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Wrestlers make crucial investments for the future

By Andrew Fulford
On February 11, 2012

The Norwich Wrestling team may not have recorded a win this season but it is gaining valuable experience and improving every week, according to the head coach and the team's wrestlers.

"Baptism by fire," is how head coach John Hartupee describes the 2011-2012 campaign so far.

With only five juniors and seniors on the roster, many underclassmen have been thrown right into matches against more experienced seniors and juniors on other teams.

"A lot of programs are more established. It's hard for freshmen to come in and make the team right away," said Hartupee.

One of the five upperclassmen, Pat McGrath, acknowledged that the unusually large number of underclassmen on the roster is a result of the program's uncertainty.

"A big part of it is we had a gap in recruiting because the program got cancelled for a short time," said McGrath, 21, a junior biology major from Marshfield, Mass.

The lack of upperclassmen has put more pressure on the underclassmen to perform on the game stage right away, a situation the coach said he thinks will only benefit his young team.

"It's tough to come in and compete right away. It's starting at the basement and trying to work up the ladder," Hartupee said. "You get the experience and toughness builds in you. That's what I focus on with our team."

Despite the young roster, the team has been competing against a high level of competition in the past few weeks. That is something they weren't doing at the beginning of the season.

Sophomore heavyweight Anthony Joyce said he would rather face the best in the league and not build up "false hope" beating lesser competition.

"We go out and get whopped sometimes, but we get good experience against quality opponents," said Joyce, 19, a criminal justice major from Lincoln, R.I.

Joyce's coach agreed with his mind-set and said that just looking at the wins and losses can be misleading when it comes to how his team is performing.

"We've had matches, you look at the score and you're disappointed if you just focus on the (wins and losses). Every time we step on the mat I tell them they are learning something new whether they realize it or not," Hartupee said.

To help the underclassmen get up to speed, the older athletes on the team help them any chance they get.

"You can see the improvement with underclassmen. As a junior, if we are drilling the young kids at practice, they aren't doing something right, I'll stop and help them with their techniques," said Josh Kernan, 20, a junior history major from Waterbury, Vt.

"The other older guys are on the same page," he said of the four other upperclassmen.

Hartupee tells his older wrestlers that they are being looked up to all the time, whether they are aware of it or not.

"The thing I tell those guys is they don't realize it but the young kids are always looking at you. They have done a great job of being leaders," Hartupee said.

McGrath sets the example by showing up and working hard in practice to show the younger kids how to handle themselves and doesn't consider it as any added pressure to being a leader.

"I wouldn't say pressure, I consider it more naturally," said McGrath. "When you're an upperclassman you try and set the pace at practice and always push the younger guys."

According to Kernan, the young kids are motivated and he can see that they are working hard to improve.

"You see the improvement because they set personal goals and you see them working hard to reach those goals," Kernan said. "It's good to see them improve in matches and practice."

While they have been working hard at practice their coach says that there are two areas where they primarily need to improve.

"We need to be able to get off from the bottom position," said Hartupee.

"We have to go back as a team and refocus on being able to get off the bottom. It's such a tough deal if you let a guy stay on top of you for a minute or two in a match," he said.

Hartupee explains that you need to have energy to score at the end of a match. That final part of the match is what he refers to as the "red zone."

"Any big match that I've been in during my career, it comes down to both of you guys are dead tired and one of the two are going to suck it up to win the match," Hartupee said. "We call that area the red zone."

Practices have focused on working in the red zone and will be beneficial.

"We have been working hard in the weight room and been getting it done with long practices," said McGrath.

Instead of shying away from that situation, Hartupee wants his team to welcome it so they can be successful when the situation arises.

"We like to tell these guys to learn to embrace that and learn to get in that position every day in practice. The more you go there, the better you end up dealing with it," said Hartupee.

It is a motto that the team has bought into as a way to improve.

"Week to week, every time we step on the mat we get a little bit better," said Joyce.

Evidence of improvement is shown in the two wins posted by freshmen in their meet versus Springfield College two weeks ago.

Nick Smith and Cody Gladstone both posted wins at 157 pounds and 165 pounds respectively. Hartupee praised both of his freshmen for being able to come away with wins against such tough competition.

"For freshmen to step up and have confidence and courage to battle Springfield and come away with a win – it says a lot for these guys," he said.

The biggest enemy that his team faces is fatigue, according to the coach. He has been telling his team that good wrestlers find a way to overcome fatigue to win the close matches.

"Fatigue will make a quitter out of anybody. If you're fatigued and not used to operating fatigued, it'll make you quit," said Hartupee. He admitted that it's "human nature" to back away from the red zone but as time goes by his team is getting more accustomed to performing in that situation.

"We are definitely getting better each week. When we compete I can see the guys operating a little better in that red zone," he said.

With the experience this young team is gaining each week, Joyce said that it will only build the program for the future.

"One hundred percent, this team will be a great team by the next two years and beyond that," Joyce said. "We have these young guys getting this experience which they wouldn't normally get."

Hartupee echoed those comments and said that the underclassmen have had their moments where they have stepped up and become leaders in their own way.

"The leadership seems like it changes sometimes and with the good teams that's what you got to have," Hartupee said. "It's not always the same guys stepping up, it's a new guy each day and I've been happy to see our team having different guys step up."

Joyce is a prime example of what the future has in store for the program. The sophomore heavyweight knows that he can look back on his first two years as a valuable lesson for the future.

"I'm only a sophomore and I already have two years of experience," said Joyce. "I've improved a lot since I got into the program."

Joyce cites that learning on the job as the source for his improvement.

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