Grapple 2016

We spent Thanksgiving weekend living in style. For the first time, we were able to travel on the new Mason Bus. We took pride in representing our University riding in the Mason bus up and down I95. I was able to show the coaches a fine place to eat in downtown Newark and Dan Wotring introduced us to a great burger place in Manhattan. These two places will be my go to joints in the future.

13 Mason wrestlers were given the opportunity to compete in the worlds most famous arena. Long after their days on the mat are done, my hope is they will have a good story to tell their grandchildren. I hope it was a meaningful experience for them representing George Mason University at Madison Square Garden.

In 5 years of attending the Grapple at the Garden, we are now 0-9 as a team. I am disheartened. Trying to find a formula to win has proved difficult. We have let too many situations slip through our fingers. We lost 7 matches to 3 against Buffalo and 6 matches to 4 against Hofstra.

Individually, Tejon Anthony and Sahid Kargbo went 2-0 on the day. I was pleased with Tejon’s poise and effort. Tejon scored the only bonus point of either team in our dual with Hofstra. Sahid beat a returning national qualifier with an overtime takedown. It is a win that will help his growth as a wrestler and will also help pave a path to the NCAA tournament. I think he was able to see some of his weaknesses today, so now it’s time to fix them. Daniel Mika wrestled up a weight class and won an important match for the team against Hofstra. Mika finished the day 1-0.

The Matts (Voss and Raines) finished the day 1-1. Both did not make the necessary adjustments during the bouts they lost. Adjusting to an opponent’s strengths is important to getting their hands raised. In the bouts they won, both were able to put points on the board. It was good to see them find ways to score.

Trevor Mello was 0-1. He started well in his bout scoring the first takedown and riding his opponent. Later in the bout he got out of position and was pinned. The 9 point swing in expected team score put us in a hole early in our bout with Buffalo. Quinton Tucker wrestled for us at 125 in the next dual. He lost by decision. I was pleased with his effort in the 3rd period, but he was in too big a hole to come out with the win. Austin Harrison was 0-1 on the day. He was pinned by his opponent from Buffalo. His lack of belief hurt his performance. Positive self talk and thought are crucial to success. If Austin starts to trust his preparation more during competition, he will see better results. Austin puts in the necessary work. Andrew Thomas wrestled up a weight class for the team in our dual with Buffalo. He lost by technical fall, but gave good effort for his team. Matt Meadows wrestled for us in the 2nd dual at 197. It was his first bout in over a year and a half. I was happy for him to have another opportunity to compete. He lost in overtime. He certainly had the ability to win the match and dual for his team, but fell short. His energy level was too low due to not sticking to his weight loss plan. Tough lesson to learn for him and the team. Nevertheless, Matt can still write a great story to his college career if he is willing to make the needed changes.

Lio Quezada, Garrett Tingen and Patrick Davis all went 0-2 on the day. Lio lost by fall, which is something he needs to change. It has happened too many times during his first month of college competition. He competed better in his 2nd match. He lost by a decision but finished on top in the 3rd. Lio’s future is bright due in part to his desire to get better and by living a good lifestyle. Garrett lost his bouts by decision. In both matches, he made costly mistakes at costly times. Garrett’s free spirit when he wrestles is going to make him fun to watch. As Garrett gets more practice and matches under his belt at the college level, he will be a force. Patrick Davis had a disappointing day. He is much better than the results showed. In his second bout, he was dominant for the vast majority of the bout. For some reason he seemed to panic and get frustrated at the end of the match. He earned the right to the lead and needed to close the door instead of stressing about being in late tough situations. It was a costly loss for the team in our dual against Hofstra.

Our performance needs to get better in order to be more competitive at D1 wrestling. Our attitude needs to be one of confidence, belief, and resolve. We need to enjoy the tough situations in training and competition. Love the process, journey and fight. The tough situations need to bring gratification rather than fear. Our effort must be the best we can give. Sometimes we hold back. Fear of failure, fatigue, and doubt can be tough to beat, but we certainly can crush them. We need to go forward, make the decision to stand our ground no matter what obstacle is in our path. Say no to the things that destroy our dreams. Say yes to the things that increase our opportunities to success.

I was strengthened by watching and listening to our team before, during and after the competition. They were pulling for each other and are coming together as a unit. The more they become like a family, the more they can help each other reach their goals. Our adventure in the Big Apple was painful at times, but it certainly can help produce positive outcomes down the road.

