After successful first year, wrestling club seeks to build
Over the last dozen years or so many colleges have cut their varsity wrestling programs, including Oregon in 2007 and Cleveland State starting next year.
Despite the varsity programs across the nation shrinking, this doesn’t mean the sport isn’t as popular as ever. At the NCAA Wrestling Championships in St. Louis a few weeks ago, more than 16,000 fans packed the Scottrade Center to watch the finest collegiate wrestlers in the country fight for the chance to be called champion.
Even with dwindling school funded programs, many universities offer wrestling as a club sport and the University of Idaho is one of them.
The UI wrestling club finished its first full season competing in the Division II Northwest Conference of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association a few weeks ago. The Vandals competed against teams from all over the region in the NCWA including the 2015 national champion Washington State Cougars.
In total, three of the teams in the Northwest region finished in the top 10 at the national tournament, including Montana-Western. MWU also has the distinction of having the first national champion from the region — an Idaho native named Ruger Piva at 165 pounds.
Most aspects of the NCWA are the same as the NCAA, but there are a few differences. The addition of a 235-pound weight class is one. In NCAA wrestling, the weight classes jump from 197 pounds to 285 pounds.
There is also no weight certification process. In wrestling at the collegiate and high school level, wrestlers are required to be certified by a doctor at their chosen weight class. They must accumulate a certain number of weigh-ins at a specific weight to be eligible to wrestle there during the postseason.
Also, while the club competes at a high level and against varsity programs like Boise State and Oregon State, the team doesn’t turn any prospective wrestler away.
“We don’t discriminate,” Idaho coach Stewart Roberts said. “Not everybody went to a school with wrestling or we have guys who wrestled in middle school but didn’t wrestle in high school — a lot of politics. At bigger schools you have try outs, stuff like that.”
The team is forced to work their schedule around classes and other clubs that use the Memorial Gym basement as well as the schedule of the wrestlers.
Luckily, Roberts has a number of wrestlers who are committed and dedicated and can help out when he can’t be there. Among those is junior Hayden Garfield, the team president and captain.
Garfield makes sure the team stretches and warms up and he also makes sure the practices stay intense but fun, he said.
Garfield wrestled from seventh grade all the way through high school and despite having played other sports growing up, he said wrestling has always been the most demanding.
“Wrestling is, in a lot of other ways, a lot more difficult,” Garfield said. “Not only do you have to worry about being faster, stronger, just like any other sport, you also gotta manage your weight and the mental game.”
Garfield said when you wrestle you don’t have anyone else to rely on. If you mess up it is all on you, but this makes the success sweeter.
While Garfield said he sees other teams practicing early in the morning, he never sees them practicing late at night like the wrestling team is forced to at times.
The Vandals fielded a small team this year, but through word of mouth and networking they are looking to improve on a season that saw one wrestler, junior James Hegge, qualify for the national tournament at 133 pounds.
Along with Hegge, the team had five other wrestlers place at the conference tournament.
“There is a national champion seven miles away,” Roberts said. “Our goal is to beat Wazzu and Montana-Western next year. We have people wanting to come here to win national titles. If we get the guys, there is no reason why we can’t.”
Joshua Gamez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org