Christmas Break

After final exams, I had the guys stick around in order to get in a few good workouts. Then, I let them go home for a week. I know this is a long break and it does make me nervous. Nevertheless, I am hopeful it was the correct decision. I know when I went to college; I loved traveling home when I had the opportunity. It helps to get a break from the grind and see family and friends back home. My hope is the guys will get recharged and fired up for the remainder of the season. I gave the guys a list of workouts to complete while at home and told them to journal the workouts. Because of the lay out of the season, this is a crucial training time. Most guys should be able to see substantial gains during the winter break. I also told them to contact me if they needed anything.

The team will return on December 29. Since we are not competing until January 5, we will be able to get in some great days of training as a team. I have also decided to have some wrestle offs at a few weight classes. My preference is for starting positions to be determined in Open competitions and in the practice room. I told the guys before they went home to let me know if they wanted a wrestle off. I said we could discuss it. Ultimately, I think it is a coaches’ decision on who should represent the team, but I am comfortable with guys pleading their case. There are a few weights where I believe guys are fairly even or where I believe a guy has earned the right to challenge the starter. Thus, we will hold a few wrestle offs before our next competition.

From a scheduling stand point, I do like the break from competition the guys had during finals week. I am a little concerned about not competing earlier. My guess is that it is just a habit. Most seasons I have been on teams that competed in late December at the Midlands, Southern Scuffle, or Oregon Classic. I will have to see how things go this year, but I suspect you will see George Mason at one of the above mentioned competitions or the Mat Town Invitational next December.

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Final Exam Week

Final exam week is stressful. The guys have been taking exams. I am hopeful they have prepared properly and perform well. All practices this week were optional. I wanted the guys to have the freedom to train on their own with less stress. As a coach, it has been scary to let go. I have to trust the guys will get the work done. I feel out of the loop and anxiously wait to see who enters the building to train. I haven’t seen guys as much as I would like, but I remain optimistic that they are getting their training done.

As great wrestlers know, there is nothing easy about wrestling. You have to put countless hours in just to have the hope that you are ready when the bright lights are glaring. Often times, training is lonely. To be great, lots of your preparation is on your own. Late night runs, watching video and cutting weight are just a few of the many things done when no one is looking. Guys need to understand the sacrifice required to succeed. My hope is they have heard my sermons this fall, understand from past experience and are doing their utmost to grow as grapplers. We will see.

I liken the season to a race. The season is long, so it is more like a marathon, not a sprint. Guys need to be consistent in their training over a long period of time. We have no returning National Champions or All-Americans, so we are playing catch up. In order to catch those ahead of us, we will most likely need to do more. It won’t magically happen. To gain the necessary ground we have to out work our competition. No small task, but it can be done.

American University Dual

We hosted our first home dual on Saturday night. We lost 27-15 to American University. It is never fun to lose especially at home. Nevertheless, I think we showed progress and hopefully gave fans a reason to want to watch us compete in the future.

We had a few guys who struggled to adapt in their matches. As a wrestler, you sometimes need to adjust during the match. If something is not working, try something different. If you get scored on by a certain attack, find a way to stop it the next time the guy attempts it on you. We need to get better technically, work on mat strategy and work on making adjustments as the match progresses.

We won 4 of 10 individual matches. We did some good things in the matches we lost, but I thought I would highlight the matches we won.

Isenhour won 16-0. He did a great job of scoring points. I liked how he attacked and did not let up on the throttle until the referee blew the whistle to end the match. He was thinking the right thing…score, score, score. He also went back to the same turn multiple times. If your opponent can’t stop something, go back to it.

Knepp showed unbelievable heart. He hurt his shoulder early in the bout. I believe everyone in the arena, except him, thought the match was over. When his injury time was up, I asked him what he wanted to do. He said “I’m wrestling.” Wrestle he did. Basically with one arm he battled another 6 minutes to get the match tied 8-8 to send it into overtime. He got the winning takedown in overtime. He gave great effort and found a way to win.

McLaughlin was dominating from start to finish. He was on the attack. He was aggressive. In the end, he secured a bonus point by getting a late takedown to secure the major decision for the team. Frankie showed great leadership.