Our path does not grow easier. We need to have a sense of urgency. We open our EWL dual meet season Saturday at Bloomsburg and Sunday at Lock Haven. Our performance must improve. I have confidence this group of guys will raise the level of their performance.

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Indiana and Navy Classic

We had our home opener and first competition of the year on Thursday Night against Indiana University. I was thankful so many people came out to support the team on a school night and at the same time as the Olympic Wrestling Victory tour was taking place in DC. I was afraid we would miss out on having fans in the stands, I was thankfully incorrect.

We lost 8 matches to 2 and gave up bonus points in 5 of the matches we lost. No doubt we are better than we performed. I believe it showed when we wrestled some of the same guys 2 days later at the Navy Classic.

At 125 and 133 we lost via first period falls. It was the first time either guy had put on the Mason singlet. I think both were not ready for the intensity of a college dual. Both learned from the experience, as was evident from their performance 2 days later. At 141, Tejon Anthony did a good job of finding a way to win in overtime. Ironically, he drew the same opponent in the first round of the Navy Classic. He won again, but did so in a more dominant fashion the second time around. Sahid Kargbo had an impressive win at 149. We lost by a major decision at 157 and 197. I believe both guys had trouble making adjustments during their matches. It is important, to give yourself a chance at winning, to make adjustments during bouts. If a guy is beating you in a certain position, defend it differently or avoid the position later in the bout. At 184, we lost by a second period fall to a highly ranked wrestler. At 165, 174 and Heavyweight we lost by decision. We need to find a way of winning the close matches in order to win duals. We did not score any bonus points and gave up too many – every team point matters. My hats off to the 4 guys who made their D1 college debuts on Thursday night – Quinton Tucker, Lio Quezada, Matt Raines and Garrett Tingen – less than 1% of high school wrestlers go on to wrestle at the D1 level. These 4 were able to live a dream most high school wrestlers have.

We had 18 wrestlers compete this weekend. For me, this is an exciting thing to see. Often time, competition helps you improve. 4 wrestlers chose to wrestle unattached at the Star City Open. Tahla Farooq and Philip Stolfi both finished 2-2 on the day and both placed 4th. Ibrahim Bunduka and Creed Lumpp both won the tournament. IB was 4-0 finishing with one fall, 2 tech falls and 1 major decision. Creed was 5-0 finishing with 3 falls and 2 major decisions. Winning a college open is never easy, but Creed and IB both look to have been dominant in the 9 matches they won on Saturday.

