Wrestlers grapple with rebuilding season


Photo by UCM Photo Services

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY UCM PHOTO SERVICES Redshirt sophomore Allan Person (right) is ranked No. 5 at 174 pounds after going 17-19 overall and 3-8 in duals last season.

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Managing Editor
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — With more than half of the team made up of freshmen or transfers, the No. 11 Mules wrestling team is cultivating young athletes and filling some gaps leading up to their first pair of duals Wednesday, Nov. 9.

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY UCM PHOTO SERVICES Redshirt sophomore Allan Person (right) is ranked No. 5 at 174 pounds after going 17-19 overall and 3-8 in duals last season.
Redshirt sophomore Allan Person (right) is ranked No. 5 at 174 pounds after going 17-19 overall and 3-8 in duals last season.

“We got a lot of young guys, but that doesn’t mean you can’t expect to do big things,” said head coach Justin Ensign. “I think these are the types of kids that are willing to get better, and that’s what it takes in a long season. Our season is pretty long… So there’s a lot of time to improve. Hopefully we can just take advantage of that and see where it takes us.”

The Mules ended last season with a dual record of 2-9 overall, 1-4 in the MIAA, and placed sixth in the MIAA Championships and 13th at the NCAA-II Super Regionals. This year, the Mules were picked to finish fifth in the MIAA and 11th in Super Region Three.

Ensign said the team faced some roster turnover this season. After graduating some seniors and dropping athletes who weren’t “doing the right things,” Ensign said he only expects one or two seniors to make the lineup.

“We’re trying to really establish a good culture here,” he said. “And that’s one thing last year we really didn’t have. We got away from that. This sport is pretty hard. It takes a lot of discipline. It takes a lot of hard work. There are a lot of things at play here. It’s not a hobby.”

The team had four wrestlers individually ranked in the 2016-17 D2wrestle.com preseason poll. Andrew Tujague came in at No. 4 for 149 pounds, Allan Person sits fifth at 174 pounds, Erick Vargas is ranked seventh at 125 pounds and Cody Carson claimed the No. 8 spot at 184 pounds.

Person, a redshirt sophomore, comes into the season with a year of competition as a Mule. As a walk-on redshirt freshman in the 2015-16 season, Person went 17-19 overall and 3-8 in duals, and was named to the MIAA Academic Honor Roll and the Division II All-Academic Wrestling Second Team.

“It feels good being ranked but, at the same time, I don’t try to let it get to my head because rankings really don’t mean anything at the end of the day,” Person said. “If you’re going to wrestle, you’re going to wrestle.”

Person said he intends to shed a few pounds and compete at 165 later this season.

“Right now I’m filling out 174, so I might make that drop later in the semester – next semester,” he said.

Ensign said Person dropped to 165 last year out of necessity. He said the team’s 65-pounder got injured and Person was the best guy not in the lineup.

“Allan was behind Archie Williams who was an All-American in 2015 so he was kind of in a rough spot where you’re one of the best guys on the team but you’re not in the lineup,” Ensign said. “Because it’s not like basketball where if you have two really good guards you can play them both at the same time. You really can’t do that with weight classes. So he dropped late last year.”

Ensign said it’s all about finding the right fit for Person, individually and with the team.

“He does a good job,” Ensign said. “He shows up, puts a lot of extra work in and he’s starting to finally see the rewards of that. So now it’s just getting to that next level.”

Tujague redshirted for the Mules last year after spending his freshman year at Ottawa University. He said being ranked is a good starting point, but he hopes to build on that success throughout the year.

“I’m ready to finally be able to compete this year, put on that UCM singlet,” Tujague said. “We’re a young team but I feel like we have some potential to be pretty good.”

Looking ahead to the Mules first dual of the season, Ensign said he is focusing on preparation.

“Make sure we’re in shape, make sure our weight is under control and make sure that we’re doing the things that we’ve been emphasizing,” he said.

Ensign said wrestling requires a lot of self-discipline as it’s one of the few sports where athletes have to manage their diet to make weight.

“So you have to find kids who are willing to do all those things – especially managing a full course load and outside stress in general,” he said.

Ensign said the team is doing a lot of group-focused teaching to build comradery and integrate the new and younger athletes.

“This is an individual sport but there’s that team aspect,” Ensign said. “When you’re out there you’re by yourself… but there’s team score at nationals, there’s team score for dual meets, so you need your team. We try to do some different things to build the comradery with a lot of new guys, try to build the intensity up a little bit and try to make it fun for them at the same time.”

Person said he’s ready to open the season and wants to just get out there and dominate.

“(I’m) more determined to reach some goals that we haven’t been able to reach in the past year or two,” Person said. “I think the team has a lot of potential, on the younger and older side.”

The Mules are back on the mat 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, hosting a pair of duals at the Multipurpose Building against Wentworth Military Academy and Barton County Community College.