Austin Gomez in the 2022 Big Ten Semifinals (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
It's officially preseason for NCAA Wrestling. It's time to really start reflecting on what's to come. Storylines, potential matchups, events, and all of the spectacle and fanfare that come with a college wrestling season. That being said, I'm here to do my job, which is to highlight some of those things and get you excited about what's to come. I aim for this to help you prepare your mind and body for what will undoubtedly be an excellent season of college wrestling. Similar in some ways to what it must have been like for Louden Swain to prepare for the biggest match of his life. This is why I'm going to use quotes from the 1985 movie Vision Quest to remind us of some of the exciting things we have to look forward to this season. Being that I'm a Big Ten Correspondent, this will focus on the Big Ten primarily. So let's get it started, and let's get it started in the best way possible, with the quote that opens the movie.
"My name's Louden, Louden Swain. Last week I turned 18. I wasn't ready for it. I haven't done anything yet. So I made this deal with myself. This is the year I make my mark." - Louden Swain
The whole premise of the movie is basically laid out here. A young man who feels he hasn't made his mark, and makes the drastic decision to cut 20 or so pounds to make 168 and wrestle Brian Shute. For those who don't know, he's generally understood as less of a man and more of a god, and wrestling him might as well be a death sentence. That didn't bother Louden. He set his sights on a goal and went for it. The other piece which is important here is that he saw it as his last chance. This was his senior year, and now he was legally a man, but didn't feel like one. It was now or never. I imagine that same feeling resonates with many of the Seniors who haven't yet become All-Americans. This is not an attempt to disparage the tremendous careers of some excellent wrestlers, but simply to point out that despite a lot of success, they haven't reached the podium. We all have some of our favorite wrestlers who always got close, but seemed to fall just short, and it's heartbreaking every time. For fans, coaches, and athletes for sure. This isn't designed to apply pressure to these athletes, but rather to have them embrace the naive courage of Louden Swain. Here is a list of the guys with one more chance to make their mark:
For the athletes on this list, I hope you make a deal with yourself. This is the year you make your mark. Onto the next quote.
"But all I ever settled for is that we're born to live and then to die, and… we got to do it alone, each in his own way. And I guess that's why we gotta love those people who deserve it like there's no tomorrow. 'Cause when you get right down to it - there isn't." - Louden Swain
This is the end of the movie. Last line that Louden delivers as Steve Perry of Journey passionately sings "Only the Young". It's an iconic shot of him being held up by his team (despite the fact that the dual is clearly not over yet. I can't imagine the team point implications here. Not good for Thompson High. Act like you've been there before.)
This goes to another batch of Seniors. Some of the ones who, looking back, we are going to feel so lucky that we got to watch. Spencer Lee is coming back after his series of knee issues, and you know he's going to wrestle like there's no tomorrow. Roman Bravo Young, this is his last ride. There are Gable Steveson rumors that he'll be back, which until recently I thought were erroneous… Now I think it's more likely than not that he will return for one last ride. Max Dean going to match his brother for NCAA Championships, Mason Parris with one final shot to win an NCAA title. The Big Ten is full of guys who deserve it like there's no tomorrow. And for them, there is no tomorrow. These are the guys I'm ready to cheer for one last time in their college singlets. Alright Vision Quest, what do we have next?
"I got a bulletin for you, Otto: wrestling is not a team sport! When you're out there on the mat with another guy who's quicker and faster than you, there's not a whole helluva' lot a team can do for you." - Louden Swain
Philosophically, I disagree with this in many ways. However, I'm being dishonest if I don't agree that in the literal sense, it's accurate. Regardless, this is a way for me to focus on some of the individual contributors on some Big Ten teams that likely won't be battling for a trophy in March, but nonetheless, you should watch for some of their standouts.
Maryland has Jaxon Smith at 197, who took fifth at U23s this summer. He's been a focus of mine, so this shouldn't come as a shock, but also look for Ethen Miller at 141 to jump into the fold right away, as well as Braxton Brown at 125.
Indiana has Cayden and Graham Rooks at 141 and 149, both of whom have been solid contributors for them.
The Hoosiers also have Derek Gilcher at 157 and Donnell Washington at 184. Washington at one point got a win over Carter Starocci when they were freshmen at 174, and at times last year looked like an All-American contender.
I think that Purdue is going to be a top half of the Big Ten team next year, but I also feel like they need more recognition for some of their studs. They lose Schroder at 125, but Matt Ramos will be going down to 125, and has looked good at that weight. We also get Kendall Coleman with another year of recovering from a tough knee injury. Remember, he didn't get back on the mat until just before last season started. You've also got Stoney Buell expected to jump into the lineup for them, a big recruit out of Dundee High School in Michigan, who could have a big impact.
Another team worth mentioning here is Northwestern. They actually don't really fit the quote, since as a team last year they qualified all 10 wrestlers to the tournament, so literally, their whole team was there to train with and cheer for each other. Regardless, this is a team that had 4 All-Americans, three of them returning, and a National Champion (not returning), and yet I don't feel there's a lot of talk about them.
