Olympic redshirts gain mat maturity
Year off lends experience, wisdom to handful of elite competitors
Taking an Olympic redshirt is like adding graduate-level course work to an undergraduate schedule. Although it is hard to achieve an A-plus at the higher level -- which would mean making the United States Olympic team -- the experience gained makes for a high-level of competence at the lower level.
A handful of wrestlers put away the textbooks during the 2011-12 season in order to train for a spot on the U.S. Olympic squad. None succeeded in earning a trip to London, but that group returns to collegiate mats this season a year wiser.
"I think the biggest difference is just their level of maturity," said Wisconsin head coach Barry Davis, who went through the same process as a collegian for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. "Going overseas, training with the top guys, it forces you to get better."
The formula has proven effective in the past.
Northwestern's Jake Herbert, a year after an Olympic redshirt in 2008, went undefeated and won the 2009 NCAA championship at 184 pounds. Steve Mocco won the 2005 NCAA title at heavyweight a year after attempting to make the U.S. team. Fans in the last 15 years have also witnessed Stephen Abas (2001) and Lincoln McIlravy (1997) claim gold under the same circumstances.
When the 2013 NCAA Championship roll around in March in Des Moines, one senior in particular -- Missouri heavyweight Dom Bradley -- hopes to add his name to that list. Born in Des Moines, the 2009 Junior World freestyle champion finished third at the 2011 NCAA Championship. He fell short of his goal last summer, but expects to finish his collegiate career in style in front of friends and family.
"To get an extra year of college is great," said Bradley, who was 30-4 two seasons ago. "Being a part of the team but not competing with the team [last year] was kind of weird. Getting back into school, balancing so many things again can be a little difficult.
"With the 2013 NCAAs in Des Moines that helped with my decision to redshirt last year. I wanted to make the Olympic team. I also want to win a national championship and getting that extra year only makes me tougher."
|LOOKING BACK AT 2011|
Several wrestlers return to the college mats this winter after taking last season as redshirts, working for a spot on the team in the 2012 Olympics. Take a look back at when we last saw them competing for their respective schools.
Dustin Kilgore has already seen the top of the NCAA podium. The Kent State 197-pounder rallied to beat Oklahoma State's Clayton Foster in the 2011 NCAA final, finishing his junior campaign with a 38-2 mark. He was the school's first national champion in any sport since 1973. Along with finishing fourth at the Olympic Trials, Kilgore gained plenty of international experience. A native of Ohio, Kilgore won the Pan American Championships, the tough Cerro Pelado tournament in Cuba and competed in Ukraine, Poland and Azerbaijan. Among his victories was a win against the 2011 World silver medalist.
"He's still the same kid who wrestles at a high pace," Kent State head coach Jim Andrassy said. "There is a big difference between some of the guys he's seeing right now compared to what he saw last year overseas."
"It's a whole other game from college wrestling," Kilgore said recently. "I feel like it has really helped me out a lot because I've wrestled such great guys, a lot of them previous national champions and All-Americans. All of the freestyle I've done, even though it's freestyle, I think is going to help my game out a lot when I go back to folkstyle."
Kilgore, currently the top-ranked 197-pounder, is off to a 7-0 start with titles in Buffalo and at the Michigan State Open. His first real test could come in Las Vegas the last week of November.
For Tyler Caldwell, the last 20 months have seen plenty of change. An NCAA runner-up in 2011 for Oklahoma, he decided to take the Olympic redshirt after the OU program made a coaching change. Caldwell, like everyone else in the 163-pound bracket at the Olympic Trials, played second fiddle to eventual gold medalist Jordan Burroughs. This season as a junior Caldwell will compete for Oklahoma State at 165 pounds.
"I was away from OU, I was away from college and I got a nice break and kind of stepped outside of it for a while" Caldwell said. "My year off helped me reprioritize."
Caldwell will be in a situation not unlike his last college season. Burroughs and Wisconsin's Andrew Howe were, according to pundits, on a collision course at the 2011 NCAA Championship. Caldwell, however, knocked off Howe in the semifinals before falling to Burroughs. This season the early talk is of Cornell's Kyle Dake and Penn State's David Taylor. Will Caldwell have a say in that conversation?
Howe, a national champion in 2010 and three-time All-American for Wisconsin, also took an Olympic redshirt last season. After transferring to Oklahoma, Howe is expected to take a regular redshirt in 2012-13.
While the odds are high that in March much of the freestyle moves on the brain will be gone, the transition back to collegiate rules can take some time.
"[Tyler] Graff found that out the other day," said Davis, who watched Graff edge Hofstra's Luke Vaith 5-3 on Nov. 11 during the Badgers' dual win. "Sometimes guys stay in freestyle mode a little longer. The riding part, wrestling on the mat, it takes time to get back into it. But it is just November."
Graff, a junior from Colorado, is 68-14 in two All-America seasons for the Badgers at 133 pounds. He is expected to be among the NCAA favorites at 141 pounds in March.
Ohio State's Nikko Triggas also showed some folkstyle rust when he finished fifth at 125 pounds at the Michigan State Open on Nov. 11.
"Just getting back into a good stance is tough for me," said Triggas, who took a redshirt last season in search of a spot on the U.S. Greco-Roman squad.
For heavyweights, the transition might be a little more seamless.
"I'm not so great on the mat anyway, so there isn't that much of a transition for me," Bradley said. "I have been doing both styles since I was 8 years old so I am used to going back and forth. I do actually wish they would use some of the same rules as they do in freestyle, maybe the push-out in heavyweight matches."
Three others who redshirted a year ago will also be in the conversation -- Boise State 149-pounder Jason Chamberlain and heavyweights Jarod Trice of Central Michigan and Chad Hanke of Oregon State. Trice lost to Bradley in the NCAA third-place bout two seasons ago but returned the favor at the Olympic Trials last summer.