A corner being turned in Boiling Springs, more guys to get excited about, and the news dumptruck empties this week.
10 Questions for Daniel Elliott and Gardner-Webb
•1. Gardner-Webb had one of the best end of season improvements of any team at last years SoCon tournament. How has your squad carried that forward?
•”We’ve talked a lot about how we can’t hang our hat (on being close) at the conference tournament as proof we’re going to be in the same situation this year without having to do the work to improve. We had eight in the semis of the SoCon Tournament last year and ended up losing all those matches. We lost two in overtime, two by one point and two by two points. We were right there with guys who won the tournament or qualified for the NCAAs but we didn’t get the job done. We then turned it around and won most of our matches in the consolations and showed a lot of character and grit which was awesome to see. We constantly talk about how being so close doesn’t mean we will be there this year and how just because we’re doing work doesn’t mean the others aren’t. We ended up on an OK note at the tournament but it wasn’t our best. We lost so close so many times that we need to keep that fresh in our minds. When we find those dark moments in our training we can then push a little harder.”
•2. What makes you smile most about Gardner-Webb, and why?
•”Gardner-Webb is home for me so there is a lot I can find to smile about. It is a place you can really grow in all aspects of life. We are a smaller school and there are perks to being in a smaller place. You can build relationships here and you are going to get quite a bit of one on one attention from both your Professors and your coaches. We are a place where you can be comfortable with who you are and grow. We do not hide from the fact that we are a Christian University. I feel that we provide an environment for the Kingdom to grow for those who are interested in and take their faith seriously.”
•3. With 13 colleges, multiple high level clubs and some 350 participating high schools (1) your state (North Carolina) is an epicenter of wrestling in the Southeast. What are the most important ways those numbers affect Gardner-Webb?
•”We recruit a lot out of the Southeast. It has been awesome to see the level of high school wrestling grow over the years. I am a product of North Carolina who didn’t have a blue chip resume coming out of high school and I know (despite that) you can still have a successful career coming out of (North Carolina) if you choose to. Gardner-Webb is halfway between Charlotte and Asheville and we are practically on the border with South Carolina. We can be in Georgia in less than two hours and in Atlanta in less than three. We continue to build those regional relationships and show that Gardner-Webb can be a good fit.”
•4. Speaking of numbers, Gardner-Webbs enrollment is about 4,300. Boiling Springs, your Universities town, is about 4,900. How does that impact your approach to recruits?
•”We sell the small school environment because that is what we are. We don’t hide from the fact that we are one of the smallest Division One programs in the country and in a small town. We sell the close knit community and the attention our students will receive. As I said before, there are perks of being at a smaller university that you don’t get at larger schools. You aren’t going to be in a lecture hall with 400 other students being tought by a teachers assistant. You are going to be in a classroom with 20-25 other students being tought by a University Professor. People are going to know you and support you. I feel that we can fit a lot of personalities as well. If you want to hunt and fish, we have that. If you want to do stuff in a city, we aren’t far from Charlotte, Shelby, Spartanburg, Asheville, Greenville, or Gastonia. There are a lot of options here if you look.”
•5. Tell us who your best wrestler(s) is/are, who will suprise us, and one think that makes Gardner-Webb special.
•”Returning Jha-‘Quan Anderson and R.J. Mosley, who both won matches at NCAAs for us, will be huge. We also have five Super seniors on our roster this year with Trevon Majette, Brandon Bright, Taylor Parks, Evan Schenk, and Anthony Perrine. Perrine and Majette both lost in the semifinals of our conference tournament in overtime last year and I think will be in good spots to make some noise this year. Todd Carter and Aedyn Concepcion are much improved as well. I am pumped for this group. We have a mix of older and younger guys and I think we can make some jumps this year.”
•6. Besides more wins, more tournament placings, and more NCAA qualifiers, what are the metrics that will define success for Gardner-Webb this season?
