When Ethan Wendling was a freshman, he admired the seniors on the basketball team, so much so that he still considers them to be better than he was his senior season.

“I didn’t realize we were at that level too when we were seniors,” he said.

Turns out Wendling and his senior classmates were awfully good.

Wendling, who earned salutatorian honors, was a member of the basketball and baseball teams that won sectional championships.

“I don’t think any of us quite realized how good we are,” he said. “We don’t have many cocky guys on the team. Anick (Hartsell) is a 1,000 point scorer (in basketball). He would never bring it up.”

At the beginning of the basketball season, the group didn’t necessarily think they were good enough to win the sectional.

“Once we got there, we knew we could do it, but in the back of our heads, I don’t think we really thought we would lose (the) regional championship by two,” Wendling said. “I don’t think we’ve really pictured (something) that great out of us. I think we all just worked hard and earned it at the end.”

The hard work paid off both in athletic competition and in the classroom for Wendling, who finished with a 4.49 grade point average.

The goal going into high school was to get all “A’s.” The rule in his house was to try your hardest, which his parents knew meant he should get all “A’s.”

And if he slacked off?

No sports.

That was enough motivation for Wendling.

The recent graduate actually would not have been salutatorian if not for the early graduation of a fellow classmate.

Abby Jones was at the top of the 2021 class when she managed to graduate last school year.

With her departure, that opened the door for him to give the salutatorian speech during Southwestern’s commencement ceremony, a fact he noted that night.

Wendling, who was also a member of Student Council, academic teams and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, earned that opportunity despite the difficulty of finishing out his junior year virtually.

It was difficult to motivate himself when the district went to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He would wake up at 8 a.m. and plan to be finished with his school work by noon, but find himself not starting until 11:30 a.m.

The first week, coach Chris Ingels told the baseball team to keep working out because there was a chance they would still play.

But the biggest thing was not seeing anyone, he said. He spent most of his time working for his dad when he wasn’t doing school work.

He found a silver lining with the entire experience.

Since he was on his own, he believes it will help when he leaves for Purdue University in the fall.

“I do think that will help when we go to college because we’ve had that experience of, no one’s there to tell you do this, do this, do this,” he said. “We have to figure it out on our own.”

Wendling plans to study engineering at Purdue. Freshmen spend their first year deciding exactly what they want to do in that field, but he is leaning toward mechanical and construction engineering.

His dad owns a construction business and the recent graduate has been around it his entire life.