“I was really frustrated by my dad and my cousin; they talked to me about sticking with it,” Early said. “I made it to junior nationals in freestyle (Fargo, N.D.) over the summer and it really got me going again.”
That's quite the understatement. Not only is Early “going again,” but he has yet to be be defeated and carries a 19-0 record into Saturday's Carroll Regional.
Carroll will host the top four finishers in each weight class from the Carroll and New Haven sectionals. The top four finishers will advance to the Snider Semistate on Feb. 15 at the Memorial Coliseum.
As a sophomore Early placed eighth at the state championships and was primed to repeat as a medalist last year. He was 17-2 before tearing a tendon in his elbow. He spent the postseason at mat-side with his arm in a sling. Looking back, Snider coach Dave Mohr thinks it was a part of Early's destiny.
“That was a tough situation for him to handle, but he's come back more motivated than ever,” Mohr said. “Being from a wrestling family, he's been exposed to the sport his whole life. He knows what it's all about and he lives for this postseason. His dad and his cousin both won state titles, so that's his goal.”
Mohr was quick to point out that Early is focused not only on his own goals, but also on his teammates and on the Panthers program as a whole.
“Erique is one of our senior leaders who have been great examples for our young guys,” Mohr said. “Erique has really grown. There is nothing better (for a young team) than a motivated senior, and he's definitely motivated.”
Although Early has a state championship as his primary goal, that's not his goal Saturday. If there is one lesson above all others that he learned from missing last year's postseason, it is to savor each match. That was reinforced over the summer.
“One thing I learned out in Fargo was that you have to be ready every single match,” Early said. “So I'm focused on this Saturday and especially on my first match (vs. Concordia's Jack Adair, 24-13).”Host sites:
Carroll (9 a.m.) Carroll and New Haven Sectionals.
Top area wrestlers: Snider's Erique Early (19-0 at 126); Leo's Isaac Eicher (29-0 at 126) and Aaron Eicher (29-2 at 170); Carroll's Tristan Wilson (38-1 at 170); Wayne's Shaun Johnson (34-3 at 160) and Kanez Omar (37-0 at 195).
Goshen (9:30 a.m.): Westview and Elkhart Memorial Sectionals.
Top area wrestlers: East Noble's Garrett Pepple (31-1 at 113), Connor Knapp (29-1 at 120) and Jake Weimer (29-3 at 145); DeKalb's Zach Krumlauf (34-1 at 138).
Jay County (8:30 a.m.): Jay County and Delta Sectionals.
Top area wrestlers: South Adams' Sawyer Miller (28-0 at 120) and Boaz Marbach (32-2 at 145); Adams Central's Derek Ellinger (34-2 at 138); Bellmont's Trevor Gray (25-9 at 126).