WSU wrestling: From beginners to champions in one year
No one really could have foreseen how successful the new Wichita State wrestling club would be in its first season.
After a few previous false starts by others, two eager junior wrestlers – Nick Thomas and Dusty Greer – decided to try their hand at assembling, and keeping, a full wrestling team.
“In the spring of 2011, Dusty and I began to joke about starting a wrestling team at Wichita State,” Thomas said. “Before we knew it, our jokes became serious, and Dusty and I had fully committed to doing everything in our power to build this team.”
So in the fall of 2011, Shocker wrestling was born. It has taken a lot of hard work, and both Thomas and Greer had to quit wrestling so they can dedicate themselves to keeping the team intact and successful after their graduation next spring.
Everyone’s hard work paid off as Wichita State wrestling quickly made a name for itself.
The team won the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) Division II Team Title; crowned two All-Americans and five Academic All-Americans; and Myers was named the NCWA Coach of the Year. They were also the only Division II team to be invited to NCWA National Duals.
The most recent attempt at a wrestling team at Wichita State was in fall 2009. Coach Mark Stovall started the program with a full team, but it slowly dwindled throughout the season. Thomas said practice time was at 6 a.m., and it was too difficult for many of the student athletes to maintain that schedule.
What was left of the team did enjoy some success, though. Stovall took three people to nationals, and Aaron Hynick was crowned as WSU’s first ever national wrestling champion. At the end of the season, Stovall left to pursue other endeavors.
Once Thomas and Greer started up the program again two years later, they knew the biggest challenge would be keeping people on the team.
“We used our experiences with the previous team to guide us into building a culture of welcoming student athletes and keeping them in the practice room as much as we possibly could without interfering with their school or work schedules,” Thomas said.
As is often the case, funding was another key issue for the team. Campus Recreation gave them a budget of about $10,000, Thomas said, but that left the team a bit short.
So, they got creative.
“We knew that in order to keep student athletes involved, we could not ask them to pay any dues, so Dusty and I managed to raise money by selling T-shirts, running youth camps and seeking donors,” Thomas said.
They also used Facebook as a recruiting tool. Their goal was a team of five wrestlers, but as word got around in the wrestling community, they ended up with 15 at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season.
It soon became clear that this was a good group of wrestlers.
“Once the season started, we knew that we had the potential to be a very competitive team in our division,” Thomas said. “By the end of the season, our goals had evolved into winning a national championship. But if you would have mentioned such a thing to Dusty and I in the spring of 2011, we would have thought you were crazy.”
As they prepare for the start of the season, Thomas, Greer and Myers are looking ahead with bigger goals.
There are 16 wrestlers, including seven freshmen, on the team. Just surviving is no longer the only goal. Shocker wrestling has moved up to Division I, and Thomas thinks the team has a shot at soon being competitive with the best of those teams.
Thomas said he and Greer are working hard this semester to present a budget to the SGA and will propose funding through student fees. They also hope to be able to pay the volunteer coaching staff.
“Dusty and I will both be graduating soon, and we want to make sure that the team is stable and is able to run itself after we leave this university,” he said. “We want the Wichita State wrestling team to be as popular and as stable as the well-known WSU bowling team.”
The wrestling team will kick off its season Nov. 10 at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan. It also will host the conference championship tournament March 2.
For more information on Shocker wrestling, go to www.wichita.edu/wrestling.