•”We are in athletics so we will always be judged from the outside by wins and losses, which we signed up for. But in the same boat we will see guys graduate college this year who will be the first in their family to do so. We have alumni getting married, becoming parents, passing the bar exam, serving our country in the military, getting into P.A. school, etc. I feel those are measuring sticks that often are ignored. Our role as coaches in the most pivotal time in a young persons life is huge. Helping them grow up, take accountability for their actions, become more responsible and mature isn’t something the outside view measures. If we do those things as coaches, wins will come.”
•7. You are the only Alumni Head Coach in the SoCon. You’re the second-longest in tenure in a conference thats keeps upping the ante with staff and facilities. Talk about how that motivates you and Coach Mattingly.
•”We can’t ignore the resources being poured into some other programs in our conference and expect to keep up without doing the same here. That is something that we must do ourselves, which is how it is at most places when it comes to wrestling. We’ve done a good job with our fundraising in years past and use those resources to help us keep on par with the rest of the conference. We have the largest facility in the SoCon and more mat space than most ACC schools as well. It’s not fancy and what we would call blue-collar a bit. However, with 5,400 square feet of open mat space, 25 foot ceilings with tons of natural light, cardio equipment, team room, etc., all in one spot, we are in a good situation. We don’t have the fancy neon lights and lasers that others may think are cool but in reality that’s not what wins. The right guys win. We have to stay motivated to continue to recruit better talent each year that fits what we are looking for and what Gardner-Webb wrestling is about.”
•8. Where do you send your visitors for good food?
•”We usually end up in Shelby on visits with recruits so that they can see we aren’t too far from a little more action. Pleasant City Wood Fired Grille is usually our go-to spot.”
•9. You and your teams quiet and deeply meaningful tribute to the lives that were lost on Sept. 11th, 2001, and that days history-altering significance brought tears to at least two eyes. How did it come about and how did your team absorb the lessons learned?
•”You know, it really makes me feel old when no one on my roster remembers 9/11 happening. As we drew near the 20th anniversary I wanted to be sure to talk about that day with the team and the repercussions we are still seeing from that day. I’ve got guys I’ve coached that have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting. The withdrawal of American troops and citizens from Afghanistan was underway as well and I wanted to be sure it was something we spent a little time discussing. I take my role as a Coach seriously, not just (teaching the sport), and when things are in my heart we will talk about them. When it came to the tribute I told the team what I was planning to do on the morning of 9/11 after our practice and invited anyone to come. We ended up having most of the team there and about half of us carried a 45lb plate up and down our Fieldhouse stairs for 111 stories. It was long and hard and wasn’t fun. It wasn’t designed to be fun. Can you imagine the feelings of those firefighters who ran into those buildings full speed not having a clue what they were going to encounter? That is true selflessness. I wanted to try to get that message to our guys. THAT‘S what a sacrifice looks like.”
•10. Last words, your words…why Gardner-Webb?
•”Why not Gardner-Webb? The purity of our sport is that you can be good anywhere (you go) if you desire to be. You don’t need a quarterback to throw you the ball or a center to hit a free throw. You need to make the decision to be great at something. Pour all you have into what it takes to succeed and you will be good anywhere. Roll the dice on yourself and have the confidence that you don’t need to end up where others say you need to go. Why not be great here?”
THANK YOU, Coach Elliott, and for more Gardner-Webb good stuff check this seasons Columns 4, 10, 11, & 13.
Overlooked and Underrated, 125LBS: Gage Curry, Pittsburgh
How a guy with 112 career wins whos NEVER finished below fourth in the biggest and oldest conference Tournament, the E.I.W.A.s, whos been to the NCAAs four times, AND who’s front and center on a Top 10 power get overlooked or be underrated? Message the Scribe if you know. Yet there sits former American University and current Pitt Panther star Gage Curry, laughing inwardly at his preseason position outside the Top 20. Or outwardly. Or perhaps not at all, just getting ready. Currys win total listed here includes his absurd 35 victory redshirt season straight out of Pittsburghs North Hills High. That may just be a big reason his four year uber consistent run gets, well, you know. Curry is back home in the Steel City just like his next weight class up partner Micky Phillippi has been since Phillippi transferred from Virginia. The Panthers will roll with two National finalists, 165lb Jake Wentzel and 197lb Nino Bonaccorsi, leading the charge. Pitt will open the season with at least 8 PA starters and maybe more. It’s who they are, it’s what they want, and Curry will feed off that PA pride. The superb coaching staff of deadly smooth Pitt alum, 2 time finalist, National champ Keith Gavin (2) and company, tough ACC weight class foes, and a varied schedule will season Currys last year for an oh-so-savory run to the NCAAs and perhaps through day two.
