It was a rare sight.
For the first time since 2014, Bloomington South head wrestling coach Mike Runyon saw one of his boys step to the top of the podium at the semistate level. Just as important to senior Tristan Ruhlman’s future success at state this evening was what Runyon didn’t witness once all day in Jasper.
“He’s been pretty dominant throughout the season and nothing changed down there,” Runyon said. “There were a couple of tough kids I thought he’d match up with that would give him a tussle. I just didn’t see it.
“It’s like he’s on a mission right now. He’s got a mindset where he’s going to get it done. He’s got his mind in the right spot.”
And for Ruhlman (23-0), ranked second at 220 pounds, that spot is on another medal stand in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It is a fairly big achievement,” Ruhlman said. “But ultimately, is just another stepping stone along the path to a state title.”
Joining him again this year at state is younger brother Delaney, who wants to erase the memories of last year’s first round loss. Senior Cade Meier is also making his second trip after missing out last year giving the Panthers a trio still alive going into the final weekend.
Tristan should enjoy the benefits of a good draw. He whipped through his first two matches at semistate and rolled through his semifinal, all in first-period pins. Just the sort of start he wanted to see.
“That’s very important,” Ruhlman said. “Wrestling is 80 percent mental and the rest is athletic skill, so your mental state means everything. I went out there, I felt good and wrestling fairly well. And pressure, there was really no pressure to go out there and win those matches. I just needed to perform like I know I can.”
And for the sixth time this season, that meant taking care of Terre Haute South’s Josh Howell. The 7-0 win had followed pins in the sectional and regional finals. But it seemed Howell spent most of his time so worried about Ruhlman and not being pinned again he never found time to generate any offense.
“At one point, he did get caught in a crusher, but we fought out of that,” Runyon said. “That was his only real offense. Tristan was very smart and patient and not pushing the issue and getting himself out of position.”
“That was definitely a change from the last couple times we had wrestled,” Ruhlman said. “But I controlled the whole match. And it felt pretty good to bring home a title. It was quite nice.”
“I was definitely excited for him,” Delaney said. “I always want to push myself, to achieve what he does, kind of. I’ve just got to push these next few years like he did.”
Delaney is headed that way. He was also able to end his day with a win, dominating his third-place match, 9-0.
“There were three really good kids down there at 138,” Runyon said. “It was pretty brutal. On any given day, any one could have beaten the other. Delany did a good job bouncing back and putting together a good match.”
The semifinal was the hard one to swallow, even though the loss came to the defending state champ. Ruhlman had beaten Evansville Mater Dei’s Blake Boarman soundly early in the year and Boarman was out for revenge. Quickly, it was the rare occasion when Ruhlman wasn’t pushing the pace.
“He came out a little more aggressive than in the first match,” Delaney Ruhlman said. “And I also went for a move I shouldn’t have and it cost me points, which put me behind. Then I had to work and continue from there.”
Meier will have his work cut out for him at state at 132, but the fact he made it back is a big deal in itself. A pair of solid decisions in the first two rounds got him there.
“I was definitely excited because it means I get a chance to go back again and prove I can place and make it happen this year,” Meier said.
“He wanted to prove some stuff to himself,” Runyon said. “So he was very mentally tuned into his matches. He wasn’t getting overly excited. He had a tough kid the first round but he kept his composure and carried himself well through the whole tournament.”
But Meier said he just wasn’t himself in his last two matches, dropping both to settle for fourth.
“Exhausted, honestly,” Meier said. “I hadn’t been feeling like normal mentally. I’ve had a lot of things going on. I still got through. So my mindset is I’ve got to go out knowing I’ve got a tough kid but I have to win this match.”
And no matter their place at semistate, all three see themselves as the hunters, not the hunted.
“After being out last year, and not being able to make a run, this year, coming back and making it says a lot for (Meier) and how he’s been successful again,” Runyon said. “He’s done a good job with that this year. He’s ecstatic to be there.
“But as I told all three of them, it’s one thing getting there, but their jobs are not done yet.”
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