Bucknell Dual

The day before our dual with Bucknell, I had the privilege of attending two events sponsored by the Greater Washington Wrestlers Business Network (GWWBN). This is an exciting new organization. The group is made of mostly former wrestlers who are using this common background to do business, network and support wrestling. I attended a luncheon where Dan Gable was the featured speaker. I was able to pick up a few coaching tips from him and more importantly let the team know Coach Gable is following their progress. The evening event master of ceremony was Wade Schalles who introduced the speakers – Dan Gable and Denny Hastert. I felt pretty cool being at an event listening to these three legends.

Coach Gable mentioned a statute being built in Iowa to honor Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Borlaug on several occasions. Like myself, he wrestled for the University of Minnesota and was a former assistant wrestling coach at Minnesota. On more than one occasion, he told me stories about how wrestling prepared him for fighting to save lives. He is credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. I remember him telling me how he paced before a meeting with Mohandas Gandhi. He said it was just like before a wrestling match. He got ready to make his case for India to implement his plan using the same mental preparation he used before a big match. Dr. Borlaug was a great man. He was a wrestler.

One of my cherished memories with Dr. Borlaug was sitting with him as he watched wrestling practice. He was 90 years old at the time and still wanted to watch his favorite athletes train. I sat with him talking about nothing in particular. It was just two former wrestlers enjoying being around the sport. I will never forget a joke he told me. As I get older, it becomes even funnier to me. He said, “When you get to be my age, you don’t buy green bananas.”

Denny Hastert, or Coach Hastert, as he likes to be called is known as a guy who can bring people together. He was a wrestler and a coach who became the longest sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives. I have read his book, spoken to him on a few occasions, and have certainly admired his career. Normally, I am prone to sit back, but I made sure to get my picture with him after the event. He was instrumental in getting me in the White House on a few occasions. Shortly after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Coach Hastert was able to get the 2001 NCAA Wrestling Championship team from Minnesota some face time with the President. It was a great honor and unbelievable at the time due to the heightened security and demands of the day. Coach Hastert has long been an advocate for wrestling.

The day after the GWWBN event, we hosted Bucknell University at the RAC. We won 3 of the 10 matches contested. True Freshmen Vince Rodriguez and Zach Isenhour, along with Senior Bagna Tovuujav, all won by decision. I was also pleased with the performance of several guys on the mat. They gave good effort.

For example, Denny Herndon is definitely wrestling at a much higher pace. He is improving. We need to help him find a way to win the close match. All wrestlers need to have a shot they can score on anyone when they have to have a score – a go to shot.

Kevin Timothy scored a reversal near the end of his bout to save a team point. He was wrestling up a weight class, because our starter was out of the lineup. He could have easily put his head down, but he didn’t. He continued to compete. Wrestling for the entire 7 minutes of a match is an expectation in this program. Kevin did that and was a good example for his teammates.

Corey Smith was also wrestling up a weight class. He is certified at 174, but has wrestled in duals for us at 184 and 197. His initiation to division 1 wrestling has been difficult. What I liked from him on Friday was seeing him compete much harder than when he first stepped on a college mat this fall. He is making progress. I also liked seeing him use some of the skills he has implemented in the room. When I spoke to his father after the match, I was pleased when he said I have never seen Corey hit a knee slide stand up before. It is great seeing guys make gains.

Saturday night at 7:30pm we will host Central Michigan University at the RAC. This will be the highest ranked team we have hosted this season. Central Michigan has a very good team and they wrestle a difficult schedule. If our guys can compete with them for 7 minutes and find a way to pick up a win, it will certainly bode well for our post season aspirations.

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CAA Duals

We hosted the CAA duals on Saturday. Due to weather, the kid’s duals were canceled. Our team spent 6 hours moving mats and setting up for the tournament on Friday, so it was disappointing that the tournament was cancelled. Even with an indoor sport, we still have to rely on outside elements. After the tournament on Saturday the team had to roll up the mats. We returned the mats to the high schools on Monday (lots of effort, with little to show for it). It is always interesting to see who helps and who doesn’t when the arduous chore of moving mats happens. I was definitely impressed by some of the team. Conversely, some of the team members let their teammates down.

It was my first time watching the CAA duals. I was impressed by the quality of the wrestling. There is definitely some talent in this league. It was also great to get to know some of the coaches better. We had a coaches meeting before the tournament to discuss a proposal by the NWCA. As the coaches discussed the proposal, they offered great insight. I felt positive about the direction of the conference and college wrestling while listening to these men discuss future strategies for building our great sport.

