The importance of a program’s inaugural season cannot be overstated and with Williams Baptist College’s Greco-Roman team just getting off the ground, support is necessary. Such is the reasoning behind The Williams Word, our new monthly check-in with WBC head coach Jonathan Drendel. As with our popular reports featuring US National Team head coach Matt Lindland, topics for Drendel will be geared towards event results, upcoming competitions, training plans, and other Greco-related happenings relevant to WBC. And of course, fans, coaches, and athletes are welcome to submit questions for future editions of The Williams Word by reaching out to us via email, Twitter, and Facebook.
Last weekend saw the WBC Greco-Roman squad make its debut at the Midland Greco Exhibition Series in Fremont, Nebraska. The event did not officially track results, but that is immaterial. Athletes competed and there were objectives Drendel had in mind, not the least of which was effort. The coach also speaks about the format of the Midland Series and how it could serve as a learning experience for future competitions as well as what Williams Baptist’s plan is for the remainder of 2017 and beyond.
5PM: Going into last weekend, the word “exhibition” was used a lot and perhaps that is appropriate, but the event did serve as the launch for the WBC program. Was the Midland Series the best possible starting point for your guys, especially for some of your more inexperienced wrestlers, given the lack of other events coming down the pike the rest of the year?
Jonathan Drendel: Yeah, I think so. Obviously, these were exhibition matches, but at the same time, there was the feel of competition and it was a chance for these guys to get their feet wet and test out what they’ve been practicing, what they’ve been using, and they have all been hungry to get on the mat. Having that opportunity, regardless of if it was a World Championships or exhibition match, they were excited. They needed to get out on the mat, get their feet wet, and get some experience. It didn’t matter what kind of competition this was, they were facing it like it was a big deal, so it was a big deal to them.
5PM: You said “test out”, that they wanted to test what they’ve been working on. Were there any specific things you told your guys you wanted to see for their first time out?
JD: Honestly, the biggest thing I told them for last weekend was that we need to put up a fight, that we need to go out there and battle. As far as technique goes, everybody has been working on something specific to their style. I’m not the kind of coach who limits one way of wrestling to my room. I try to develop the styles of wrestling for every guy I have. For one guy, it was the two-on-one he’s been working. For another guy, it was his underhooks, another guy, the lift he’s been working on all week. Getting to take those things and translating them to competition is what counts. I tell the guys a lot, You can hit a move a hundred times in the room, but if you can’t hit it in a match, it’s worthless. So the fact that they could get out there and test those moves, like I said, is extremely important to what we’re doing.
5PM: I imagine one thing that was really good about the event was the format in so far that often, wrestlers didn’t have a whole lot of time in between matches. In some cases, guys only had ten minutes, which I would think could serve as valuable experience for some of those tournaments down the road where bouts come up quickly.
JD: Yeah, yeah, it was. There really isn’t a good way to simulate the stress of competition in the wrestling room. We do the best we can, but getting out there and doing it is a whole different deal, and doing it under the pressure of constant and quick matches is a good way to train guys. And really, the only way to do it is to get them out to competitions like this where they are wrestling one match right after another. You may only 10, 15 minutes for a break and then you’re stepping right back out on the mat. There is really no way to train that unless you’re getting out there and doing it.
5PM: After the event was over, maybe it was on the bus or when you arrived home, what was the feedback you received from your wrestlers? What were some of the things you heard them tell you about their performances, be it a first-timer like Ryan Whittle, or any of the other athletes who had Greco experience prior to college?
JD: It was a pretty mixed bag. For the most part, what I got all-around was some confidence. Some confidence in the preparation we’ve been doing, some confidence in the moves we’ve been training. On the other end, some guys came back and said things like, Yeah, I need to really work on this position, I really need to work on my hand-fighting, or my par terre position. I need to get better in this area. Which is really what I wanted out of last weekend, for these guys to come out and say, I see where I need to improve, let’s get to work on it. That was our goal for the weekend, not necessarily to win, but to understand the areas we need to improve on.
5PM: I know that the Dave Schultz Memorial was supposed to be next on the schedule for your team, but I also know that there have been some issues in regards to securing UWW licenses and other paperwork that could potentially put WBC wrestlers attending that tournament into question. What is the status as of now?
JD: As of right now, due to some issues with UWW licenses, and some other issues down here that are out of our control, we will not be attending the Schultz. We had some issues with passports and acquiring certain information. We started off behind the gun as far as getting that stuff down and it wound up being harder to process for some of these guys than originally predicted. And due to that, we made a judgment call and decided that we were going to hold off on that competition and instead, set our sights on New York (in March).
5PM: The domestic schedule up until then is pretty much barren. Between now and the NYAC tournament, are any of your guys going to potentially be competing somewhere else?
JD: Currently, we don’t have anything on the schedule. I am encouraging my guys to look into overseas to take a trip or go on a tour. As of right now, we don’t have anything on the schedule. I am open to any kind of competition we can get these guys into. Unfortunately, there are just not a lot domestic opportunities to get that training, and I think that’s something we all understand is an issue. There are just not enough competitors out there currently to get the kind of competition we need in this country. We would love to compete more, we would love to get to anything we can get to. We’re open to any sort of competition. These guys want to compete, but there just aren’t a whole lot of opportunities domestically. I think that is an issue having to do with the sport growing. We have to establish more athletes out there, get more attraction to the sport, and maybe in time, we can get more competitions going between the Schultz and New York. Right now, we’re just going to keep training and do what we can do to keep moving forward.
5PM: With a big space of time between events, are there milestones in the wrestling room? Since you can’t grade on competition, how do you assess athlete improvement without performance?
Jonathan Drendel: At this point, it is crucial that these guys trust the system. Trust what we’re doing, trust the training, and it is also crucial that they assess themselves. Athletes have to be able to recognize their flaws and where they need to improve, and really, the big thing is for them is being able to measure off of each other. Not to the effect of a guy saying, Ah, he’s doing this and that, but recognizing that we’re making improvements against our teammates, we’re scoring points on our guys, that we’re staying active, and getting stronger and getting better.
It’s extremely difficult to measure in the wrestling room the success you’re having. But it’s what we have to do at this point. Thankfully, our guys trust the system and the training that we’re putting in. They’re training hard and I think we’re going to be ready for this next step when the time comes.