This edition of The Williams Word is an important one, as it marks the conclusion of Williams Baptist College Greco-Roman’s first full season. If you’ve been following along the past two years, you are likely well aware of what a ride it has been. Founded by former US National Team member Kerry Regner, who at the time was the head coach of WBC’s NAIA folkstyle team, the Greco program sought to gain traction once Jonathan Drendel was officially given the job. From then on, it was a matter of recruiting, moving over several folkstylers from Williams’ collegiate team, and of course, formulating a competitive curriculum.
Williams Baptist had its bright spots over the course of its inaugural campaign with Duncan Nelson (67 kg) and Sean Sesnan (55 kg) earning the school’s first-ever Senior medals, which took place at the Bill Farrell Memorial in late-March. Other up-and-coming athletes, like Chris Anderson (67 kg), Ryan Whittle (77 kg), Devon Amburgy (97 kg), and heavyweight Conor Karwath, displayed encouraging evidence that they possess the legitimate ability and drive necessary to compete at the elite level. And while no WBC athlete contended for a World Team spot, both Sesnan and Anderson competed at the Senior Trials two weeks ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As for Nelson, he serves as a poignant topic for this discussion. Just as he was beginning to come on strong, a severe knee injury forced him to the sidelines. The conversation then moves to Sesnan, who was able to garner one of his biggest wins to date in Tulsa. Drendel also explains how he approaches training for competition along with his plans to make sure the squad is ready to capitalize on the momentum they built up throughout the year and carry it over to the 2018-19 season.
5PM: One of your most promising athletes this year was Duncan Nelson, who performed well pretty much everywhere he went. What kept him out of competing at the Trials?
Coach Jonathan Drendel: What people don’t know is that he was wrestling all year with a torn ACL. He blew out his knee maybe a month into practice and he had been wrestling on it ever since. It hindered his training but it didn’t slow him down. He fought through it, he trained extremely hard, and did the extra work he needed to do. But about a week before the Trials, he blew out his MCL. Both sides were gone. We sat down and talked and made the decision that it was time to get the surgery.
I’d be foolish to say he couldn’t have competed on it anyway. He is that tough of a young man. But I think in the long run it was better to get it taken care of. He’s young and we’ll be able to get him back in time for the season next year. Duncan has been healing up extremely well, his recovery time is excellent. This is part of wrestling, guys get surgery. I have no doubt he is going to come back like a wrecking ball next year.
5PM: Sesnan caught Sam Hazewinkel first round at the Senior Trials and that match certainly didn’t go his way. But he recovered and in his next bout, he scored a huge win against Open semifinalist Jabari Moody, who had defeated him in Akron. What did you see in Sesnan during that match and what kind of difference will that make for him going forward?
JD: I think the biggest thing I saw in Sean, and this isn’t even in the match, just post-US Nationals, is that his confidence is really starting to take hold. He spent all year being the smallest guy in the room, getting bullied around because he is wrestling guys who are 20, 30 pounds than him. Now that he’s wrestling against people his size he’s realizing, Not only can I compete with these guys, I can beat these guys. Even before he stepped onto the mat (against Moody), he said, “I’m going to win this match.” He was very confident in his abilities, in what he could do, and his training. Even when he was losing, he was well-composed, very well-composed. He knew what he had to do, he knew how he had to do it, he was just looking for the opportunity. And when it was there, he struck.
These are techniques we’ve been working on all year, they are very specific to his wrestling style, and it paid off. He took notes in practice, he trained hard, and when the time came, he did it. So I was very proud of the way he wrestled and the way he came back in that match.
5PM: You just alluded to techniques being specific to him. Is that part of the protocol? Do you isolate athletes to the point where you individualize techniques for certain guys based on their style or their weight class?
JD: Absolutely, you have to at this level. We don’t have a pre-packaged deal that I send out to each wrestler. In any aspect of wrestling, obviously, there are certain techniques and positions guys have to know. But — there are certain items that are more specific to a guy’s wrestling style. Sean, just like anyone else, has a specific wrestling style. He’s short, stocky, very strong and has powerful hips, and we train him in that atmosphere. I think a coach has to be able to recognize what his athlete’s strengths are both physically and technically, and be able to exploit those to the best of their ability. Guys are going to have more fun that way, wrestling the way they were designed to wrestle. They are also going to be more successful that way.