Our team finished 0-4 in the duals. There were some good individual wins, but it did show us we still have significant ground to gain. A few of the highlights were: Vince Rodriguez beating a higher ranked opponent; Kevin Timothy and Hunter Manspile each winning a match by fall; Bagna Tovuujav overcoming a 6-1 deficit in one bout to win it in the end (10-8); Corey Smith and DJ Dwyer stepping in at the last moment, wrestling up in weight class, and saving the team valuable team points; and my wife making brownies for the entire team (I found my way to a few of them as well).

We just finished a tough run of competition. We had 12 duals in 16 days. I could tell on Saturday the guys were physically and mentally worn down. We have 6 competitions left in the 6 weeks remaining before the conference tournament. We need to keep improving technically, building our intensity and learning to wrestle and train at a higher pace. We can still make significant gains. Mentally we need to work on staying focused in our matches and wrestling with confidence. We need to believe in our training, believe we are ready, and believe we can succeed.

This week we will be home for the 3rd straight weekend. Friday night we host Bucknell University at 7:30pm at the RAC.

Patriot Duals

We hosted the Patriot Duals on Saturday. We finished with a 1-2 team record. I was hoping for better team results, but nevertheless we did see some good performances. Bagna Tovuujav was dominating. He had 2 pins and a major decision. He wrestles fearlessly. No doubt he is fun to watch. He is good technically and will take risks. I like his demeanor when he competes. Jaaziah Bethea finished 3-0. He looked more focused and consistent all 7 minutes of each bout. Vince Rodriguez was back in the lineup for the first time since December 10. He also finished 3-0. Vince did a great job preparing for the competition and served as a great spark plug to get us a win to start each dual. Our team captain Denny Herndon also had a good day. He was 2-0 and was winning his last bout before he was forced to default the match due to a medical decision. I liked his offense. I hope he continues to push the pace in his matches.

Due to injuries we had some guys wrestle in their first dual meets of the season. Even though they lost their individual bouts, I enjoyed seeing them compete. I liked their effort. I was also pleased to see them attempt things we have been working on in the room. I felt they showed how a guy can develop in the room. They were positive examples to the starters and to the program. Proper preparation improves performance. For example, we have spent many hours working on leg ride defense with little positive results in competition. It is a glaring weakness of this team. We had guys with limited college experience getting out of leg rides on Saturday. I liked seeing techniques learned this fall, performed in competition this winter. I can’t wait for the day when teams refuse to leg ride a guy from Mason, because they are too dangerous on bottom.

We still need guys to wrestle as hard as they can for all 7 minutes. If we can be more consistent in our effort and attitude, we will have better results. I felt we lost several bouts because guys would let down physically or mentally. I have said it before and will say many more times – mini breaks cause defeat in college wrestling. We had guys lose their fight; lose their hustle for brief time periods. As a result, we lost matches. A little more hustle, a little more fight, we win matches and thus finish 3-0 in duals.

Wrestling is a tough sport physically and mentally. Often time people look only to the raw physical skills, technique, power, endurance. I love watching the mental part of the sport – the battle of wills. Who will back down first? Who will concede out of fear of failure, fear of fatigue? Who is willing to take a risk? What is the strategy used to win a situation? The sport can resemble a chess match at times. The sport can also look like an old fashioned gladiator battle. The sport is fascinating.

This Saturday we will compete in the field house starting at 10am. All of the wrestling teams in the CAA will be here to compete in dual meets. We will wrestle 4 of them – Boston, Hofstra, Old Dominion, and Rider. Since we already compete against Drexel and Binghamton this season, we will not wrestle them on Saturday. We won’t be favored in any of our duals, so we will need to bring our “A” game.

Along with hosting the CAA duals we will have several kids wrestling teams competing in dual meets. We will have 8 mats on the field house floor with non-stop wrestling for much of the day on Saturday. It should be a fun day.

Appalachian State and NC State Duals

What can I say about a home loss where we were shut out? The first thing that comes to mind is embarrassing.  We were beat handily at most weight classes.  After a loss like that one it calls for some self-reflection.  It was time to look in the mirror and see what I did wrong and what I can do better.  I hope the team is doing the same thing. 

 After a few days of reflection, I do know I will do some things differently next year.  I think the team was at a disadvantage by not having a holiday tournament.  I also think we had too much time off between competitions.   Nevertheless, I do believe I have a good plan in place to move the program forward.  I will not panic.  I will stay the course.

