Wrestling looks to raise bar for upcoming season

The graduation of seven senior starters would be detrimental to any collegiate wrestling team, but the coaching staff does not believe that is the case for the Norwich University squad.
“Our upperclassmen have grown into the roll they should be,” said Head Coach Alex Whitney, NU ’08. They have big shoes to fill, but the team is not one-dimensional. With names like Will Burns, Steve Maldonado, Alex Stewart, Nick Smith and Cody Gladstone the team looks balanced and strong.

The upperclassmen are not the only wrestlers to watch out for. “We have a solid group of freshmen,” said Whitney, who takes a lot of pride in his recruiting and having wrestlers that not only work hard, but are also a good fit for the school.
The team does not hit the mat till November 7, at the Ithaca Invitational Tournament, where the team looks to bring home some gold.
Nothing ever comes easy, so the team has been having captain practices since the second week of school. And if you see a mob of men running towards you, don’t be scared, it’s just the wrestling team going for one of their many runs around Northfield.
The team has been on the rise after almost completely being cut as a program in 2008. Coach Whitney is building “a higher caliber team,” said Alex Stewart, 21, a senior psychology major from Ellicott City, Md., who wrestles at the 133 pound weight class. After finishing twelfth in Northeast Region last year, the team looks to pass that and reach the top five this year.
Stewart, one of the team captains said, “We have a lot of explosiveness pent up right now.” “Once we get into competition we will have a lot of break-outs,” Stewart added. With a deep line up of motivated wrestlers, Stewart’s prediction should not be far off.
Wrestling is a team sport and an individual sport at the same time; only one person from the team will be on the mat at once. A wrestler may not be able to pass the ball to a teammate to get rid of pressure, but a wrestler looks to his teammates for motivation and the boost to overcome that pressure.
This unique sport forces a person to dig deep, to find a way to win. This takes a physical and mental toll on an athlete. When a wrestler has nothing left to give his teammates are right beside him to pick him up.
“They are my teammates, best friends and family,” said 20-year-old David Rogers, a mechanical engineering major and sophomore from Marlboro, Mass., who wrestles at the 165 pound weight class. The team does not see each other as teammates, but as family, Rogers said. The highs and lows are shared, and this turns boys into men and teammates into brothers.
The team trains together, does homework together, eats together and spends their free time together. This safe-guarded family is, “welcoming to freshmen,” said Rogers. But do not think this is just handed to freshmen, stripes must be earned.
It is odd have such a sense of team unity in a sport that is mainly individual. Wrestling is a sport based on self-drive, with only one person to blame for a loss. This forces wrestlers to look within themselves to make changes, realize flaws and correct them.
Coach Whitney has the team write out goals for the week, the season, and academics every Monday before practice begins. Having something to work towards gives a wrestler that motivation to give it all in practice, which translates into winning the close matches.
Every wrestler has goals they look to accomplish in there four years. “I want to be a national champion, leave my mark on Norwich,” said 21-year-old Will Burns, a senior business management major from Mascoutah, Ill., who wrestles at 165 pounds. Burns, a key member of the team, placed fourth in the Northeast Regionals last season (the top three go to nationals). With his goals almost close enough to grasp, Burns is hungrier than ever.

Norwich wrestler William Burns (Left) sizes up an opponent.

Norwich wrestler William Burns (Left) sizes up an opponent.

The team starts pre-season workouts in September and the season does not end till March. Having a season almost spanning the entire school year makes it difficult to not to get injured, and to balance schoolwork.
The team placed third on NWCA (National Wrestling Coaches Association) scholar All-American Squad, three academic All-Americans last season; senior captain Steven Maldonado is the only one returning. The team also had 15 wrestlers make the Dean’s list last season, according to the Norwich Athletics website.
Norwich wrestlers do not seem to have a problem with grades, making the primary issue staying healthy and injury free. It’s not possible, according to Alex Kwmuntis, 21, a senior environmental science and green design major from Peabody, Mass., weighing in at 157. “The long season takes a toll on everyone’s body,” Kwmunits said. He tries to stay positive to fight through injuries and meet his goals.
A hard-working team, academically solid and on their way to making a big statement in the wrestling community, seems to have next to no support from the student body. Home matches come nowhere near to filling Andrews Hall.
Hockey, basketball, rugby and football seem to get all the attention, even by the school. On the Norwich Cadets Instagram (@norwichcadets), only three posts out of 433 are dedicated to the wrestling team.
So the team is making it a point to get the word out about themselves, and to get the students excited about the big things to come. Coach Whitney has set up a Facebook page and a newsletter to help spread awareness. The team uses word of mouth and plans to put up posters to get students to come out to matches. “This University should not sleep on this team, the waves we are about to make will be hard to ignore,” Rogers said.

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