Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Joy of Wrestling During Winter Break

We have asked four Centennial Conference students to provide us with some insights on life as a top-flight athlete at an elite institution of higher learning. Over the next two months, you will have to opportunity to hear from Franklin & Marshall's Sarah Meisenberg (basketball), Gettysburg's Matt Shank (wrestling), Haverford's Annick Lamar (track and field), and Swarthmore's Anne Miller (swimming). Today, Shank shines a light on life as a collegiate wrestler during Winter Break ... and the differences between wrestling as an individual and for the team.

The difference between the fall and spring semester for a Centennial Conference wrestler at Gettysburg College is like night and day. The fall semester consists of four tournaments where individual achievement is all that really matters. You can, of course, look for the pin and get that extra half point for your team, but no one really worries about that. The main objective is to win at all costs, no matter by what margin, just win. But all that logic goes right out the window with the coming of the New Year.

You’re back on a nearly empty campus, for example this year it was New Year's Eve. You see the occasional basketball player, the kind of person who typically towers above the average wrestler (in height only), but other than that you’re alone with your team. And that is the reason you’ve left your family and friends at home to come back to a steamy wrestling room and a diet of boneless, skinless chicken and tasteless vegetables. You’ve returned to commence the dual meet season along with your teammates. If it weren’t for your teammates, you think it would be highly unlikely that you would have returned at all, let alone 17 days early with nothing but two-a-day practices in sight.

Now you begin to work off those unwanted pounds that inevitably accumulate during the holidays. It's most likely not that much fun, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking of the matches that will come down to you, if your 133-pounder can beat his rival, and the Conference tournament that always so unmercifully decides whether or not you get to go to nationals again this year.

Now you’ve been back for six days, or 12 practice sessions, depending on how you choose to keep track of time. You’ve finally made weight and although it wasn’t easy and your body tells you that, you’re satisfied and it's time to get to work. After your coach’s pre-match speech, the coin flip, and national anthem, it begins. Ten matches where each wrestler on your team attempts to not only win, but win big. Your 157-pounder is up by seven in the 3rd period, but only wins by two after he tried an ill-advised throw with 30 seconds left. But you clap and congratulate him because even though he gave up a five-point move as time expired, he was trying to get the bonus point for a major decision in an unquestionably selfless act. Now the match is over, and although you performed well, your team lost and that leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Nothing you can do about that now though, so you focus on your next match two days from now. After a small but satisfying meal you’re back at the gym wearing layers of clothes, nothing on your mind but the ice cold Gatorade at 11 a.m. promised you in a day and a half, and the noon start time of yet another match where this time you’re certain, with a little luck and a couple of lineup tweaks, you and your team will emerge victorious.

Shank is a senior from Reedsville, Pa., and a graduate of Indian Valley HS. He is the reigning Centennial Conference champion at 149 and recently became just the second Gettysburg grappler to win 100 bouts in a career.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo, brilliant idea and is duly