Season 5 Column 31: Shuffle down to ScuffleTown, Part 1

Many of D1s best teams descend, in full or in part, on Chattanooga this weekend to bolster their resumes and absorb some C style comfort. The Southern Scuffle presented by Compound Clothing boasts between four and five hundred wrestlers with only the 197lb class having less than 40 entrants*. This column, in deference to the outstanding multi day Scuffle coverage provided by Flo Wrestling, independent writer Steven Stonebraker, and other professionals, will be centered around some words from coaches and coordinators. Here’s part one with Coaches from around the country who are headed to that beautiful, little big city on a bend of the Tennessee River.

Appalachian State Head Coach JohnMark Bentleys Mountaineers 45-5 conference record is 5th best in the nation over the past seven seasons and last year they sent a team record 7 wrestlers to the NCAAs. Coach Bentley is keenly aware of the Scuffles significance to the SoCon in general and his Mountaineers in particular. “It provides [App State] wrestlers with the opportunity to see some of the best wrestlers in the country and, particularly, wrestlers they might face at the NCAA Tournament later in March. We always try to give our guys as many opportunities as possible to face the top guys in the country and the Scuffle is great being within a four hour drive.” One of this columns All Overlooked and Underrated stars is App State 174lb Thomas Flitz, who enters as the SoCon wrestler of the week. It’s not just Flitz, though, who’s under the radar on the Mountaineers roster, and Coach Bentley sees a trend there. “Honestly, we have a lot of guys I feel are overlooked in our program. It seems as though one bad match really penalizes our guys in the rankings but one big win doesn’t give them the same credit. It’s puzzling but our guys use it to motivate themselves. They just carry a chip on their shoulders like they always have something to prove. We have already been heavily tested this year with our first semester schedule. I feel like we have several guys who are capable of making some noise. Flitz is definitely capable of making some noise and shouldn’t be overlooked.” So, how can the Mountaineers make this a successful Scuffle trip? “Putting ourselves in as many opportunities as possible to see Top 10 wrestlers and win some of those matches. [Also] if we can have placers in a majority of the 10 weight classes, I think that would be a successful tournament.”

The Rider Broncs, unlike App State, are definitely taking the long road to Chattanooga, bringing old school Jerzey style wrestling swagger to the Scenic City. They walked into the newly merged Mid American Conference/Eastern Wrestling League a few years back like they owned the place, promptly putting together consecutive Top four tournament finishes to go along with a gaudy 16-5 dual meet record. Last time at the Scuffle, with a full and experienced roster, John Hangeys crew finished 8th as a team. This time the Broncs will be a little short on both bodies and experience. Why the limited first half schedule, Coach Hangey? “We designed the gap for two reasons. We have a very young team and they need to develop with some competitions and some training to make the necessary adjustments. Also after our dual with Central Michigan we were heading into our final exams and we chose not to schedule anything during that time. Plus, people are scared to wrestle us LOL!” And as to who’s repping the Broncs this weekend…”You’ll see the majority of our starting lineup at the Scuffle. Our 125, 133, 141, 174, 197 and 285 will all be there. We will be using the Scuffle to determine starters at some other weights, [specifically] 157 and 165, and our starters at 149 and 184 are injured.”

VMI is one of three teams from the great Commonwealth headed South and West this weekend. The Keydets, National power Virginia Tech from the ACC and those #BeUncommon George Mason University Patriots out of the MAC come in from Virginia with very different teams and expectations but similar desires. For VMI, according to Head Coach Jim Gibson, “It’s all about opportunity. Competing at a tournament of this level gives each of our guys an opportunity to go out and make a name for themselves. I want to see us take one match at a time, compete hard, and be gritty. If we can control the areas of the sport under our control winning and losing will take care of themselves. For us it’s about giving our guys a chance to go out and beat someone that on paper might be better than them.” The beautiful thorn in VMIs Scuffle participation, like the Citadels, Army, Navy and Air Force, is the currently not scheduled All Academy Championships. Will VMI be forced to leave the Scuffle if the Championships return? Gibson: “As of right now we are committed to the Southern Scuffle. With that being said, the college wrestling landscape is always changing, especially over the last year.”

The George Mason Patriots had a great first half with an incredibly young roster. So what’s the makeup of this young bunch, Coach Frank Beasley? “In duals we have had 12 freshmen, 3 sophomores, 1 junior and 1 senior see starting action. With several freshmen starting for us we are super young but excited about the progress they are making. They have already made an impact and we are excited to see where they end up this season. I think it also shows that GMUs future is very bright.” Tournament competition is different than the win or lose, one and done nature of duals. What’s harder with the type of team you’re bringing, Coach Beasley? “Duals are harder to prepare for with a young team. The young wrestlers have to be savvy as every point matters. There is less pressure in tournaments on the younger guys but in duals everyone has to pull their weight. When I have had veteran squads, I felt that duals were easier to prepare for. We could focus in on one match at a time and come up with a solid game plan in each bout.” So, who is bringing the #BeUncommon attitude to Chattanooga, Coach? “We are going to have five competitors this year. Alex Madrigal at 149, Avery Bassett at 157, Tyler Kocak at 165, Drew Dickson at 165, and Paul Pierce at 174, [who will wrestle] unattached.”

Davidson celebrates 100 years of wrestling this season and are celebrating the first crop of seniors under Andy Lausiers tutelage. The Wildcats have seen individual success so far this year and, like George Mason, are building for the future. Coach Lausier brought the Wildcats back to the Scuffle in 2020 after a decades absence, and its importance is not lost on him. “For Davidson, the Southern Scuffle is an opportunity to wrestle on one of the Nations biggest stages at the mid-point of the season. It is an incredible platform for our wrestlers to test themselves against some of the Nations best.” Unlike a number of coaches Lausiers eyes aren’t focused so much on settling roster spots or improving rankings. “Our staff is eager to see our wrestlers find tough ways to win tough matches. It may be a riding time point, one extra mat return, or an escape that makes the difference in outcomes at the Scuffle. We are looking for poise and discipline from our wrestlers.” With the Scuffle falling between almost every schools semester break, the training cycles for each teams athletes comes heavily into play in the results in Chattanooga. Lausier had this to say about that: “This is a challenge simply because our wrestlers just returned from a six day break at home. With that in mind we place a significant premium on weight control and staying competitively ready. We are also taking 15 wrestlers to the David Lehman Open at Franklin & Marshall so we have two groups in different training cycles. This is the time in the season when daily discipline and consistency really start making an impact.”

See you Friday!

Ted Carreras

*CANNOT say thank you enough to the FloWrestling crew, specifically J.D. Rader and Jon Kozak, Intermats Earl Smith and Rachel Gallardo, independent wordsmith Steve Stonebraker, and others, for making so much valuable information available in so many entertaining ways. Many of these fine folks will be on site this weekend, so if by the oddest chance you see them in a free moment, thank them for what they do.