Every year, it becomes increasingly difficult for Jonah Hays to experience something new on a wrestling mat.
Through four seasons and two weight classes, the Center Grove senior has compiled a career record of 106-38. Hays is a spotless 18-0 this season and ranked No. 4 in the state at 170 pounds by IndianaMat.com.
The youngest of four brothers (eldest siblings Spencer and Zac Hays were both three-time semistate qualifiers for the Trojans), Hays aspires to end his high school wrestling career in style with a place on the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals awards podium.
Center Grove coach Cale Hoover has seen a number of his wrestlers make inspired postseason runs since he took over the program in 2006-07. He believes Hays has what it takes to make that list.
Hays made it to Bankers Life Fieldhouse as a junior but lost to Penn senior Jarod Swank, 9-0, in the round of 16.
“Jonah has been around the sport his whole life. You know those wrestling families; the youngest brothers are pretty tough,” Hoover said. “He’s been watching high school wrestling since he was a little kid.
“But he’s got to wrestle better than he’s wrestled (this season). Jonah is doing what he needs to do to win matches, but he really hasn’t been tested yet.”
Or at least was the case before the Team State competition held at the Fort Wayne Coliseum on Saturday, but Hays won all three of his matches there.
An impressive start considering how Hays’ final wrestling season began.
A strong side linebacker during football season — he finished fourth on the Trojans in tackles with 58 — Hays sustained a badly bruised right ankle in a 20-14 victory over Columbus North in the Class 6A sectional championship game.
Understandably, Hays experienced difficulty running, planting and pushing off during those initial wrestling practices.
“I didn’t get a lot of practice time early on,” Hays said. “Not having much practice and being able to get those victories in the beginning was big for me. It was a confidence boost to go out there and win a few.
“As we’ve been going I’ve gotten my conditioning up, and that’s helped me to push through. This season I would say I attack more on my feet. I’ve been going after people more.”
Hays benefits from having an outstanding training partner.
Since they were ninth-graders, Hays and Gleason Mappes — a state semifinalist the past two seasons at 160 pounds — have worked daily in the school’s wrestling room in an attempt to make each other better.
“You can get a read on a wrestler pretty quickly, so I base a lot of my (strategy) off of that,” Hays said.
“A big thing is when I face the top-ranked guys in the state like I am, to go out and prove myself and get a victory under my belt. I believe any match, any person in the state, I can beat right now.”
Year-by-year records for Center Grove wrestler Jonah Hays: