Sooner or later, this was all going to stop being a hypothetical.
Ever since word came down last year that Williams Baptist College would be putting together its own Greco-Roman program, the prevailing question most had went something like, So when are they going to actually wrestle? We now have an answer.
Williams Baptist Greco-Roman head coach Jonathan Drendel confirmed earlier this week that his fresh squad of athletes will be making its debut at the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial, set for November 1st and 2nd at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. It’s a situation that has been forced to come together quickly. The program was announced in the fall of 2016; then Drendel and former WBC folkstyle coach Kerry Regner (who is credited with the team’s conception) were forced to try to rush in recruits. Now that the wrestling room is populated with a bunch of Greco upstarts, Drendel has had to bring everybody up to speed as fast as possible.
“We’ve had to cover a lot of technique, a lot of foundations, a lot of style sort of stuff, and work with the guys so they can kind of find their groove,” says Drendel. “A lot of these athletes are very experienced in wrestling, but maybe don’t have the same type of experience in Greco. Really, it’s just been throwing them to the wolves, throwing everything I have at them and training really, really hard. The guys have been very receptive to it. They have been really focused. They’re excited. It’s a different thing to them. These are new waters they’ve never been in before, but they’re taking it very well.”
The Senior level of Greco-Roman does not include a novice division. Match-ups are not predicated upon the amount of experience two wrestlers possess and a tournament like the Dave Schultz Memorial International is virtually guaranteed to pit a WBC athlete or two against seasoned, credentialed foreign opposition. Such is life and it’s something Drendel is quick to recognize. But there is no other choice available. The way the coach figures it, his charges need to get out there so they can understand the road ahead for their development.
“Schultz is our test, but it is really more of a measuring stick to show these guys what the level of competition is and what we’re chasing down,” explains Drendel. “If there is one thing these guys do well, it is that they train hard. The technique, the moves, that stuff will come. The big thing is that they want to train hard, they want to do well, and they want to compete.”
Training is the one aspect to all of this Drendel is most encouraged by. He mentions it often. Since all of his wrestlers are already experienced in folkstyle, preparation has been centered mainly around injecting a more physical feel and promoting the idea that winning the grinding exchanges on the feet stand as the first steps towards progress. That makes sense. A former National-level competitor himself, Drendel knows better than most that while technique is important, Greco demands its participants be ready for all of the intense mini-battles that have a habit of determining when and where the action happens.
“The focus for us right now is just being tough,” Drendel confirms. “Controlling the hand-fights, controlling the positions, and learning to move our opponents and establish control. Just soaking up the nature of Greco. Greco is two guys basically fighting. It’s two guys up close in a fight. That has been our largest focus, getting in there and getting in a fight. Figuring out how to win that hand-fight and how to score once we’re there.”
Although the first question has now been answered and Williams Baptist Greco-Roman has its official competitive start date, the second query is a natural one: what happens next? The Senior domestic schedule in the US will be seeing a few changes this year with most of the events coming in the first half of 2018. The Dave Schultz Memorial and Bill Farrell/NYAC Open have essentially been switched, and the US Open has been moved to the spring. Everything else, be it the Junior World Team Trials or the University Nationals, arrive a little later. That would seem to leave space available for Williams Baptist wrestlers to get some experience in overseas. However, Drendel worries that doing so could have a detrimental effect so early in the game for his wrestlers. He’s willing to consider the prospect of putting an athlete or two on a flight across the Atlantic, but only on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re going to stick to domestic events this year,” Drendel says. “There are a few key guys who I will encourage to seek out a tour, seek out some international tournaments to go to. But some of these guys aren’t ready to go overseas, wrestle a match, and then travel home. That’s a lot of money pouring into a lot of pressure for a guy just starting out in Greco. We’re trying to build our wrestlers for long careers, so we don’t want to burn them out in their first season of Greco. We don’t want them to lose fuel and fizzle out. Because it is a long, hard career in Greco-Roman wrestling and jumping into too much too soon, I think, is counterintuitive.”
First on Drendel’s agenda is sending a message. United States Greco-Roman wrestling has long needed another developmental program for collegians, which in turn, has rightfully put a whole lot of eyeballs on Williams Baptist College’s entrance into the fold. Progress inside the practice room is nice, but fans and coaches on the outside only see the event results. Because of this, Drendel senses the curiosity surrounding his team and also, the skepticism he doesn’t know is there but assumes might as well be. It’s all part of the job and he’s comfortable with whatever the expectations are — for now. That’s why for the time being, Drendel is trying to keep it simple.
“My goal, which is a very hard one to measure, is establishing a name for ourselves,” he says. “I think a lot of the country is looking at us wondering if this (the program) is a real thing, if this is reliable, if this is going to work, and I want to show them that this is going to work. I want to show them that we’re moving in the right direction and that not only can this be done, but that it can be done well.”
Williams Baptist Roster — 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial International
*Weights for wrestlers are tentative
Chris Allen — MO
Sean Sesnan — TN
Chris Anderson — TX (formerly of Northern Michigan)
Angel Nava — IL
Patrick Grigsby — MO
David Leyva — CA
Duncan Nelson — IL
Zach Reveir — MN
Cole White — GA
Ryan Whittle — CT
Dawson Johnson — TN
Conor Linehan — MO
David Amburgy — OH
Conor Karwath — LA