HSE's Klayton Anderson, Corbin Gregg, Jack Chastain, Keegan Stansberry, Spencer Irick, and Austin Holmes give the Royals six state qualifiers tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Photo by Rich Torres
HSE's Klayton Anderson, Corbin Gregg, Jack Chastain, Keegan Stansberry, Spencer Irick, and Austin Holmes give the Royals six state qualifiers tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Photo by Rich Torres
FISHERS - The serenity coursing through the Hamilton Southeastern wrestling room was unmistakable.

In the background, music played at comfortable, yet not quite imperceptible levels. Nothing too heavy or fast. No booming voices or coaches' whistles.

Just focus in every action as head coach Kyle Poyer and his staff watched over their unprecedented six state qualifiers running sprints and revisiting techniques already singed into their muscle memory.

"It's about being comfortable in the moment. Being comfortable with their own expectations of how they should compete," Poyer remarked on his wrestler's mindset entering this weekend's IHSAA state finals. "To them, it's just another tough tournament they need to perform well at."

For two of the Royals' state-bound six, the postseason's grandest stage is nothing new.

As a two-time state qualifier and a fourth-place state-winner last year, 113-pound junior Austin Holmes (42-3) carries the label of New Castle Semistate champion into Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Senior Jack Chastain (41-4), who is ranked fifth in the state at 132, is a three-time state qualifier and placed fifth at 126 last February.

They know firsthand about the storm traditionally associated with tonight's opening round where 224 wrestlers from across the state enter and only 112 return to downtown Indianapolis on Saturday morning for a crack at a state medal.

Over the past few days, they have willingly shared their experiences with state first-timers 106-pound Klayton Anderson (38-2), 138-pound Keegan Stansberry (37-1), 152-pound Corbin Gregg (36-12), and 170-pound Spencer Irick (36-9).

And each one has absorbed their words like a sponge.

"It's all about staying calm. Using it to hype you up, but not letting it tear you down," said Chastain, who despite recent success lost on opening night his first go-around in 2013. "It can be intimidating, but if you can use it to your advantage, it's great. Handling that big picture moment is big."

This season, the Royals have excelled in the moment - and learned quickly from those they haven't.

Collectively, the team went 24-1 in dual meet competitions and finished with the state's 11th overall team ranking. They recaptured the Hamilton County team title and won both the Zionsville Sectional and North Montgomery Regional.

Last weekend, they finished third at the New Castle Semistate and more importantly pushed a program-best six wrestlers through to state.

Now, with each wrestler facing their own difficult path, they are embracing the challenge, seeking a top-five team placement and possibly the program's first individual state champion.

"I think we've worked as hard as we can to help the guys tighten their focus and do whatever it takes for them to do that," Poyer said. "We've gotten better and better at achieving at each level, so we want to take the next step to achieve it at a higher level."

Few wrestlers have epitomized top self this postseason like Holmes, who is ranked seventh in the state.

Repeating as a sectional and regional champion, he made the leap from semistate runner-up as a sophomore to hold a top seed at this year's state finals after knocking off three straight ranked foes last Saturday.

At New Castle, he defeated No. 14 Erik Owens of Warren Central by fall in 5:30, Beech Grove's No. 10 Ethan Smiley (34-7) by decision 11-7 in the semifinals and Cathedral's No. 6 Skylour Turner (40-3) in overtime 8-4 for the title.

Opening state against Anthony Mosser (36-8) of Adams Central, Holmes could face either No. 11 Rickie Rodriguez (34-3) of Hammond Morton or No. 16 Jacob Skaggs (32-8) of Avon in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

However, the true test could come in the semifinals against top-ranked Garrett Pepple (42-0) of East Noble.

"I think I have a pretty good shot," Holmes said. "I have a pretty tough road at state, but I'm ready for it. I'm battle tested. I feel I'm peaking at the right time and ready to go at 100 percent."

Chastain's draw pits him against a ranked opponent in the first round with No. 10 Zach Donaldson (36-3) of Crown Point. From there, things will only get tougher with the state's top-ranked Nick Lee (31-0) of Evansville Mater Dei likely potentially awaiting him in the quarterfinals.

Lee placed third at 126 last year and is ranked fourth nationally by InterMat.

As a three-time sectional and regional champion, Chastain finished third at semistate after pinning No. 4 Matthew McKinney of Warren Central in the ticket round for his team-leading 29th fall of the year.

He was upset in the semifinals by No. 18 Jordan Vaughn of Franklin Central in overtime 7-5, which was his only loss this postseason. But he doesn't intend to let the loss linger for long.

"The biggest thing I learned from semistate was preparation for a match," Chastain said. "I went out against Matt McKinney and really handed it to him because I was so mentally prepared, but then I went out my next match and really didn't have anything left because I used it all up. Getting equally prepared for each match is going to be the biggest thing."

Stansberry, who is ranked sixth in the state, will need to be sharp from the first match. Drawing No. 5 Kyle Todrank (43-3) of Gibson Southern after taking third at semistate last weekend, the senior will run the gauntlet if he successfully powers to the state championship match under the lights.

The quarterfinals could pit him against No. 4 Clarence Johnson (39-1) of Merrillville and all roads point to No. 2 Tommy Cash (41-2) in the semifinals.

Prior to losing to top-ranked Brandon James of Perry Meridian by injury default in the semifinals at New Castle, Stansberry was perfect through 36 matches. This season, he leads the team with 123 takedowns and only four surrendered.

Gregg will wrestle third-ranked Josh Garman (43-1) of Carroll (Fort Wayne) in the opening round tonight with a potential quarterfinals matchup with top-ranked Tommy Forte (33-0) of Mishawaka. Forte is a three-time state place winner, ranked eighth nationally and was runner-up at 145 last year.

After taking second at each level this postseason, the senior isn't shying away from another run.

"I haven't reach my goal yet," Gregg said. "I want to place top four, but I know I have a tough road and draw to get there. There's more to be done. It's been a great journey."

Irick opens with No. 4 Dillon Jackson (32-4) of Yorktown and is in the same quarterfinals bracket as defending state champion fifth-ranked Jacob Stevenson (34-6) of Franklin Community.

"I don't know if anything is going to be easy, but I think this is a group of guys on our team who wrestle for each other very well," Poyer said. "They're real committed to each other. I would say their relationship is almost sibling, which is exciting because that's what you hope to build in a program. Those guys are committed to each other on the level of family."

The youngest of the brothers, Anderson, will set the tone once wrestling begins at 6 p.m. tonight.

Ranked second in the state, the freshman cruised to his first-career sectional and regional titles before taking second at semistate with No. 17 Cainan Schaefer (45-2) of South Dearborn upsetting him in the finals.

Unfazed by the state tournament series' spotlight until last Saturday, Anderson admits he let the situation get the best of him, which led to only his second loss this year -and he hopes his last.

"I was really nervous in the finals at semistate. Eight times out of 10, I could have beaten that kid, but I let the nerves get to me," Anderson said. "It won't be a problem."

If Anderson advances to the quarterfinals, he will be part of the most-anticipated match of the morning session with top-ranked Colton Cummings (41-1) of Lowell projected to feed into his bracket.

"He'll be a tough match. I've heard he's a bulldog, but I'm going to go out there and wrestle my game," Anderson said. "He's going want to go in there and beat me up. But win or lose, I'm going to come out of there beat up regardless because I'm going after it."