Wrestlers rise together


Daniel Brenner/Observer

Andrew Munn tries to pin his opponent to the mat.

Eddie Kerekes, Sports Editor

It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning in the beginning of February. There’s snow covering the ground, and the Weather application says it feels less than 10 degrees. The campus is deserted. The late night revelers have just gone to bed, but the early risers have not awoken.

Despite the desolation, there’s a group of 13 guys boarding two large vans. They are members of the Case Western Reserve University wrestling team, traveling to Baldwin Wallace University for the John Summa Tournament.

The team arrives at 6:30 a.m., the first to arrive at the Lou Higgins Center Fieldhouse for the tournament. After a very small amount of light snacking—they still have to make weight—it’s preparation time. For some that involves sleeping. For others it’s talking, browsing social media or even studying.

After an hour and 15 minutes of waiting, the weigh-ins begin. Then, more waiting. As one member of the team put it: all one does at wrestling tournaments is wait. Finally, after a brief pep talk from Head Coach Danny Song and warm-up drills led by assistant coach Chas Busz the bouts got under way.

Leading off for the Spartans was first-year wrestler Isaac Collier at 149 lbs. There was concern that a deep gash Collier suffered above his eye in practice would reopen. His first bout needed to be stopped multiple times because blood streamed down his face. Assistant Athletic Trainer Kassandra Corsi did her best to re-wrap and treat the wound, and Collier managed to get through his first bout, winning by technical fall 15-0.

Despite wrestling in his next bout with a mask on, Collier suspected his day was over. He said, “Once I saw the blood rushing [in the first matchup], I knew I needed stitches.”

Following his second bout, he forfeited his third and did indeed get stitches on the gash.

After Collier bowed out, the most frenetic part of the day came for CWRU. Four out of the six mats had Spartans wrestling on them when second-year student Chris Zhang and third-year students Connor Gordon, Cito Balsells and Nick Tommas all battled at the same time. Normally, the team has one or two members competing at once. Four at a time was quite a challenge for the coaches and the team.

Typically when a wrestler competed, either Song or Busz sat in the coach’s chair outside the circle, watching intently and yelling advice that sometimes fell on deaf ears. With four bouts needing coaching at once, wrestlers who did not participate in the invitational—including fourth-year student Nate Lewis and first-year student Jacob Frisch—filled in.

In addition to serving as coaches, the wrestlers also became advisors and supporters for one another. While waiting for their next matches, teammates would talk with each other about how to improve on the mats. And when a teammate was actually wrestling, the rest of the team would gather behind the coaches, forming a wall of blue supporters.

After the time of great action came a time with no action. If the wall projection listing the next three bouts on each mat contained no Spartans, the team would gather around their bags and blow off steam while waiting again. One such break saw the team eat Jimmy John’s sandwiches, ordered earlier in the day by Busz.

As Spartans saw their bouts appearing on the projection again, they focused on the task at hand. It’s very difficult to focus all of one’s energy into physical combat for seven straight minutes after a half hour off. Keeping a consistent routine, a big focus of Song’s coaching, helps wrestlers prepare better. Third-year student Adam Bloomer said that he tries “to think about wrestling,” in the few minutes before a matchup.

Most members of the team paced while trying to get into their own peak performance mindset. A few crouched, while others jumped rapidly in short spurts of time. The one thing they all had in common was a matching expression: their game face.

Those game faces brought out victories for many of the Spartans. In fact, six wrestlers finished in the top six in their weight class with two placing second. Overall the team scored 91.5 points, fifth most among the schools at the meet.

Song was proud of his team’s great performance.

“I was very pleased,” he said. “You wait for breakout performances like that … It’s going to prove to be a really big boost going into next weekend.”

The most exciting part of the day was when first-year students Gavin Dersh-Fisher, Andrew Munn, Michael Petersen and Andrew Hoover, second-year student Brian McNamara and fourth-year student Matt Moy all competed in the second half of the meet, reserved only for placing bouts. Unfortunately, Hoover was the only one to win his bout, taking fifth place at 141 pounds.

Song called the final round “bittersweet.” He added, “It was definitely a tough final round for us. You’re very proud to get that far and then to come close and not be able to finish on a high note is definitely not what we wanted.”

CWRU hits the road again on Sunday, Feb. 12, traveling to New York University (NYU) for the University Athletic Association championship. The Spartans will face NYU and the University of Chicago in two duals. “I think we’ll be real competitive with Chicago. I’m looking forward to that match,” said Song.
Luckily for the team, they will not need to leave at 6 a.m. for the competition. Instead they will be flying into New York a day early. A bustling airport is the polar opposite of the empty campus, but it will be the same Spartan wrestling team competing, hungry for Jimmy John’s and even more victories.