Overlooked and Underrated, 174LBS: Jacob Oliver, Edinboro
This columns author wrote angrily and at length (2nd season, Columns 1, 26, & in the Midsummer Meltdown edition) on what seemed then, from a distance, the evisceration and imminent demise of the proud Edinboro program. Whoops. (3) Go to that seasons Fightin Scots roster and you’ll find a picture of a rawboned tough incoming freshman who brought big credentials from a small high school. Jacob Oliver placed every time he went to the PA state championships, going from fourth to second before earning back to back titles. He’s his schools all time winningest wrestler and he also owns the pin record, 69 if you’re counting. The Edinboro staff was. After a fair redshirt season, though, things went cattywampus. The Head Coach and staff went to Heaven, almost, also known as West Virginia. The AD, easily identified by his title and his initials, (4) was tasked with doing something else and now he’s doing retirement. All star wrestlers of all sizes and in great numbers went every which way. Oliver? Stayed. Worked. Won. Won some more. Won freshman and conference wrestler of the year awards. Went to the NCAAs. Won 25 matches as a Mid American Conference star the next year fighting injuries and qualified for the Covid-19 canceled NCAAs. Finished third at the MAC in 2021 and went to the NCAAs. There’s a pattern there and it’s called success. The two conference guys ahead of him from last year are wrestling elsewhere. If Oliver looks around his wrestling room, he sees a mirror image in fellow PA tough guy 184lb Cody Mulligan. New coaches Tyler Vath and Cody Recco will bring fresh perspectives. There’s plenty of fresh meat too with 20, count em, 20 newly rostered recruits. So, call him a darkhorse, call him an overachiever, but please don’t call him a barely Top 25 174lber. Because he’s way better than that.
Dates and Fates
•10/29 Wrestle-offs •11/6 @ Michigan St. Open •11/13 Pitt •11/20 @ Navy Classic •12/3 Gannon U. & Buffalo •12/10 @ Binghamton/NDSU & Binghamton •12/21 Kent State •12/29-30 @ Ken Kraft Midlands •1/16/2022 @ Cleveland State •1/22 Rider •1/30 @ George Mason •2/4 Central Michigan •2/5 Edinboro Open •2/13 Lock Haven •2/19 Clarion •2/20 Bloomsburg
About as sweet as it can get for the Scots who have a well-placed out schedule balanced with 13 duals and four tournaments including their own Edinboro Open. Win that and the prize is a Claymore sword. For real. Four of the top Mid American Conference teams have to come to the Scots gym which will first see a visit from a ferocious Top Ten Pittsburgh squad. That’ll probably leave more than a flesh wound but it takes a lot to stop a Scot. The extra down time both before and after the Midlands will be helpful for both preparation and recuperation. The Scots are home, sweet home for the whole last month of the regular season. In addition to his Head Coach/Podcast star resume Matt Hill has apparently added Schedule Wizard skills. He and UTC HC Kyle Ruschell could set up a cottage business. Just sayin.
It’s Homecoming weekend at Millersville starting the 15th, and the 1855-founded school will have a sweet wrestling celebration as well. 75 years of grappling memories will coalesce around a Friday golf outing, a Saturday morning coffee and donuts get together and a team tent from 10 to 1 p.m. Millersville is in Southeast PA about 2 hours from Philly if you’re going, and if you’re going make it a 16 oz. w/cream and two donuts for the Scribe, please. Jelly-filled.
