Gleason Mappes vividly recalls his first trip to the IHSAA State Wrestling Finals.
After all, it didn’t last long.
A freshman at the time, he entered the first round with 20 losses. His opponent was an unbeaten senior with 37 wins.
Not surprisingly, the result was a first-round victory for the unbeaten senior, Mishawaka’s Tommy Forte, who would go on to win the 152-pound state championship.
For Mappes, who finished with a 23-21 record, the experience was equal parts humbling, eye-opening and motivating.
“Obviously, last year wasn’t the best draw. Placing fourth at semistate certainly doesn’t help you with your draws,” said Mappes, who has moved up to 160 pounds this year. “But I definitely learned that you don’t take anything for granted because that one match can be the first of your state tournament or the last.
“You’ve got to go out there and perform.”
And that’s precisely what he’s done.
Having applied the lessons of last season, Mappes — a Center Grove sophomore — has again qualified for the state finals. Only this time, he has a 35-9 record and the confidence of advancing beyond Friday’s first round at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
By virtue of a third-place finish at the semistate, the 160-pound Mappes has a much better draw. Instead of an undefeated senior, he drew a 41-6 junior from South Bend Adams, Tavonte Malone, who Mappes is quite familiar with.
Malone edged Mappes in a 3-2 decision during a tournament early in the season. Malone earned the win with a takedown with two seconds left in the match.
Although Mappes doesn’t embrace the result as a moral victory, he is buoyed by it for a simple reason: he’s a better wrestler now than he was then.
“I’m feeling pretty good about it. I’ve improved a lot since the last time we wrestled, and I thought I wrestled him really well the last time,” Mappes said. “And so if I go out there and perform, I feel really good about my chances of advancing to Saturday and hopefully making a run to the finals.”
Center Grove coach Cale Hoover feels good about Mappes’ chances, too. Because in addition to skill, Mappes has a quality that can’t be taught or overvalued: he expects to win every match, every time, against anyone.
“Expecting to win has never been an issue, and quite honestly, for some kids it’s a pretty big deal convincing them that they belong,” Hoover said. “That’s not a problem Gleason has.”
Nor is state meet experience. He has it first-hand, both as a competitor and as a spectator. He was there in 2012 when his older brother, Sean, won the 170-pound state championship with a 46-0 record.
“He’s been to the venue. He’s competed on Friday night. He knows what’s going to take place,” Hoover said. “So from the aspect of just getting past all the newness to it, it’s still going to be exciting and those kind of things, but he’ll be prepared.”
One of six state qualifiers from Johnson County, Mappes is one of only three who are making return trips. The other two are senior Quinn York (285) from Franklin and senior Elijah Dunn (152) from Indian Creek.
Of the returners, Mappes is — as his record reflects — the most improved. He placed third at the sectional, regional and semistate meets and combines aggressiveness with an unusual style that baffles most opponents.
“He is kind of like trying to wrestle a cooked spaghetti noodle,” Hoover said. “A lot of people when they (wrestle) hard kind of get tense and stiff, and he does the opposite. He wrestles very loose. He just kind of has more of a unique style.
“He is a long, long way from his potential. He’s still just scratching the surface of it.”
Perhaps. But as a two-time state qualifier, the future — as far as Mappes is concerned — is now.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself. This is what I have been training for all year,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty good. I got a good draw, a good position in the bracket, and I really think I can make a really good run this year.”
Name: Gleason Mappes
High school: Center Grove
Weight class: 160
Season highlights: Qualified for second straight IHSAA State Finals with a third-place finish at the Evansville Semistate; finished third at both the Mooresville Regional and Mooresville Sectional
2015 state finals: Lost 13-6 at 152 pounds in the first round against eventual undefeated state champion Tommy Forte of Mishawaka
Parents: Donald and Therese Mappes
What: IHSAA State Wrestling Finals
When: 6 p.m. Friday, first round; 9:30 a.m. Saturday, quarterfinals, with semifinals to follow; 5 p.m., consolations; 7:30 p.m., finals
Admission: $8 per session; $20 both days
Local wrestlers: Senior Elijah Dunn, Indian Creek, 152 pounds; sophomore Grant Goforth, Indian Creek, 182; freshman Alex Mosconi, Indian Creek, 113; Senior Quinn York, Franklin, 285; junior Burk Van Horn, Franklin, 160; sophomore Gleason Mappes, Center Grove, 160.