BY DEAN HOCKNEY
INDIANAPOLIS – It was a perfect ending to a perfect season for Eastern High School’s Evan Ellis. In front of nearly 12,500 wrestling fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Feb. 18, the senior soared to an altitude no other Comet had obtained – an IHSAA wrestling state championship.
“It is a blessing,” said Ellis after the championship match. “I have been training for this for 14 years. It is not just a season, it is a lifetime.”
The grappler nearly missed getting out of the opening round the night before. In what may have been the gutsiest performance of his career, Ellis battled back from a split lip that the medical staff could not get to stop bleeding. In a last-ditch effort and up against the injury clock, the medical team wrapped Ellis’ lower mouth shut around the back of the head, resulting in Ellis finishing the match with an open mouth packed with gauze. Back on the mat, Ellis finished his first round with a 9-3 decision over Brendan Sutton of Jennings County to advance to day two and the medal round.
In the quarterfinals, Ellis knocked off Brandon Streck of Merrillville 1-0 before defeating Robert Samuels of Lawrence North 3-2 in the semifinals.
That set up a state championship match at 285-pounds between a pair of undefeated wrestlers – No. 2 Ellis and No. 1 Isaiah Williams of South Bend Washington. With three pins in the state finals, Williams was heavily favored over Ellis, but a first minute takedown put the Greentown native up 2-0. He was in the down position to start the second period but quickly escaped for a 3-0 advantage. Ellis (46-0) then sealed the perfect season with a third period takedown for an insurmountable 5-0 lead.
“It has been a really good senior season,” said Ellis. “But I had so many emotions this week.”
Those emotions had nothing to do with wrestling – on Tuesday of state championship week, his grandmother, Ginny Ellis, passed away. The night before he had promised her he would win the state title – a promise that came true.
Ellis is the first wrestling state champion from Eastern and the 15th in Howard County history. Ellis ended a 25-year draught for a Howard County wrestler standing on the top of the podium at the IHSAA state finals – the last Howard County state champion was Western’s Chad Shepherd at 135-pounds in 1991.
Ellis is the first individual state champion from Howard County since Bethany Neeley crossed the finish line in first place in the 1,600-meter run in 2013. He is the fifth Comet to win an individual state championship, joining Jeremy Ashcraft (1994 pole vault), Grant Cole (2013 long jump), Bethany Neeley (also won the 2012 1,600-meter run) and Brittany Neeley (2013 800-meter run).
With a career record of 160-18, Ellis has three IHSAA state finals medals – this year’s state title, a 220-pound third-place medal from 2016 and an eighth-place 220-pound medal from his sophomore year. He will next take his skills from the Hoosier Heartland Conference to the Ivy League’s Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
“It is going to be a challenge,” he said. “It is an awesome atmosphere out there and will be a great four years.”
Three other Howard County wrestlers participated in the state finals, with all three bowing out in the opening round. Kokomo senior Jabin Wright lost 12-6 to Colin Poynter of Portage at 120-pounds, Western freshman Hunter Cottingham dropped a 4-1 decision to 126-pound state runner-up Blake Mulkey of Brownsburg and Kokomo senior Gavin Herrera fell to 195-pound state champ Andrew Davison of Chesterton.