1/26/2017 12:01:00 AM WRESTLE: From sideline to center stage Hamilton Heights wrestler wins girls state title
The Times photos by Amanda Baumann
Hamilton Heights’ Markaela Pugh defeated Daleville’s Willoe Cunnington in the 106 state championship.
Maria Leichty Sports Editor
You may have seen her around at the boys wrestling meets - keeping score, cleaning mats or filling water bottles. What you probably haven't see is her analyzing the matches to get pointers.
One Hamilton Heights girls wrestler went from boys wrestling manager to 106 state champion in a matter of weeks.
Heights freshman Markaela Pugh made history this past weekend at the inaugural Indiana High School Girls Wrestling state finals. She won three matches on her way to being the first Indiana 106 state champion.
Hamilton Heights girls and boys coach Gary Myers helmed the creation of the IHSGW and got the blessing of the IHSAA to put on the state finals this year. One day, Myers told Pugh she was wrestling at the state championship.
"Coach Myers came upstairs one day and told me, 'You're wrestling,'" Pugh said. "I was like, 'wrestling?' He was like, 'Yeah, there's a girls state and you're wrestling, you have no option.'"
And so began Pugh's training. She would be wrestling in the Jan. 6 North regional and Jan. 13 state finals.
As manager, Pugh had been to all the boys wrestling meets and also had three brothers who wrestle. Leave it to say, it runs in the family.
"When I first stepped on the mat I was nervous but as I started to wrestle, it wasn't that bad, I just had to do what I knew how to do," Pugh said.
She had two matches at the regional. The first one was her only loss. She was pinned in 3:13 by Jay County's Kyndel Huey.
"After I lost that match I thought about what I could do better to beat her at state," Pugh said.
She went on to place third at regionals before she got a chance for a rematch. She won a 2-0 decision in the first round at state then faced Huey in the semi-finals.
"I was more conditioned," she said. "I learned more moves to specifically beat her, to stay on my toes and not to give up."
Pugh pinned Huey in less than a minute to clinch a spot in the finals.
"A light clicked for her at that tournament," Myers said.
Myers said he was shocked when she started wrestling with legs.
"I told her, 'I didn't show you that,'" Myers said. "She said she had been watching the boys all year then she was throwing in the legs and only an experienced wrestler uses their legs to wrestle. I was like, 'wow, you have been watching.'"
She learned how to run legs from watching her brothers and she started watching arm-positioning during the boys teams' practice.
These paid off in her championship match against Daleville's Willoe Cunnington. She defeated Cunnington in a 12-4 major decision and the ref lifted her arm as Heights' first state champion. The crowd went wild.
"It felt good," Pugh said. "I kept having to tell myself to relax because it's just a normal match. That's what made me keep my posture."
After the victory, Pugh jumped into coach Myers' arms to celebrate the victory.
"I was just hoping for her to get that far, let alone win it," Myers said. Pugh also celebrated with her mom, Karen Henson.
"I wouldn't have traded it for anything," Henson said. "I've told my kids for years, whatever you want to do, I'll be your biggest supporter. I'll always be there. I'll be the loudest and probably the most obnoxious."
Pugh will wrestle at the state meet next year and wants to look into wrestling for the school as well.
"I didn't expect it to be as hard as it actually was," she said. "You got to be conditioned. It's not just learning the moves, you have to be able to do other things. You have to be able to wrestle hard and keep fighting."