Tovuujav beat a nationally ranked wrestler. He did a great job of staying relaxed and staying in good position. Another thing that impressed me is how he took advantage of scoring opportunities. When he was able to get his opponents leg, he finished. Against a good guy, you may not get many opportunities. Thus, when you get one, you need to capitalize.

Some great things happened off the mat as well. We were able to honor alums and former coaches at half-time. We officially started a wrestling booster club before the meet at a pre-match social hosted by the Patriot Club. We were honored to have members of our Cheer and Dance team to get the crowd more involved.

I heard one wrestler say it was the biggest home crowd he could remember. I could see the energy the crowd gave Ty Knepp as he fought for the winning takedown. The team loved the support. We must continue to make it grow.

I am also happy to report our ticket office manager told me we have sold over 100 season tickets. Surprisingly, he also told me we are now the team with the second highest season ticket sales at George Mason. We have a long ways to go to catch the Men’s Basketball teams’ season ticket sales (several thousand), but rest assured we will try. It is still a bargain and not too late to buy a season ticket.

Bloomsburg Duals and Penn State Open

This weekend was good for Mason Wrestling. Friday we traveled to Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania for the Bloomsburg duals. We took 19 wrestlers. It was good to be together as a team. On Saturday we were able to win 2 of 3 duals. Our first dual was against East Stroudsburg. Each team won 5 matches. We won thanks to bonus points. Isenhour and Barnette won by major decisions. McLaughlin and Hembury won by pins. We lost our dual against Bloomsburg. We certainly had opportunities to win the dual, but we did not capitalize. Our last dual of the day was against Sacred Heart University. They wrestled us hard, but had to forfeit some weight classes, which put us in the position of being almost assured of victory before the dual even started.

As a long time wrestling fan, it has been fun going to schools I have not been to before and spending time with wrestling people I have not met or seen too often. I have really enjoyed speaking to other coaches and learning from them. This weekend I was able to learn from the Bloomsburg coaches about running a similarly funded program. I was able to speak with the Sacred Heart coach who is trying to run a program while also being a full-time professor. He coaches because he wants the wrestlers to have an opportunity to compete at a division 1 school. I was impressed by his selflessness.

Sunday we competed at the Penn State Open. I believe this was the toughest tournament we have been to this season. It was an eye-opener for the team. We did not fair too well on the mat. We need to learn and believe we belong amongst the elite in wrestling. We can compete with them down the road. There is no reason to take a back seat and if we do the work day in and day out, we can close the gap.

Over the years, I have had some fun days and not so fun days in State College. I have coached in some exciting matches. Being part of the 2001 National Dual meet championship team that won in State College and coaching Tim Hartung as he won the 1999 NCAA title at 197 pounds are some of my fondest memories. On the flip side, one of my toughest days as a coach, was also in 1999 at Penn State when Minnesota finished 2 points behind Iowa at the NCAA Championships. Sunday was also a tough day. My head assistant coach sent me a text while seated in front of me on the bus that read, “First time in my life I’ve been on a bus leaving before the tournament was over.” I guess that summed up the day pretty well.

This week we are excited to host our first competition. Saturday night at 7:30pm we will wrestle the 7th ranked team in the country, American University. We are trying to make it a big event. The Patriot Club will be hosting a pre-match social for alumni. We are trying to start a wrestling booster club. We are selling season tickets. We will have a half-time. There will be entertainment. There will be incentives for students to attend the dual. It will be a tall order for our team on the mat, but if the wrestlers give us their best effort and have a great attitude, we will definitely provide the fans with a reason to cheer.

From a marketing stand point, I am happy to report (as of last week) we have sold 59 season tickets. While it is certainly still below our goal, we are working hard to get people to attend. The cost for a season ticket is only $15. We have seven home dates and will wrestle 12 different teams. Season Ticket holders will be able to watch all seven CAA teams compete at the CAA duals. Season ticket holders will get preferred seating. As one alumni told me, the season tickets are a great stocking stuffer idea. If you are so inclined, I encourage you to become a season ticket holder.