By JARED BELL
Mercer County wrestling coach Steve Speaker noticed something different.
On the first day of practice this season, the Golden Eagles coach saw something unusual with star senior Stone Engle.
“It’s absolutely a different Stone Engle this year,” Speaker said. “We could see that from Day 1 in practice. On that day, all the coaches said, ‘This is the Stone we wanted three years ago.’ He just came into the room differently. He’s grinding out everything and he’s just so much more focused this year.”
That’s bad news for the competition.
Already a two-time state semifinalist and a three-time state medalist, the Mercer County senior has taken his skills and determination to the next level this season.
“I think it’s finally clicked,” Speaker said. “Most of the old timers say, ‘The day after I was done wrestling my senior year is when I finally figured it out.’ Well, I think he’s figured it out before that. Yes, wrestling matches are physical and are about technique, but in high school wrestling a lot of it is mental, and this year he’s got it. He knows what he wants to do and what needs to be done, and he’s going after all the good kids this year. He’s taken the matches to them and hasn’t let them wrestle their style.”
Engle proved that over the weekend at the 55th Annual Lyle King Princeton Invitational.
Entering unbeaten, he bumped up to 132 pounds and steamrolled the field.
He had two technical falls in his first two matches and won by fall at 1:25 in the final to repeat as PIT champion.
“It’s good to get some good matches (at the PIT),” said Engle, who’s currently 24-0. “I beat a couple of ranked kids, and I feel like I’m doing better this year than I have the last few years.”
The last few years have been painful for Engle in his quest for a state title.
Three seasons ago as a freshman, he advanced all the way to the Class 1A 120-pound state semifinals but lost and ended up placing fourth.
As a 120-pound sophomore, he fell in the second round to eventual state champion Chase Bittle from Althoff and finished third.
Last year as a 126-pound junior, he once again advanced to the semifinals and once again fell to Bittle, the eventual state champion, as Engle settled for fourth place.
Three years with three heartbreakingly close finishes.
“It’s kind of disappointing, but it just fuels the fire to work harder and be better the next year,” Engle said. “I’ve learned from it more than I’ve let it get me down. It’s showed me what I’ve needed to work on to get better.”
With one last season left in high school, Engle is determined to not let history repeat itself as he aims to break through and win the elusive state title.
“I’m just trying to have a lot of fun this year and live it up,” said Engle, who’s uncertain whether he’ll wrestle at 126 or 132 pounds in the postseason. “It’s my senior year, so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”
If Engle does earn another state medal, he’ll be the first four-time state medalist is Mercer County, Aledo or Westmer history, according to Speaker.
If he wins a state title, he’ll join his cousin Clayton Rush as state champion family members.
“I think he’s more focused this year but, most of all, he’s having fun,” Speaker said. “That goes along with being better mentally. He wants to have fun and enjoy the sport while he can.”
No matter what weight he competes at, Engle – who is uncertain where he’ll wrestle in college – is ready for the challenge of winning a state title.
“I think it’d be really cool,” Engle said. “I really want to get my name up on the wall with the other kids (who won a state title).”