In a fine example of “it’s not just who you know, it’s what you know” Emmanuel (GA) College welcomed Bryce Killian as their new Head Womens wrestling coach. Emmanuel VP for Athletics Nate Moorman knew Killian as a three time NCAA Qualifier and 2 time NCAA D2 All American wrestler at King College. That was good for Killian. He was also an Academic All American who’s earned his MBA and spent successful time as Kings Head Assistant Coach. That’s good for Moorman, the Emmanuel team and their alumni and fans. Win, win. Expected, expected.
The Wyoming Cowboys (previewed in this seasons column 8) have charged up their staff. Branson Ashworth, 121 match winner for Wyoming and 3 yrs. an assistant coach, is now Assistant Director of Player Development. New Volunteer Russell Rohlfing brings a PAC 12 title and four NCAA qualifying seasons worth of experience over from Cal St. Bakersfield. Tip ‘o the 10 gallon to Coach Branch and whoever put together that slick, stylish new team page.
American University 2021-2022
•11/6 Sacred Heart & Virginia •11/14 @ Bearcat Open •11/18 George Mason •11/20 @ Navy Classic •12/3 Rutgers •12/5 Duke & Hofstra •12/19 @ Reno Tournament of Champions •1/3/2022 Ohio State •1/7/2022 @ David H. Lehman Franklin & Marshall Open •1/16 @ Central Michigan/CMU, Cal St Bakersfield & Campbell •1/30 Drexel •2/6 @ Bucknell •2/19 Maryland •2/20 Penn
45 bucks for adults, 20 for seniors is a steal deal for home match tickets as Big 10 powers Ohio State and Rutgers in addition to the ever-toughening Terps of Maryland visit Bender Arena. You also get in front of two duals with ACC squads as well as matches with sneaky good Drexel and flat out nasty Hofstra. (5) The order of events seems awfully stiff for a new staff and team, though, especially that seven day stretch the third week of November. The mid-January tri-meet in Mt. Pleasant will be anything but that, either. Ah well. You pays your money, you watch your new Eagles hatch. The fledging and the flying, maybe later.
Jimmy Rollins is done at Lindenwood, not that he wanted to be. The 10 plus year veteran coach spent the last five seasons at the top spot for the Lions and led them to a third place finish at Nationals last year. He coached two undefeated champs and now he will try to shepherd his own health to a better place. Six year veteran staff member Dallas Smith, four time All American and National Champ at Ouchita Baptist, takes over. Concerning Coach Rollins hoped-for improvement/recovery, well, he’s in the South Jersey Hall of Fame. Money’s on him.
Florida’s “big three” wrestling schools, Southeastern in Lakeland, St. Thomas in Miami Gardens, and Keiser in Ft. Lauderdale are joining the Appalachian Athletic Conference in a rare geographically sensible realignment. It will be a robust 11 team league with teams from the Sunshine State up through West Virginia. The affiliation change begins in 2022-23 as the 3 FL schools finish their Mid-South Conference run this year.
See you sometime soon!
(1) A multi-tasking maven at the NCHSAA offices of Tra Waters, the speedy Kayla (no last name, please) assisted with out of the blue questions from an out of state inquisitor accurately and with classic Southern grace. Thank you, ma’am.
(2) SO smooth this column was inspired to pen a song about the main Panther man. Copies available on 8-track or cassette.
(3) Preferably unseen in a news column and unheard in an operating room. Yeah, that’s a Cosby joke. He’s still sick. And it’s still funny.
(4) BB, for Bruce Baumgartner. Among many other achievements, the greatest American wrestler of all time. THIS is how you know THAT…
•17 National titles > 11. •13 World Medals > 9. •4 Olympics > 2. You need more proof, you failed math. For the record, Bruce and Jordan Burroughs, the guy currently on the other side of the “greater than” sign, share something else sweet besides their greatness….JERZEY, BABY!
(5) This seasons columns 4, 7, 12 & 17 for Drexel stuff, 7, 8, & 14 for Hofstra, 5, 6, & 17 for more A-U info.