The Newman University wrestling team’s season began Nov. 5 in Oklahoma City at the Oklahoma City Open. The team has competed in two other duals, each dual having at least two placers.
The Jets placed their most wrestlers this season in the Oklahoma City Open, with four placers. Sophomore Thor Balavage won four straight matches at 285 pounds to get all the way to the championship match, where he then placed second overall. Freshman Lawley finished third in the 125-pound weight class, freshman Brandon Conrad finished fourth in the 141-pound class and freshman Nate Panagakis placed fourth in he 184-pound weight class.
This year, the Jets added six newcomers to the squad, all of them freshmen. Junior Garrett Whitson said the team’s strength has come a lot from the freshman class brought in this year.
“They all seem to be committed to the sport, whereas in earlier years, we had guys that didn’t want to be there and were just there to get the money,” he said. “We finally have enough guys where us older guys have to fight for our spot and that competitive atmosphere in the room makes a huge difference.”
Balavage said the team is looking for a more successful year than last year as a whole. Individually, he said he wants to be a good example for the new guys.
“We are looking to improve our performances individually, so we can all help the greater good of the team when it comes to duels and team tournaments,” he said. “Individually, I want to be the best version of me for the team while being a motivator for some and teaching others. I want to win matches. I need to win for the team and push my partners to be the best in the country.”
Whitson said one of the team’s biggest strengths this year is the team’s chemistry.
“We are one big family and although we don’t always get along, we always have each other’s backs,” he said. “With this comes accountability and we are getting a lot better at making sure we are calling guys out that are messing up or are not taking things seriously in order to fix those things in the future.”
Balavage said he thinks the team’s efforts in the weight room is going to show on the mat.
“The amount of guys we have that prove day-in and day-out that they want to be the best is outstanding,” he said. “Whether they’re doing extras or getting a few extra minutes a day, I think there is more concern in everyone for becoming more of a ‘we-not-me’ team.”
Balavage said he believes the team’s toughest competition is the University of Central Oklahoma.
“They always have very tough kids who are all well-coached,” he said. “They have a persona when they step on that mat that they are the best. Sometimes that could be intimidating, but I think we have what it takes to beat them.”
The Jets hit the mat against Central Oklahoma Jan. 17 in Edmond, Okla. Their next meet is on Dec. 3 at the Bob Smith Open in Hays.
This story first appeared in the November 30, 2017 issue of The Vantage.