5PM: There was a big gap in competition this season, as we covered multiple times with you. And then the Trials tournaments were all bang, bang, bang. How did you coordinate your training plan to accommodate that compressed schedule?
JD: It was a pretty big adjustment. For people who aren’t really familiar with how most international programs function, typically we’ll have double practices Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with a Wednesday morning practice. Friday is usually our “Singlet Friday”, our competitive day. It’s a typical structure for a lot of programs with some minor adjustments. But with the way the competitions were loaded up I adjusted that quite a bit to allow for more competitiveness in the room. Live go’s can be competitive, but there is nothing like having to strap on a singlet and compete with a ref standing there, the entire team watching, and knowing that the score is being kept. We really amped that up, so much so that we would compete one day and then two days later I would make them compete again.
In some ways, those practices are more relaxing because you get your two or three matches in, you’re sprinting, and you’re good to go. But in another way, it can be stressful. You have to wrestle a teammate who knows how you compete, how you wrestle, how you’re going to function. So it can be difficult in that way, it can be frustrating. But that’s what I wanted. I wanted them to get used to that frustration of having to take a loss and to go back out and wrestle again, to compete against a guy you lost to and figure out how to beat him. I think for some guys, that paid off very well.
5PM: You also managed to get a few new commits. On the podcast, we talked about recruiting. When it comes to bringing new people into this group, what is the one thing you want them to know before they start practicing with the team? In other words, what can new recruits expect?
Coach Jonathan Drendel: One of the things I make very clear right off the bat is that You have to do more than you think you have to do. We all have these expectations when we’re stepping up to the next level, and we’ve experienced what we’ve experienced. That’s how we judge and gauge things in the future. Some of these guys have had a lot of success at the younger level, some of them have not, and some have the potential to. But it is really determined by what they are willing to put themselves through. If they are willing to step up and do the difficult things they’ve never done before, if they are willing to take hold of not just their wrestling but their lives and do what it takes to be successful, they are going to prosper. But if they are not willing to do that, they are going to struggle through the season. They are going to have a hard time prospering.
They are training harder and more often than anyone else on campus. Not only that, they have to maintain grades, proper behavior, and there is a microscope on you. If you’re willing to do those things, you are going to have success. You have to be willing to deny yourself and sacrifice for your dreams. The guys who get that are going to succeed; the guys who don’t are going to struggle. I think for the most part, guys eventually figure that out or they find the door.
5PM: How does leadership structure work in your room? Do you have captains and that kind of thing?
JD: No, we do not have captains. Leaders will surface. The nature of our sport is that it is individualized, but at the same time, you are so in need of a team atmosphere. Wrestling is an individual sport — but if your partners are not doing the right things, it is going to hurt you. Getting guys to understand that if you are doing the right things it is going to make the room better. Your partner doing the right things is going to make you better. When really taking on that philosophy, leaders rise pretty quickly because they understand it’s mutually beneficial. There are certain times when you have to be selfish, you have to take care of yourself. But at the same time, taking care of yourself helps everyone else out, and understanding that, If I lead, even selfishly sometimes, it will pick everyone else up and it will pick myself up, as well.
5PM: Now you’ve had a full campaign and this is your program’s first legitimate offseason in its history. What kind of training plans are in place through the summer leading up to when school comes back in August?
Coach Jonathan Drendel: Honestly, I want my guys to enjoy themselves during the summer. This was a stressful year, a very stressful year. But I do want them keep training — stay on the weights, get in their local rooms and roll around — but to just take the stress out of it. That’s really the big focus for these guys. If they come back out of shape, there are going to be issues on my end and theirs. They are going to struggle.
I’ve sent some guys training plans that are more individualized than we have throughout the year. Really, I want them to remember to enjoy wrestling, enjoy competing, enjoy working out, and to just enjoy that you are being able to chase your dreams. To realize that you are trying to make an Olympic Team, and that is a really cool thing to be doing.