So that's what I'm doing here. Talking about them. Although now we are talking about teams that qualified all of their wrestlers a year ago and had a National Champion. This quote got out of hand. Let's bring it back to something fun.
"Hey, Carla? I'd do it again" - Louden Swain
"So would I" - Carla
If you don't know what this quote is referring to, then I'm surprised you've made it this far in the article. Also, stop reading it and watch Vision Quest immediately, then come back and finish reading… (for those who this applies to) Welcome back! Okay, this is Austin Gomez, right? Can you think of a more fun guy to watch wrestle that for a moment we didn't think we'd get to watch wrestle again? He was so dynamic at Iowa State, and was as dangerous as they get. A blue-chip recruit who seemed more comfortable throwing (literally and figuratively) caution to the wind to win. Scared money don't make money right? He transfers to Wisconsin, bumps up two weights, and wins the Big Ten title by beating an NCAA finalist in the process. It wasn't the easiest path, and there were some difficulties along the way, but I like to think he'd do it again. Oh wait, he will. One last ride for Austin Gomez, and I've got my popcorn ready. What's next?
"Big guys aren't better. 168 happens to be the toughest division in the state - maybe in the whole god d*** world." - Louden Swain
This isn't 100% accurate. He's 3 pounds off. Do you realize that 165 this year will have 3 NCAA Champs, an NCAA finalist, and several returning All-Americans? Not to mention both David Carr and Keegan O'Toole had won U20 World Titles as well. This weight is so deep that you had Patrick Kennedy and Alex Facundo ranked 17th and 24th to start the year. As far as the Big Ten is concerned, we'll get Cam Amine (Michigan), Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin), Carson Kharchla (Ohio State), Bubba Wilson (Nebraska), Patrick Kennedy (Iowa), Alex Facundo (Penn State), and Andrew Sparks (Minnesota) currently ranked by us here at Intermat, so we'll have that to look forward to, which is nice.
"I was in the room here one day... watchin' the Mexican channel on TV. I don't know nothin' about Pele. I'm watchin' what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in - upside down and backwards... the god***** goalie never knew what the f*** hit him. Pele gets excited and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around his head. Everybody's screaming in Spanish. I'm here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying.
[pause] That's right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute... let me tell ya, kid - it was pretty god***** glorious. It ain't the six minutes... it's what happens in that six minutes." - Elmo
This is the quote everyone knows. This is the one that really, perfectly, puts everything into perspective. It reminds everyone why what we are about to see is important. Keep in mind, when Elmo says this to Louden, he hasn't wrestled the match yet. He hasn't even made weight yet! This is an impromptu speech by a hotel cook. And d*** does it hit. My Big Ten equivalence won't match this speech, but not much can. I just think of the several rounds of 6 minutes that we'll get to begin the Big Ten season with at the MSU Open, and finish the Big Ten season with at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor. It's going to be a tremendous season, clearly with a lot to look forward to. Just let it soak in for a moment. With every six-minute match (7 minutes, I guess, but let's not miss the point here) in these tournaments, we'll get to see to pretty god***** glorious things happen.
"I'm speechless. You've broken new ground here, Louden! This is professional stuff! We're gonna' draaaggg this dinky school paper right into the twentieth century! I mean, where do you get your ideas?" - Margie Epstein
This encapsulates Earl Smith's reaction to editing this piece before it was published. Onto the next one.
"I don't know. Nobody likes to think about it (death). I don't like to think about it. But if you don't, you might go through life thinking you've got plenty of time. You put off the really important stuff until later, and pretty soon, before you know it, there's no more time left, you've blown it." - Louden Swain
I never realized how much this movie focuses on life and death. Up until looking for quotes from the movie for this assignment, I thought this movie was about wrestling and a weird kid with impeccable balance. Turns out it's about something much more than the face-value content offered. Anyway, I'm choosing to connect this with a team that is full of dudes who have made the most of every minute of their time. A team that won't have to look back on their life at the end and wish that they had done more with their time. Penn State. Regardless of your allegiances, it's impossible to reasonably look at what Cael and company have done and not be completely amazed.
I am a Detroit Pistons fan, and as such developed healthy hatreds for the San Antonio Spurs, as well as LeBron James. Looking back, I spent a long time hating some pretty amazing teams and players over the last 20 years of the NBA, and I kind of wish I had appreciated it more in the moment. I didn't, and I can't have that time back. I blew it. Don't do that with these teams. Appreciate them for what they are. Historically great.
This year's team brings back three guys going for their third National Title (RBY, Starocci, and Brooks), a dude going for his second National Title (Max Dean), and Kerkvliet starting the year ranked second at Heavyweight. Beau Bartlett dropping to 141, and Alex Facundo stepping into their lineup at 165. They won the NCAA title last year, and still return 5 AA's, and 8 NCAA Qualifiers. This team has been so good that it would be a shame if you didn't take a moment to appreciate what they've been able to do in the past, and what they aim to do this season. Don't put off appreciating them before there's no more time left and you've blown it.
I hope this lights your pilot light for the upcoming NCAA wrestling season. Rock on!
The 2022 NCAA Champion Penn State Nittany Lions (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)