We had 14 wrestlers represent the team at the Navy Classic. We had hoped to have even more enter the event, but injuries kept them from the competition. Overall, I was pleased with the team’s performance. I want our team to be known for wrestling an aggressive and dominating style while having fun doing so. Thus, give their best effort and have the right attitude. I think we sent the right message on Saturday.
125
Trevor Mello made his college debut and was able to finish the day 1-2. He has chosen to forgo his red shirt year to help his team. I have been impressed by his work ethic. He will get better, due in part to his tenacity.
Quinton Tucker finished the day 2-2. He did a good job of turning things around after his loss on Thursday. It was clear he was trying to learn and get better. I enjoyed the enthusiasm he showed during the day.
133
Logan Harvich finished the day with a 3-3 record and placed 6th. It was a good start for his college career. My hope is he learns from the experience. He needs to put together a more consistent 7 minute fight. He got in jams when he didn’t stay focused on the task at hand. Logan has the physical talent and skills to be a successful college wrestler. I am excited about his future.
Lio Quezada finished the day 4-2 and placed 5th. His first few months of college wrestling have been impressive. His work ethic stands out from the pack, which bodes well for him gaining ground quickly. On Thursday night, he was overwhelmed by his opponent from Indiana. He was taken down, turned a few times and pinned in the first period. The match was not close. Afterward we talked and I was hopeful he would get another opportunity to face the Indiana wrestler again. I knew he could do better. Lio earned the right to wrestle him again by winning his opening bout in an impressive comeback fashion. This time Lio was able to stay in the match early on and almost pulled off the victory. He lost 9-8 to the same guy who was ahead of him 10-0 before pinning him on Thursday. Lio also added to the pin pool by pinning one of his opponents.
141
Tejon Anthony opened the day with the same opponent he beat in overtime on Thursday. This time he scored early and won 5-2. Tejon finished 6th with a 3-3 record on the day. His wins were impressive and his losses were frustrating. Tejon is good and close to turning the corner to great. Because of his demeanor, ability to learn and desire, it is not a matter of if he can become great, rather how fast he can get there.
157
Matt Raines finished the day with a 1-2 record. I know he is frustrated as he has said as much. He is adjusting to a 2 weight class jump which is difficult to do. My hope is he can stay confident as he works through the needed adjustments in being a 157lber. Holding better position against the bigger and stronger opponents is a must. I am confident Matt will see better results down the road.
165
We did not enter anyone at this weight class, which was disappointing. We are fighting the injury bug. Nevertheless, we gave up the opportunity to score team points at this weight class. Ironically, we finished the tournament ½ of a point behind The Citadel. One more win or bonus point would have put us ahead of them.
174
Patrick Davis finished the day with a 5-2 record. I was pleased to see him take lots of shots and finish them at a high percentage. On Thursday night he did not score any take downs. He did not make many attempts. On Saturday he wrestled the same opponent and scored multiple takedowns. I would still like to see Pat by more aggressive on bottom and top. When he works hard in these positions he has success. He struggles on top and bottom when he doesn’t continually work to improve his position. My hope is this 5th year senior stays healthy and does everything right (including the little things) over the next 4 months. If he does so, he will finish well at the NCAA tournament.
184
Austin Harrison finished the day 0-2. There is no doubt Austin has improved. He has spent lots of time learning the craft, he has done the extra workouts, and he has improved his speed, conditioning, strength, technique and mat awareness. He will continue to improve if he is able to stay on track with the tough part of D1 wrestling – belief. Being a D1 wrestler, even for the blue chip wrestler, is a daunting task. Trusting the system – belief in the program is a must. At the end of the day, there are no guarantees. Most D1 wrestlers will fall short of standing on the podium in March. It is a fact, a tough reality. The ones that do make it to the podium are the select few. One of the things All-Americans have in common is the belief they can get there in the end. I need Austin to believe in the system and to continue working toward his goal with the belief he can get the job done.
Daniel Mika finished the day 2-2. In the matches he lost, he did not give himself enough opportunities to win. I was pleased to see when he took risks he had the ability to score points, even as he is making his decent to the 165lb weight class. Daniel has the skills to score points on 184lbers. When he got on his opponents legs he showed power and skill in his finishes. It was good to see.
197
Andrew Thomas wrestled up a weight class for us on Thursday and Saturday as Matt Meadows is out with an injury. He did not win any of his matches, but I was pleased to see him compete for all 7 minutes in his bouts. He has come a long way as a wrestler. I enjoyed watching him compete.
HWT
Matt Voss, Gary Miltenberger and Justin Hite all wrestled for us at this weight class. They finished the day with a 1-6 record. These 3 are better than they showed on Saturday. I was disappointed by the results. They have a good training situation and do a good job in the room. I was perplexed by what I saw in the competition circle. My challenge to them is to make each other as good as they can possibly be. We should be doing better at this weight class. Voss and Miltenberger were able to spend a year with a 2x NCAA Qualifier as their training partner. They were also coached for 2 years by a hands on highly respected heavy weight coach who Hite worked with for one year. They have club guys who have spent time training with them since they arrived on campus. They now have a coach who can push them in live goes as well. I am sure they are frustrated by the weekend, more so than I, but I need them to show the fruits of their labor in competition. They can get the job done for themselves and for the team.
149
Sahid Kargbo became the first champ I have coached at the Navy Classic. He is Mason’s first champ since Cayle Byers won the tournament in 2010. His growth has been fun to watch. He continues to get better. 3 of his wins on the day were with bonus points including his tech fall win in the finals. Maybe his most impressive win of the day, came in a match he was behind in for nearly 6 minutes. He gave up a takedown and was ridden in the first period. Although he did not escape, he worked hard on bottom. Afterward he said he knew if he kept trying it would help him later in the match. His attitude was correct. Even though he did not score, he was making his opponent work. He was able to score 3 takedowns in the third period and added another one in overtime to win. It was good to see him overcome the adversity of being behind late in the match. It was a great gut check win. His belief in his ability has grown. This will serve him well as he will need to overcome more adversity down the road. It is early in the season, so it is important to learn as much as one can. It is important not to get too excited or down. Nevertheless, this weekend was a positive step forward for Sahid as he looks to do something special in his senior season.

We travel to New York this coming weekend. It will put a damper on Thanksgiving gluttony, but it will be much more fun competing in Madison Square Garden on Sunday, November 27. We will wrestle Buffalo University at 1030am and Hofstra University at 1230pm. If you want to attend the event, we still have tickets available in the Mason section. Feel free to contact me by email if you are interested in buying tickets. My email is jrusse13@gmu.edu.

