Strange as it might sound, Greenwood High School’s Nick Willham began preparing for his sophomore wrestling season as a freshman.
Displeased with a sixth-place performance in the 138-pound weight class at the 2016 Mooresville Sectional — not to mention his overall record of 16-27 — Willham immediately made it his mission to progress in every facet possible.
Throughout the spring and summer, he took advantage of any mat time that became available.
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“Losing at sectional, I was pretty disappointed,” Willham said. “I went right to work on getting to where I am this year. It was mainly about building my confidence.”
Mission accomplished, and then some.
On Saturday, Willham, a year older and two divisions heavier, returned to Mooresville and won his first sectional title. He broke free from a scoreless tie late to defeat Indian Creek’s Tyler Weltich, 4-0, in the championship match at 152 pounds.
Willham, also a Mid-State Conference champion at 152 earlier this season, takes a record of 36-9 into Saturday’s Mooresville Regional.
Other 152-pound qualifiers out of the Mooresville Sectional include Weltich, Franklin’s Ranger Soots and Augie Newkirk of Mooresville. Among those making to regional from the Avon Sectional are 152-pound titlist Jacob Clark of Avon (23-4) and Greencastle sophomore Trace Thomas (34-4).
Clark, ranked No. 6 in the state, enters the competition as the favorite.
The prospect of possibly facing Clark at some point shouldn’t intimidate Willham, who wrestled second-ranked Noah Warren of Perry Meridian earlier this season.
“Nick has beaten guys this season who have beaten him in the past. I really think that’s helped him with his confidence,” Woodmen coach Jay Yates said. “Nick has definitely matured and put a lot of work in during the offseason.
“His counter wrestling has really improved, and just his ability to escape.”
Willham participates in three sports at Greenwood. He will again compete in track, likely in the 400 and/or 800, in the spring as a means to remain in peak cardiovascular shape for wrestling. A backup running back for the Woodmen football program, Willham finished his sophomore season with 17 carries for 53 yards.
Close inspection of Willham’s family tree reveals why wrestling is his favorite sport.
Former Castle High School wrestlers Chad, Doug and Luke Welch — a trio responsible for two individual state championships and a pair of state runner-up finishes from 2010-13 — are Willham’s cousins.
Luke is a redshirt junior wrestling the 133-pound division at Purdue University; twins Chad and Doug were part of the Boilermakers program from 2013-16.
Doug Welch is now a first-year volunteer wrestling coach at Carmel High School, and Chad helps out with the Greyhounds’ club wrestling program.
Willham appears to be on his way to replicating their success.
“I really like the aspect of being able to go out there and dominate someone,” Willham said. “It felt great winning sectional. I was a little nervous going in because I was the top seed and then just trying to hold that all day.”
Name: Nick Willham
Family: Parents Doug and Tracey; brother Noah, 14; sisters Abby, 10, and Katie, 5
Favorite TV show: Any NFL game
Favorite food: Cheeseburgers
Favorite athlete: Andrew Luck
Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts