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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Ones to Watch

These eight athletes are primed for success

Editor’s note: Read more about Evansville as a sports town in the full feature story.

When the 2024 Summer Olympics kick off in Paris, France, NICK LEE wants to be there.

As The Pennsylvania State University’s first five-time NCAA wrestling All-American, he’s a strong contender for the Olympic team. First, Lee must finish in the top three in his weight division (65 kg) at the trials April 19-20 to qualify.

“I am on Team USA’s roster but still need to win the trials tournament to represent the USA at the Olympics,” Lee says. “For me, wrestling is just fun, and it would be an honor to represent the United States again. I have only tried to make the Olympics once, in 2021.”

He earned a spot on the USA National Team that year but lost in the second round of the men’s freestyle 65kg and did not qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Lee, who helped lift the Nittany Lions to two NCAA team titles, won two NCAA individual championships in the 141-pound division and became the first former Mater Dei High School wrestler to nab an NCAA individual title. He won the 132-pound division title for Mater Dei in the 2015 IHSAA state tournament wrestling and placed second a year later.

Here are seven other local athletes to watch:

• 6-foot-9 BEN HUMRICHOUS has made the jump from NAIA Huntington (Ind.) University to NCAA Division I look easy. The University of Evansville senior forward is well on his way to eclipsing his 12.8 scoring average last year for Huntington in spearheading the Aces’ dramatic turnaround.

• “He’s one guy to keep your eye on,” USI coach Stan Gouard says of University of Southern Indiana sophomore guard/forward AJ SMITH. After averaging just 1.7 points as a freshman, Smith, 6-6, is averaging double digits this season.

• Sparingly recruited out of Castle High School, ISAIAH SWOPE blossomed into one of the Ohio Valley Conference’s finest playing for USI. He transferred to Indiana State University and already is one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s most accomplished backcourtmen as a junior.

• Overlooked by many recruiters, Evansville Christian School senior guard JOSIAH DUNHAM has been offered scholarships by NCAA Division I Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, DII Kentucky Wesleyan, and NAIA Huntington (Ind.). He lifted the Class A Eagles to stirring early-season victories over a pair of Class 4A (Indiana’s largest class) schools — Castle, 69-59, and Terre Haute North, 57-54 — and the team continues to post a winning record.

• Reitz freshman forward JAYLAN MITCHELL, 6-6, is a possible five-star recruit, the highest rating a prep prospect can receive, if he continues at the expected rate. When Michael Adams still was Reitz’s head coach, then-Wabash Valley College coach Mike Carpenter told him that Mitchell, then a seventh grader, could help the Reitz varsity right then. The University of Illinois, Arizona State, UE, and USI have offered Mitchell scholarships. He moved from Olney, Illinois, to attend Helfrich Park STEM Academy in summer 2022.

ELIJAH WAGNER became the first Bulldog since Jalen Pendleton in 2011 to win the Downtown Quarterback Club’s All-City’s Most Outstanding Player Award. The Bosse High senior quarterback completed 152 of 252 passes for 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns. One of the most electrifying players in the area, Wagner also rushed for 1,671 yards and 20 additional scores. Wagner has nearly a dozen offers from DI, DII, and NAIA colleges.

• Extra Innings Softball ranked Castle sophomore shortstop EMMA BRUGGENSCHMIDT the Class of 2026’s No.18 player in the nation last year and third nationally as an infielder. Bruggenschmidt is garnering attention from several Power 5 programs. She carries on the legacy of her late sister, Kate, who was killed in an ATV crash when Emma was seven years old. She wears No. 12, Kate’s jersey number, in her honor.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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