When it comes to Wrestling, better to struggle in November than Now
By Rich Radford
From a distance, Old Dominion University’s season in wrestling doesn’t appear too appealing. The Monarchs finished with an 8-10 record in dual meets. Sub-.500 campaigns aren’t what most write home about.
But that’s just surface news. The more in-depth moment comes when it’s realized that the Monarchs are taking six wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament March 20-22 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The excitement in ODU coach Steve Martin’s voice was measurable when talking about his wrestlers’ chances in less than two weeks. There have been times when he has taken under-confident wrestlers to the NCAAs, knowing it was going to be a short trip because that edge wasn’t there.
Not this time. This time, Martin likes his guys’ chances.
“Last year when we went to the NCAAs, I had one guy going out there who had some confidence,” Martin said. “This year, all six have had moments to build upon, reasons to believe they can do something at the NCAAs.”
The Monarchs have never had a Division I national champion in wrestling. Jody Staylor came closest with a runner-up finish in the national tournament in 1994 at 126 pounds. The last Monarch to earn a national title was Terry Perdew who won a Division II title at 118 pounds in 1974.
Martin isn’t nutty enough to predict a national title for any of his guys, but he is keen enough to realize that the Monarchs’ move from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Mid-American Conference helped his squad in the long run.
“We could have gone unbeaten in the CAA this year, but it wouldn’t have prepared us for the NCAAs. Being in the MAC is a real step up.”
The MAC is probably the third-strongest wrestling conference around this season, behind the Big Ten and the Big 12. The MAC turned into a power wrestling conference when Missouri, Northern Iowa and ODU joined what was already a solid lineup led by powerhouses Central Michigan and Kent State.
ODU’s wrestling team was forced to look for a new conference when the school’s athletic program bolted from the CAA to join Conference USA, which doesn’t sponsor wrestling. Likewise, Missouri needed a new home when it moved from the Big 12 to the SEC, which also doesn’t sponsor wrestling. Northern Iowa, meanwhile, made the move from the Western Wrestling Conference to the MAC.
The step up in competition not only came with the new MAC foes but with an aggressive non-conference schedule, one that ODU probably could have handled if 184-pound Jack Dechow would have been healthy all season.
Martin was high on Dechow a year ago when the kid was red-shirting. He promised great things from Dechow once he made it to the mat. But in mid-November this season, Dechow sustained a high ankle sprain on the eve of ODU’s match against national power Iowa State.
“My as well have broken his ankle instead,” Martin said. “A broken ankle would have healed faster.”
The dreaded high ankle sprain is a debilitating injury and it set Dechow to the side of the mat for nearly two months. When he returned, he was out of shape and rusty, but he knocked the rust off in time to capture the MAC title at 184. He beat Northern Iowa All-American Ryan Loder to win the title.
Dechow will be joined by teammates Brandon Jeske (125), Chris Mecate (141), Alexander Richardson (149), Tristan Warner (157), and Billy Curling (174) at the NCAAs.
“Confidence and self-belief go a long way at the NCAAs,” Martin said. “It might be 100 percent of the battle because when you are good enough to get there, your opponent is just another guy wearing a singlet. Our schedule this season was brutal, probably too tough. But that may just pay off.
“Dechow is a freak athlete and to come back from his injury the way he has ... let’s just put it this way: The trainers expected the healing process to take another three weeks. Everyone was shocked that he got back on the mat for the Virginia Duals.”
So ODU heads for the NCAAs next week with expectations it didn’t have a year ago, expectations to make some noise at the national championships.
Don’t be surprised if they do.