Athletes are known to experience a defining competition in which they ascend to the next level of their chosen sport.

In Center Grove wrestler Jonah Hays’ case, it occurred more than 150 miles from home.

A subplot of last week’s two-day tournament at Mishawaka High School was Hays, a junior, taking part in the extremely difficult 170-pound class that included five defending state finals qualifiers.

Hays placed sixth, which in no way tells the entire story.

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Among his conquests on Day 1 was Elkhart Memorial senior Tristan Goering, who entered competition ranked fourth in Indiana. Hays also defeated Ismael Cornejo, a Portage senior billed as the state’s ninth-best at that weight.

Hays, for reasons unclear, wasn’t listed the last time individual rankings (top 16) were released on the website.

Center Grove coach Cale Hoover isn’t concerned.

He knows what he has in Hays, a two-time Evansville Semistate participant determined to become his family’s second state finals qualifier and its first in nearly three decades.

Hays’ father, Jamie, made it to the final match at 160 pounds as a Lawrence North senior in 1988 inside Market Square Arena. He lost a 3-2 decision to Gene Brewer of Bloomington North to finish the season with a record of 37-1.

More recently, Jonah’s two oldest brothers, Spencer and Zac, were both three-time semistate qualifiers for Center Grove.

Another brother, Lucas, wrestled through the eighth grade.

“I remember being at a young age and always wanting to wrestle. I thought that it was super cool watching my brothers do it,” Jonah said.

Hays takes a 14-6 record into his team’s dual match at home against Ben Davis on Wednesday. Three days later the Trojans make another long trek — this one to Evansville Memorial High School — to take part in that tournament.

The Trojans’ busy January concludes with the Mooresville Sectional on Jan. 28. It’s where a year ago Hays took first place at 170. He would go on to place third at the Mooresville Regional, guaranteeing himself another semistate berth.

He started strong with a 3-0 victory against Evansville Central’s Kiave Guerrier but lost to Northview junior Jacob Hendrich in the second round, 5-2.

Hays finished with a record of 36-7.

“As a sophomore I didn’t have the mentality I have this season,” Hays said. “It’s believing I’m going to win the match no matter what. Last year it was horrible for me not to make it to state. I definitely want to make it now.”

His coach believes he can.

This version of Hays is stronger, more seasoned and more motivated than ever.

“The big thing with Jonah is maturity and just getting over the hump,” Hoover said. “He’s been searching for that signature moment, and he got it (at Mishawaka). Wrestling is definitely a maturity sport, so I’m excited to see if he’ll take off from here.

“I tell the upperclassmen in our program, ‘OK, we’re taking care of business.’”

Jonah Hays pullout


Name: Jonah Hays

Age: 17

Born: Bloomington

Family: Parents, Jamie and Shayna; brothers, Spencer, 24, Zac, 22, and Lucas, 20

Favorite TV show: “The Office”

Favorite food: Seafood

Favorite movie: “Step Brothers”

Favorite athlete: Walter Payton

Favorite team: Indiana University football

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at