Funny thing about Franklin junior Burk Van Horn. Were it not for a particular opponent, he would be undefeated heading into the IHSAA State Wrestling Finals.
But as fate would have it, because of that opponent, Van Horn brings a 38-4 record to tonight’s first round.
All four of his losses have come against the same wrestler, Martinsville senior Cayden Whitaker — an opponent Van Horn could see yet again, should both advance to Saturday’s 160-pound championship match.
If a familiar tournament pattern repeats itself, that’s precisely what will happen.
Van Horn and Whitaker met in the finals of the Mid-State Conference, sectional, regional and semistate meets. Van Horn was runner-up each time.
But he’s not discouraged.
In total, the rivals have met five times this season. On the first of those occasions, Van Horn handed Whitaker what remains his only loss of the season.
So Van Horn enters the state meet knowing he can beat the best, if he performs at his best.
“I feel like I’m wrestling good. I’ve got that one Martinsville kid, Whitaker, that I’ve been struggling with, but other than that I feel like been wrestling everybody pretty well,” Van Horn said. “I need to pick it up a little bit going into the state meet.”
Ranked No. 7 at 160, Van Horn is making his state finals debut. On paper, he has a favorable first-round draw in Penn junior Jarod Swank (28-3).
But because records and rankings mean nothing at the finals, the challenge — especially for first-time participants — is to stay focused in the din of 10,000-plus spectators Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
First-round winners advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals. Wrestlers who lose in the opening round go home.
“This is Burk’s first time. The best way to handle that is to stay as calm as you can, don’t get too nervous, don’t get awestruck,” said Franklin coach Bob Hasseman, who has coached four state champions. “He drew a good kid from Penn, though I think if Burk is on, he can beat anybody.”
Including Whitaker, or anyone else Van Horn could meet in the championship final, if he reaches the championship final.
Technically refined with an advanced skill-set, Van Horn is a savvy, versatile, explosive wrestler who can score points in a variety of ways. A point of emphasis heading into the finals is the one area he has room to grow: aggressiveness.
Hasseman wants to see more of it.
“He’s good on his feet. He’s a good wrestler. He’s hard to take down,” Hasseman said. “What he needs to do, and what we’ve been really pushing is, he’s got to be more offensive, attack, attack, attack, push the guy.
“So that’s kind of been our goal the last couple of weeks and will continue to be.”
Van Horn plans to step it up in the finals, regardless who he runs into between tonight and— if all goes according to plan — throughout the day Saturday.
“I feel good about it. We’re not done yet. My dream is to be on top of that podium and not be at the bottom,” he said. “It feels good to be here but it’s not time to let up now just because I’ve got here.”
If Van Horn wrestles his way into the championship match, there is a reasonably good chance he would run into Whitaker (41-1) a sixth time. The Martinsville standout is regarded, along with Van Horn, a viable contender for the title.
“That guy’s been the sectional champion, the regional champion and the semistate champion,” Hasseman said. “So what I told him weeks ago was, follow him right to the state finals. That’s kind of our goal, (but) one match at time.
“(Whitaker) can be the state champion, or he can be second to us. That’s what my goal is.”
It’s Van Horn’s, too.
“I think if I run into him again I can change some stuff up that I’ve been trying to do,” Van Horn said. “I know the stuff he really wants now and what he really needs to get to score on me, and I’ve really slowed down and studied what I need to do and not let him get in that position.
“But I’ve got to take this one match at a time. The first match is Friday night. I wouldn’t see him until the finals, if I can make it. I’ve just got to keep wrestling.”
Name: Burk Van Horn
High School: Franklin Community
Weight class: 160 pounds
2016 highlights: Won Johnson County championship and was runner-up at Mid-State Conference Meet and sectional and regional championships tournaments.
2015 highlights: Regional qualifier
State Meet experience: Making first appearance
What: IHSAA State Wrestling Finals
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
When: 6 p.m. tonght 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.