the right de­ci­sion.

“I had to learn how to deal with ad­ver­sity,” Bai­ley said. “I thought about quit­ting and never wrestling again, but it was worth it to come back.”

It took four sea­sons for Bai­ley to crack Mer­ril­lville’s var­sity lineup for the DAC meet. He re­sponded by win­ning the ti­tle at 220, the Pi­rates’ only cham­pion.

As a ju­nior, Bai­ley was frus­trated about not be­ing a reg­u­lar on the var­sity.

He nearly walked away from the sport.

Since de­cid­ing to re­main with the team, though, Bai­ley has flour­ished. He has a 29-1 record this sea­son, and is ranked No. 13 at 220 by In­di­anaMat.

The gains have been im­mea­sur­able.

“It’s more than just a sport,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot more from wrestling that has helped me get through other things.”

Al­though Bai­ley was Mer­ril­lville’s only cham­pion, the Pi­rates still took the team ti­tle with 210 points. They fin­ished just ahead of Crown Point (202) and Portage (190.5).

Bai­ley’s long jour­ney to the top was sim­i­lar to Mer­ril­lville’s strug­gle to win this meet, as Pi­rates coach David Mal­don­ado ex­plained.

“We’ve had quite a few (sec­ond-place fin­ishes),” Mal­don­ado said. “It’s al­ways been us be­hind Crown Point or us be­hind Portage. We just had a bet­ter over­all team this sea­son.”

Crown Point’s run­ner-up fin­ish was sparked by a trio who drill to­gether at ev­ery prac­tice.

Sopho­more Stephen Rober­son won at 106, ju­nior Ri­ley Bet­tich placed first at 120, and fresh­man Jesse Men­dez is now 27-0 after a per­fect day at 126.

Rober­son said that prac­tice group stretches back to their days in grade school in club, adding the in­ten­sity of those prac­tices is vi­tal to their suc­cess at meets.

“We know each other so well that it im­i­tates a live match like the one that just hap­pened out there,” Rober­son said.

“My tech­nique is im­prov­ing a lot be­cause I have great matches in the room with my team­mates.”

La­Porte had just one cham­pion at the meet in ju­nior Tyson Nis­ley, who’s now 29-4 after win­ning the ti­tle at 138.

That first-place fin­ish served as val­i­da­tion that Nis­ley’s ex­tra ded­i­ca­tion in the off­sea­son wasn’t a waste.

“I had a lot of close matches last sea­son against re­ally good guys,” Nis­ley said.

“I felt like I was right un­der all those peo­ple, and if I put in the work, I’d be bet­ter than them.

“That’s what it comes down to: if I’m work­ing harder than them, there’s no rea­son I should be los­ing.”

Dave Mel­ton is a free­lance re­porter for the Post-Tri­bune.

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