We had the honor of competing at the Virginia Duals competition on Friday and Saturday. This storied competition was started by John Graham. His idea, many did not think would work, certainly has worked. It has sparked other great tournaments and most importantly is credited for the national duals concepts growth. I had been to the event before as a competitor and as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota. This was the 2nd time I have coached George Mason University at the event. The first time I coached George Mason University at the tournament we went 0-3. It was a tough tournament for me. I have known John Graham since I was a boy and have spoken to him often over the years. I respect and admire him greatly. After our 0-3 tournament a few years ago, John politely challenged me by saying, “I expected more out of you.”
I was hesitant to schedule the event this year as I knew it would be a hard weekend for the team and I did not want to disappoint John Graham again. Tom Carr was insistent we attend. Last year Mike McCormick and Jason Bryant made some changes to the event which also helped to get me to enter the team. They changed from a 16 team bracket to 4 pools of 3 teams which determined 3 brackets of 4 teams to complete the event. Teams that went 2-0 in their pool were placed in a “gold” bracket, teams that went 1-1 in their pool were placed in a “silver” bracket, and the teams that went 0-2 in their pool were placed in a “bronze” bracket. Our pool consisted of Kent State and Iowa State. We lost both duals and thus were placed into the bronze bracket.
The pool competition was very frustrating as we could not buy a break. It seemed like if something could go wrong it would. It seemed like the close calls went against us. It was tough to handle. Against Kent State, Tejon Anthony and Matt Voss came away with wins. I enjoyed watching both of them compete and wrestle with great composure. Greg Flournoy was 3 seconds away from a win, but was called for stalling after he defended a shot and was circling on to the mat. This tied up the score. At that point, I think Greg was frustrated and confused. There was lots of yelling which only made the situation more chaotic. Greg stopped wrestling as he prepared for the overtime. His opponent did not and while Greg stood defenseless he was hit with blast double. The referee awarded the takedown and the win to his opponent. At the time, I was surprised the referee made the call. To me it seemed clear time was up and Greg was not defending himself. Nevertheless, my appeal to the official to look at the video and make sure there was a score before the time had expired fell on deaf ears. Greg learned a tough lesson. I hope it is a lesson others can learn without feeling the pain of defeat. A wrestler must compete all 7 minutes. You cannot assume the time has expired. You need to compete until the whistle to stop action is clearly heard. I could not challenge the call as I had lost a challenge call in Vince Rodriguez match. In Vince’s match, the referee awarded a 2 point near fall to his opponent. I challenged that he was never in a position that meets the near fall criteria and even if he was, he was not held in criteria for 2 seconds. After reviewing the video, the official said the angle of the camera did not show the back exposure, so he did not overrule his call. By allowing the call to stand, Vince lost to the #9 ranked wrestler 4-2. In our dual against Iowa State University, Greg Flournoy was the only wrestler to win his bout. It was a tough morning.
We were able to go back to the hotel for less than two hours after we finished the morning competition. The break gave the athletes time to recover from the morning session. It also gave us time as coaches to set strategies and scout Campbell University for our first round in the bronze bracket. We split up videos to watch and tried to determine our lineup based on our anticipated opponents. Before we returned to the venue we met as a team and encouraged each other to wrestle with enthusiasm and for each other. I asked guys to work hard to get and not give bonus points.
I was pleased with the way the guys competed against Campbell. They competed for each other. They knew their individual performance would have a strong bearing on the team success. I told Ibrahim Bunduka, Blake Roulo and Greg Flournoy we needed them to push the pace and get bonus points for the team in their matches. All 3 did so. Ibrahim won by a major while the other two won by technical falls. Tejon Anthony, Ryan Forrest, Cameron Houston and Matt Voss also won their matches. Our entire team was very vocal, especially as Cameron Houston won his first match of the year. It was a great team win. When you wrestle for more than yourself, it gives you greater energy. Our guys had a little extra because they were wrestling for each other. It was a good thing to see.
In our final dual of the tournament we wrestled Grand Canyon University to determine the winner of the Bronze bracket.The guys weighed in at 9am and one hour later the dual meet started.This format was a great dress rehearsal for how it will be in the quarter-final round of the NCAA Tournament.Our guys once again rose the occasion. It was good to see they were physically and mentally prepared. Ibrahim Bunduka won a bout where he scored multiple times off of his attack.Vince Rodriguez won his bout by being better in all 3 positions. I was especially excited to see him amass more than 3 minutes of riding time. I think that was an all-time best for him.Tejon Anthony won all of his matches on the weekend. I continue to be impressed by his mental toughness. The old phrase “cool as a cucumber” comes to mind when I watch him compete. He seems unfazed by the chaos around him. Early in his bout, Tejon took a shot which drove his opponent out of bounds. Because he took the shot as opposed to letting his opponent onto the mat, Tejon was warned for stalling. I was very frustrated by the call and expressed my opinion to the referee. Heck, even the opposing coaches were surprised by the call. Nevertheless, Tejon seemed unfazed. His future is very bright. Greg Flournoy won his bout by riding his guy for the entire 3rd period. Guys that can ride are tough to beat at the NCAA tournament.This bodes well for Greg. Patrick Davis scored 2 takedowns to win a hard fought match for his team. Luke Ludke rode his opponent for the entire 2nd period to help him secure the win for himself and his team. Although the other 4 guys lost, we only gave up one bonus point, so we won the dual 18-13.
We finished the weekend 2-2 as a team, but I think we became a better team and improved individually.15 guys were able to wrestle at least one match at the Virginia Duals. We found out our pool was the toughest of the weekend as Iowa State won the gold bracket, Kent State won the silver bracket and we won the bronze bracket. I was personally proud of the team’s effort and how they rallied for one another. Being part of something greater than themselves makes them more formidable as an individual. It is a win/win.
This is our last full week of winter break. I have given the red shirts off since our Davidson Dual.They return today. My hope is the added time at home has helped them to refresh and that they come back to campus ready to train and study hard this semester. We need them to do well in life, school and on the mat.
We will be on the road this weekend as we have two conference duals on Saturday. We will wrestle at Cleveland State University at noon and then at Edinboro University at 7pm. Our preparation for these duals will be important.