Simulation Matches

We had the guys make weight and wrestle matches this week to be better prepared for our home opener on Thursday. My hope is guys learned from the experience. The hope was they made it as real as possible. Thus, they worked on match preparation and match strategy. The first time down to weight can be difficult. I wanted them to have a weigh in under their belt before actual competition. I believe we got better by doing the simulation matches.

Assistant Coach Canaan Bethea was able to compete this past week at the Bill Farrell International Open. I believe he can use the knowledge he gained at the competition to help our team get better. It is a win/win.

Our fan gear order website shut down a few days ago. I do not know the final order numbers, but was pleased people had the opportunity to purchase Mason Wrestling gear. It will be great seeing people sporting Mason Wrestling gear.

I hope many of you will be able to attend our home opener on Thursday, November 17, 7pm at the RAC. We will host Indiana University. I believe Indiana has 2 wrestlers ranked in the top 20 led by returning All-American Nate Jackson. We will certainly be tested. We will have several new faces in the lineup. I am excited for the team to get the opportunity to compete at home. Some other incentives to get you to the RAC: home duals are free of charge this season; our team will take risks when they compete to make the matches more exciting; Mason event staff knows how to put on a great event; the new wrestling posters are out and you can get them for free if you are early enough to the RAC on Thursday. Although I have many more reasons for you to attend our home opener, I will assume you already got the point – Thursday, November 17 at 7pm the RAC is the place to be.

Politics, Injuries, Southeast Open, Simulations, and Gear

You have people you have problems. A friend said this to me many years ago and I believe it is often the case. World politics played a role in denying Matt Voss the opportunity to compete at the University World Championships last week. I felt bad for him and the other athletes who were denied the opportunity to compete. The championships were held in Turkey. Due to current issues going on, USA Wrestling determined it was too risky to send the USA team. I was pleased USA Wrestling worked hard to make sure the athletes were safe and when USA Wrestling determined the safety of the athletes could not be guaranteed to an acceptable level, USA Wrestling made the difficult decision not to attend. My hope for Matt is he will continue to grow as a wrestler and he will have other opportunities down the road to represent the USA in international competitions. Sadly, this is not the first and most likely not the last time this will happen.

In 2002, I was set to go to Tehran, Iran to watch Tim Hartung compete at the Freestyle World Championships. I was one of Tim’s coaches in college and had enjoyed watching his growth as a wrestler. He had made the top stage in our sport. Due to credible threats, the USA team did not compete in the tournament. It was sad to see Tim denied the opportunity. I have spoken with many of the wrestlers denied the opportunity to compete at the 1980 Olympics. Even today, you can hear pain when they speak about it. I can only imagine the disappointment. I was fortunate as a wrestler to qualify for a few youth world championships. One year when I was trying to make the USA team, the World Championships were to be held in Baghdad, Iraq. Due to the Iran-Iraq War the tournament site was moved. Fortunately, I was still able to compete and did not miss out on the opportunity. You have people you have problems.

We have had some injuries this fall. Injuries do happen. It is part of life. As a coach it is frustrating to see the athletes have to endure the pain and disappointment of injuries. Sometimes life is not fair. Life is hard. My hope is the injured individuals will be able to overcome the setbacks. For some their wrestling career may be over. My hope is the lessons learned by participating in wrestling will serve them well in life. My hope is they will look back on their time as a D1 athlete at George Mason University as a positive experience.

I was pleased 6 guys decided to compete unattached this weekend at the Southeast Open. Competition often helps your learning curve. Most likely the competition will benefit them down the road. Trevor Mello went 1-2 and recorded the first fall of the year for the team. Connor Joyce and Justin Hite went 0-2. Philip Stolfi and Matt Raines finished 2-2. Lio Quezada went 3-2 on the day. It is a good time to do some self-review, learn and improve. I am happy these guys chose to test themselves and confident they will use the experience to get better.

We plan on having everyone on the team make weight this Saturday. We will also wrestle matches. If you want to watch the guys do simulation matches Saturday, we would love to have you. We will start at 11am Saturday, November 12 in the Filed House.

I am excited we can offer fan gear for sale this fall. If you are interested in purchasing George Mason Wrestling gear, you can do so until midnight November 10. The site will close down after that date. The website can be found at http://bit.ly/2ecVL5s