Indian River’s smooth ascension to wrestling’s elite status has been marked by two years of accomplishment since Head Coach Jeff Windish and his staff started last year. In that time, they’ve wrestled perennial powerhouse Hodgson in their first dual-meet last year and sent four wrestlers to the state tournament.
It was like last year’s team was a beautiful flower and once its pollen spread, Indian River had a field full of beautiful flowers. This year, the Indians repeated to wrestle Hodgson in the Division II Dual Meet State Championships and lost. But the program is moving on up the ladder.
They finished the Henlopen Conference Championship one point behind Smyrna (150.5) to finish fourth (149.5) behind Sussex Central and Caesar Rodney, which definitely signals the Indians’ arrival in Windish’s mind.
“It says a lot about us when we can compete with schools like that,” he said. “We’re defiantly moving in the right direction.”
Having four wrestlers compete at last year’s state championship tournament and coming out with two state champions could be considered a great season by many standards, but this year Indian River looks to move past last year’s benchmark by sending eight to the tournament.
Andy Bokinsky (171) earned his first conference championship after his third-place finish last year and leads the team as Indian River’s number one defender.
Mike Magaha (103) and P.J. Barch (119) both secured second-place finishes at the conference tournament after losing to Scott Lawrence (Laurel) and Chris Keech (CR) in the finals, respectively, but will no-doubt contend for state championship.
Perry Townsend (189) wrestled in his first state tournament last year and pinned three of his last four opponents to earn a fifth-place finish, which Windish expects him and others to improve upon.
“Perry was one match away from placing last year, but I expect him to finish in the top six this year,” said Windish. “Phillip (Townsend), Mike (Magaha) and P.J. (Barch) can all place in the top six as well. And for our two freshmen going (Danny Bokinsky and Bo Wilkinson) it’s a big step in their careers — especially in a really solid weight class. It’s a bonus to make the tournament and anything else is icing on the cake.”
The program has taken a huge step and the credit was laid at the door of Windish at Henlopen Conference Tournament when he was awarded Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year.
“You know, it’s really nice for the program, but it’s an honor to be selected by your peers,” said Windish. “The credit really goes to the kids and my assistants. It just shows what direction our program is moving in.”
Perry Townsend noted that if it wasn’t for Windish, he might never have had the opportunity to wrestle for a state championship.
“If it wasn’t for Windish, I wouldn’t have even wrestled,” said Townsend.
Townsend was turned off from wrestling when current Polytech coach Kurt Howell coached at Indian River.
“It just wasn’t fun when Howell was here,” Townsend explained further.
Barch noted that it’s Windish’s ability to relate to his wrestlers that’s made him so successful.
“He has a way of bonding with kids,” Barch said. “He keeps us straight with our grades and they help us with moves that are good for the individual wrestler. They (the coaching staff) show me where I’m best — on top and on bottom — that is accurate with my style.”
Barch recorded a 15-13 record last year as a freshman but as a sophomore has seen it jump to 25-5 (not including state tournament wins), which has a direct correlation the Indian River coaching staff.
Windish mentioned that the improvement from last year to this has been important for the program but he wants to compete with the Sussex Centrals and Caesar Rodneys of the world.
“Now our goal is to go to the next level,” he said. “We want to be even more competitive with Sussex Central, and wrestling with them consistently is a big step.”