Two weeks since the last post...and a lot of wrestling later, it definitely feels like my guys are making some big strides.
The Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational has become THE premier early season tournament. It is great for the sport, as teams from all over the country and all divisions that wouldn't normally see each other get to compete against one another. The caliber of the tournament is phenomenal. If you have some time go watch the finals matches. There was some really exciting wrestling from 125 through Heavyweight. I especially recommend the Poeta vs. Gillespie bout. Both of those guys are tremendous wrestlers and it was a true battle of the best in the finals.
Competing in college wrestling is undoubtedly a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding task. I realize now, however, that the most difficult aspect of the wrestling season is staying healthy. Injuries are so frequent that those who compete the best are those who manage to stay injury-free, or learn how to wrestle through injuries. Very few guys head into the NCAA tournament without a few minor nicks and dings.
Which leads me into Columbia's weekend at Las Vegas. We essentially headed into the tournament with about half of our starting line-up. Due to injury our starting 184, 197, and HWT did not compete. We didn't even enter a wrestler at HWT because both of our guys are currently banged up. So the weekend began with an entry of only 9 wrestlers. By the time the tournament started, our 157 lber Derek Sickles, was added to the injury list, having sprained his ankle in warm-up, and our 174 lber Andy Geving had re-irritated a shoulder injury. So Friday morning first round saw Columbia wrestling with only 5 truly healthy starters.
Yet the guys battled as hard as any other team in the tournament. We had a couple of rough draws right off the bat, with Jerome Greco (133) and Mike Bossetta (197) facing ranked opponents. Bossetta, who wrestled Patrick Bond of Illinois the first round, had to wrestle the number three seed, Darren Burns of UNC Greensboro, in the first round of wrestle-backs. Despite the losses he showed a lot of heart in almost taking down both opponents. At 174, Geving was clearly bothered by his shoulder, and did not seem himself in going 0-2.
At 184 lbs, Kenji Porter showed the team's depth in winning quite a few matches. He stepped up and proved himself to be a true competitor, nearly placing in the tournament. Victor Mocco (165) was wrestling really well until he walked into a vicious headlock early in the wrestle-backs. I give a ton of credit to Vic, because that hold was so tight he was literally purple in the face but he fought it off for almost the whole first period.
The rest of the guys who competed this weekend had a very good showing. At 149 Anthony Constantino had a few very good wins, one of which over a very tough wrestler from Buffalo. Derek Sickles, battling through two sprained ankles, lost a barn-burner to Zupancic of Stanford and another crazy match to Jeff Marsh of Michigan. At 141 Sal Tirico earned the first takedown against Charles Griffin of Hofstra. I'll have to try to post that takedown, because it was easily one of the slickest I have ever seen. He eventually lost the match but proved that he is ready to compete at the next level.
Our lone place winner of the tournament was Brandon Kinney at 125lbs. He made the quarterfinals against a very impressive looking Tanner Gardner of Stanford. Despite the loss he bounced back to beat a tough UC Davis wrestler before losing in 6 OTs to Tomassette of Hofstra. In the 7/8th match he came out a bit flat against Boris Novachkov of Cal Poly, and was never quite able to close the gap.
Ending the tournament on a bunch of losses kind of dampened an otherwise good showing, but it is never good to dwell on the negative. We made some vast improvements from the beginning of the season, and we have a handful of wrestlers who are about to break through to the next level.
These breakthroughs are something that coaching alone can't cause. This is where a wrestler's personal desire and confidence comes into play. There is a line, albeit a very fine line, between being amongst the elite wrestlers in the country and simply being a very good wrestler. Perhaps the best analogy is being an All-American versus being in the Round of 12. The Round of 12 is the do-or-die match of every wrestler's season. Lose and you end up as an "almost All-American," defined simply as a National Qualifier. Win and you are among the nation's elite, defined as an All-American. Yet at this point it comes down to more than the just the physical part of wrestling. Every wrestler at that level is in great shape, is strong, has great technique, and is very athletic. From a physical and technical standpoint each wrestler is about equal.
What a win in that match comes down to is the mental aspect of the sport. The winner in the Round of 12 is the wrestler who wants to win more than his opponent, who believes that he is better, and refuses to lose. The wrestler that is willing to fight for every point, that defends every attack with everything he has, and who will do everything it takes to win at any cost (within the rules) is guy who becomes the victor.
A few of my guys this weekend were at a point that I would equate to the Round of 12. I can help with some of the technique, conditioning, and physical strength but what it ultimately boils down to is the desire to win. That is what it takes to get to the next level. I can explain and pitch this to my guys for hours on end but it takes each individual buying into those beliefs by himself. This is the point where the coaching ends and the wrestler is forced to go on his own. I could yell, scream and force them to train harder but in the end each wrestler has to make that decision on his own. The desire to win doesn't come from the coaches, it comes from deep inside the wrestler. The season will allow us to see who has that desire and who doesn't quite have it.
Which brings up the question...how much of wrestling is mental?? And what does your answer say about where you are mentally?? Perhaps this is where the best guys differ from the rest....