 I was definitely disappointed in what I saw from the team in preparation for the competition.  I asked the guys to keep a training log over finals and break.  Some did, some didn’t.  I asked them to complete 20 predetermined workouts on their own.  Most did not do them.  I was very discouraged by their lack of commitment.  Having been around the sport for quite a while, I have a decent idea of what it takes to be successful.  I need them to believe in the program.  I need them to trust me.   My mistake was believing most understood my expectations and could execute them.  I hope they will soon be able to, but they are not there yet.

 One of the tough things about athletics is that it is public.  We found out in a very public way that we were not prepared.   There is no way too hide.  I hope we are better prepared in the future.

 Before we competed this week, I thought the lineup was set.  By Thursday’s match time 6 of the guys that were starters were out.  It was hard for me to fathom this many being out.  I need to do a better job of making sure our best line up is on the mat.  We got 2 of the starters back for Saturday.  Hopefully, we will get all of them back in the near future. 

 Because we were missing so many starters, guys got matches they were not expecting to get.  Everyone needs to train like they are the guy.  Often time, you are one injury or mistake by a starter from being bumped into action.  Some guys had prepared and gave us great effort.   Some guys did a good job preparing mentally and physically on short notice.

One nice thing about our schedule was we were able to get right back on the mat.  Saturday we wrestled 4 duals at North Carolina State.  We lost our first dual to NC State.  We won our next 2 duals against Shippensburg University and Anderson University.  We lost our last dual against Campbell University.  I was happy with some of the individual performances.  We had 3 guys win their first college matches.  I was happy for them.  

 Hopefully, now that we are humbled, guys will be more coachable this week.  We can make significant gains by March.  One of our team goals is to improve 1% per day.  If we accomplish this goal, we will be a much better team by tournament time. 

 I thought we had a great practice before we left for NC State.  Dr. Wilson spoke to the team about recovering mentally during competition and how to practice mental skills.  I thought she was right on with what would help these guys.

 We are home again this weekend.  We host the Patriot duals on Saturday starting at 9am in the RAC.  We will wrestle Davidson, VMI and Cleveland State.  We will wrestle the duals with no break in between. 

9:00am  – Davidson vs. GMU and VMI vs. Cleveland State

Approximately 10:30am – VMI vs. GMU and Davidson vs. Cleveland State

Approximately Noon – Cleveland State vs. GMU (VMI and Davidson will not wrestle this round).

 

Happy New Year

We are finally back together as a team. It has been great to see the guys and to have them training together as a team. We are on break from school until January 23. Thus, there will be plenty of time to train with less stress. The school allows the guys to stay in the dorms over break and provides meals. I appreciate the commitment to the student-athletes. Since most teams at George Mason are not back in town, it has been nice to have the run of the field house. We rolled out 2 full size competition mats in the field house, so we have extra room to practice. The guys were fortunate to be able to train twice on New Year’s Eve and twice on New Year’s Day. I am confident the hard work on the holidays will pay dividends.

We will have our second home competition of the year on Thursday night January 5. We welcome Appalachian State to the RAC at 730pm. We travel the next day to compete at the North Carolina State University duals. We will wrestle 4 duals on Saturday, January 7 – Noon vs. NC State; 2pm vs. Anderson University; 4pm vs. Shippensburg University and 6pm vs. Campbell University. We will be tested and need to be ready to compete.

We held some wrestle offs. Thus, the lineup is starting to take shape. I still plan on traveling with extra guys on Saturday. Because we have 4 matches, I might rotate guys in some duals. I also want to have guys ready to compete in case someone is struggling or can’t compete on Saturday.

I want to avoid forfeiting individual matches whenever possible. I have always been bothered by forfeits, to a fault (I am sure former athletes and coaches I have worked with will readily tell you over-the-top stories about me and forfeits). In this sport I believe it is extremely difficult to field a complete lineup in every dual, but I also believe it is important to try to avoid forfeiting matches. I think it makes our sport look bad. I hesitate to write this in a blog, for fear I will jinx my goal, but I guess it is too late. As a coach, I want to field a full team whenever I can. I don’t want to forfeit, because it is a good strategy to win a dual or to avoid a tough match up. On the other hand, sometimes it is out of our control as a coach or it is too detrimental to the individual. Thus, I don’t want to be too close minded. I can safely say, if I can, I will put 10 guys on the mat. It won’t matter what the odds of victory are, or what is best for that moment. I will try to think more about what is best for the sport and less about what serves my interests in the short term.