Wrestling: Merrillville’s Bobby Steveson driven to be the best
Merrillville's Bobby Stevenson controls Hobart's Scottie Sopko in the championship match at 160 lbs. during the wrestling semi-state meet on Saturday, in Merrillville. Stevenson defeated Sopko 8-4. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Bobby Steveson sported looks of disappointment and determination as he walked off the mat following a 16-6 loss to Crown Point’s Jason Tsirtsis early last January.
Steveson, who detests losing, looked at Merrillville coach Dave Maldonado and said: “Coach, I have to get better.”
Tsirtsis, who went on to win a fourth straight state championship six weeks later, moved up two weight classes in that Duneland Athletic Conference meet to wrestle Steveson at 160 pounds.
“Before the match I told Bobby you might have to wrestle Tsirtsis tonight,’’ Maldonado said. “Bobby said to me: ‘Coach, I want to wrestle him.’ He wasn’t afraid at all and looked forward to the challenge. That’s something you can’t coach.’’
Like nearly everyone else who stepped on the mat opposite the Crown Point star, Steveson couldn’t handle Tsirtsis — who won 176 of 178 matches in his career and went unbeaten his last three seasons.
“I wasn’t going to roll over for him,’’ he said. “I don’t like to lose. I take it personally when I do. I work hard, so if I lose, I don’t like it. I don’t wrestle just to wrestle, I wrestle to be the best.’’
Steveson loves a challenge.
“I think Bobby has something that’s unique,’’ Maldonado said. “He’s just very self-motivated. He’s one of the most mature sophomores out there. He’s always looking to improve. He’ll watch videos and study them. He’s just very conscious about the things he’s doing.’’
Steveson, who went 39-2 last year and finished fifth in the state, claims he’s always striving to improve and become the best wrestler he can.
“I don’t think I’m any better than anybody else,’’ said Steveson, who plans to wrestle at 170 this season.
“Just because you’re winning a lot, doesn’t mean you can think you’re better than anyone else, or think you don’t have to work hard. I don’t brag. I just try to go out there and treat every match and every opponent the same who steps out on the mat with me.’’
While the modest Steveson respects all opponents, he’s beyond competitive.
Steveson said his competitive nature comes from his dad (Robert) and mom (Laticia), both of whom were successful athletes.
His father played football, baseball and wrestled. His mother ran track and was stellar in the weight room.
Steveson also has a 12-year-old brother, Gable, who wrestles for Pierce Middle School. Gable was named after Iowa State wrestling legend Dan Gable, who later went on to coach the University of Iowa to an incredible 15 national titles.
“My brother and I are competitive about everything, whether it’s playing video games or playing in the backyard,’’ Steveson said. “I try to help him out — not beat him up. I tell him if he does something wrong and how to improve on it.’’
Steveson’s drive to always improve extends beyond the wrestling mat.
“If Bobby’s having trouble understanding something in school, he’ll come in early to get help from the teacher,’’ Maldonado said. “He’s always willing to put in extra work to accomplish what he wants.’’
What Steveson wants more than anything is success for his team and himself this season.
“I’d like to see our team win state,’’ he said. “I want everyone on the team to keep improving as the season progresses. Personally, I want to go undefeated and win a state title.’’
Steveson worked diligently during a busy offseason to prepare himself for the rigors of the DAC and postseason.
As a member of Team Indiana, he went 6-1 at the scholastic duals. He finished second overall in the Cadet 160-pound class at the USA Folkstyle Nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa, last April. He also took third in the Cadet 170 division at the USA Freestyle and Greco Nationals in Fargo, N.D.
During the competition, he suffered a loss to Washington’s Chandler Rogers in the semifinals.
“I was mad about it,’’ Steveson said. “I try not to think about it, but I learned a lot. I learned I have to get bigger and stronger to help me overcome guys like him.’’
Steveson won matches over state champs from Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and won the Indiana Mat preseason Wrestling Tournament in Garrett.
When asked what makes him so tough, Maldonado pointed to Steveson’s tireless work ethic.
“Wrestling is such a combative sport — the one sport in high school that’s the closest thing to fighting,’’ Maldonado said. “Bobby has a fighter’s spirit. Once he’s on the mat, he just really hates to lose.
Technically, he finds what really works for him and doesn’t really let anything get in his way. You can’t coach that. It’s just something a kid has that makes him special.’’