NCAA Tournament

Well another college wrestling season has come to an end. The NCAA tournament was exciting as evidenced by being sold out and the high ratings ESPN had broadcasting the event. Jake Kettler finished 0-2. He was disappointed by the results, as was I. On the other hand, he competed hard. I was pleased with his effort. His perspective after the tournament gave me hope that he left the tournament a better wrestler and person. I expect great things in the future for Jake Kettler.

We left our hotel Sunday morning at 3am to make our 7am flight out of Omaha. Due to the tournament being held in Des Moines, we could not get a return flight home out of Des Moines as every Sunday flight was full. It has been awhile since I have driven on snowy roads. Fortunately, my years in Minnesota helped me to drive quickly and safely so we did not miss our flight.

After about 14 hours of travel time we finally made it home. I was exhausted from the NCAA Tournament week and season. I was excited to rest. My rest was short. I started to receive texts and calls asking me about George Mason University leaving the CAA. I did not know anything about it which was not a good feeling. I found out via the news we were joining the Atlantic 10 conference. The Atlantic 10 does not sponsor wrestling.

Early Monday morning a staff meeting was held where the Athletics Director told us the news. I was pleased he pulled me aside before the meeting. He said finding us a new conference was a top priority. He also said he would make sure to quell any doubts about his support for the program by publicly stating his support. He told me he felt we would be in a better situation in the long run.

I believe he is correct. We now have a unique opportunity to choose a new home. I also believe there is potential for the Athletic Department to grow in the Atlantic 10. The growth of the athletic department can help our wrestling program.

The past few days have been quite hectic. There is lots of work to be done. We need to find a new conference, we started our spring strength program for the team, we started preparing our guys for the spring national team competitions, we are closing in on our spring recruit signing period, we are trying to plan our banquet, settle last season accounts, finish our pin club fundraiser …

For some reason, I keep hearing inside my head one of my youth coaches, Pavel Katsen. In his thick Russian accent he would often implore us to train harder during practice. He would shout, “Come on my pupil. There is so much work to be done and so little time. Come on Tiger.” I guess a good coach stays with you and continues to push you when you are long done competing on the wrestling mat. Thanks, Pavel.

I am excited to report we finished with 29 official pins this season. We had a handful more that did not count because they occurred in Open competitions. Thus, I will be contacting the generous donors in our pin club soon to collect their pledges. Good job grapplers and thanks to the pin club members.

On April 10 we will host a free event on campus. One of our 2nd year wrestlers, Matt Stull has invited his Great Uncle Jim Lehrer to speak. When Matt first got the promise from his Great Uncle, I thought it would be a good event for the wrestling team to be part of to align us with the mission of the University and to reach out to other groups on campus. I had no idea what a huge deal this really was. Jim Lehrer must have done many great things in his life because the word spread like wild fire and multiple groups wanted to be part of the event. Personally, I am excited to meet Mr. Lehrer and excited the wrestling team is part of this event. If you are in the area, we would love to have you attend. I posted the link for the event below:

http://chss.gmu.edu/events/3255

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CAA Championships

We went to Boston University over the weekend to compete in the CAA Championships. We traveled via air. I was surprised most of the guys on the team have not traveled much by air. It made the trip more enjoyable. We were fortunate our flight was not canceled as we flew into a snow storm. Other teams had tougher travel.

We finished in last place overall, which is never fun. I had hoped we had made enough progress during the year to close the gap on other teams. We did improve, but are still behind. In my two years at Mason we have yet to win a conference dual. I find that disheartening. On the negative side, we were 8-20. We only had 3 placers, no champs.

On the positive side, we were more competitive this year. In 2012, we had 3 guys win matches at the conference tournament. This year, we had 6. In other matches, we were more competitive. We lost some close matches and in others were able to hold our ground better. We scored 6 bonus points (2 pins and 2 majors). If you look squarely at what we were expected to do on paper (seeds and ranking), 8 guys wrestle at or above their pre-tournament ranking. We had 2 guys who probably wrestled below. Thus, on paper, we had a much improved tournament.

For the most part, I was pleased with our effort and attitude. Guys wrestled hard. It is hard to see guys fall short of their goals. The more you have put into something, the more it hurts when you don’t get it. Tears were shed on Saturday night. It was a tough night.

The 3 seniors that wrestled in the tournament are now dealing with the questions of “what now?” I know it is a tough time for a college wrestler. There is no next year. There is no second chance. Rich Lavorato and Jaaziah Bethea both finished 4th place, both guys were unseeded, scored bonus points and placement points for their team. I know both wanted more and planned on wrestling next week at the national tournament. Nevertheless, they contributed to their team. Ty Knepp did not place, but he went down swinging. I think when you compete as hard as you can it is easier to walk away with no regrets.

A few years ago, Jayson Ness taught me a great lesson. He had just lost in the NCAA finals his sophomore year. I was fuming and freighting over his loss. I wanted him to win badly. I was angry that he did not win. When we were walking off the arena floor and into the tunnel, he turned to me and said, “I wrestled as hard as I could. I tried my best. I guess God had a different plan for me.” At that moment, I was ashamed at my attitude. Jayson’s perspective and attitude helped me grow that night as a coach and person. If you truly give your best effort and have a great attitude, you can walk away with no regrets.

Jake Kettler wrestled a good tournament. He won by pin in his quarter-final match. In his semi-final match, he won 9-2. The guy he beat in the semi-finals had beaten him earlier in the year. In the finals, he came up short.

Since there was only one qualifier at his weight class, he did not automatically qualify for the national tournament. Thus, we have spent a few days awaiting the committee’s decision on the at-large entrants at his weight class. I also delayed posting my blog until we knew the decision. I was very happy when we saw his name on the list of competitors.

We crunched the numbers and thought Jake deserved to be in, but until you see it, you don’t know. I am happy Jake is fulfilling a dream. The waiting has been tough, but now we need to focus on getting him physically and mentally ready to compete. It is a great problem to have.

CAA PREP

Let the fun begin. I am excited for the guys to compete at the CAA Tournament. We have completed our training (the hay is in the barn; the money is in the bank…). Now we must wait for the competition. I am hopeful the guys go into the competition as rested, healthy and fired up as possible. Watching the guys train, I feel great. I believe they are wrestling their best. You cannot ask for much more this time of year.

Our non-starters have been doing well. Last weekend we had 13 of them compete at the National Collegiate Open. I was pleased to have so many of them compete. They had to go on their own, so it is a testament to their dedication. Our results were not good. My hope is the guys use the bad results as motivation to improve their skills. I believe they will improve as a result of competing at the tournament and by working on areas they struggled with at the competition. We did have one guy place, Ryan Forrest. This is the 2nd tournament he has placed at this winter. Ryan is red-shirting. I am excited to have him off red-shirt next fall.

We will depart for the CAA tournament on Thursday Evening. The tournament is in Boston. I have never been to Boston University. I am excited to see another campus that sponsors Division 1 wrestling. This will be our first trip of the season where we will fly. I am still amazed at how close we are to so many schools living in Northern Virginia. The tournament will take place on Saturday, March 9. Hopefully when the tournament is over we will be planning our next trip via airplane as we book our tickets to the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, IA.