Erisman looking for second national title
The list of names on the brackets at the Asics Vaughn Junior National Wrestling Tournament in Fargo, N.D., this week will read much like a who's who list of high school wrestlers.
Unfortunately, only one grappler in each of the 15 weight classes will be crowned champion.
Included in the mix, at 160 pounds in the freestyle division will be De Soto senior Neil Erisman, who will be trying to win his second title in three years. The De Soto High School standout claimed the 152-pound cadet championship in 2003.
Erisman hopes to parlay his toughness, talent and experience into another national title in 2005.
"The experience means you've been there and done it," Erisman said of his previous climb to the top of the podium in Fargo. "You're not as nervous."
But that doesn't mean the other wrestlers are going to just hand the championship trophy to Erisman. He is well aware of how prepared he must be.
"You have to be focused -- prepared," the 2005 Kansas state runner-up at 152 pounds said. "You have to go out ready to wrestle hard all of the time. You have to wrestle every match like it's the national championship match."
Erisman said on occasion there is an easy match or two in the early stages of the tournament. But after the first day, nothing is a breeze. He also warned of no-name wrestlers coming out of the woodwork to steal the crown from favorites.
"It's gruesome," he said. "If you want to do well, you have to be prepared to wrestle 10 to 12 matches in three days. It wears and tears on your body."
The bad news for his competition is that Erisman is ready to scrap. But taking a look at the list of names in the brackets, it's safe to say that each match will be a war. Besides himself, Erisman said Rocky Cozart of Florida, Travis Hammons of Illinois and Matt Coughlin, Shane Vernon, David Rella, Alton Lucas, Dave Erwin, Luke Smith and Nate Matousek would also challenge for the freestyle title at 160 pounds.
Cozart is considered to be one of the top athletes in both freestyle and Greco-Roman divisions. He is ranked third in Amateur News Magazine's 2005 high school rankings at 160 pounds and fourth by W.I.N Magazine.
Cozart, who won the Florida 2A 160-pound championship, attempted to claim a 2004 double crown in Fargo. But he came up short in both divisions. The Michigan State University recruit finished third in Greco-Roman and second in freestyle.
Hammons won a state title at 160 pounds for Chicago's Hubbard High School in 2005. He took third as a junior.
But Hammons really made a name for himself when he grappled his way through the 160-pound bracket to win the high school senior national championship in Cleveland.
The North Carolina State recruit earned a No. 5 national ranking following the 2005 high school season in Amateur News, and was second in W.I.N.
Coughlin won the 160-pound junior championship a year ago, and placed fourth in the Greco-Roman division. He was fourth at 132 pounds as a cadet in 2001.
Lucas and Fickel also have impressive wrestling resumes.
Although Erisman has become friends with many of his fellow competitors, he has still found time to compete against many of them. Hammons lost to Erisman twice at the junior duals, once by a technical fall 11-0.
Erisman lost to Cozart at the West Junior Regional in Las Vegas in late April. Cozart took first at the meet while Erisman netted a third-place finish.
"You respect them," Erisman said of his counterparts. "You don't go out to hurt them intentionally, but you get physical and mean no matter who they are.
"You might get in a scuffle, or someone might take a swing, but when the match is over your friendship goes back to the way it was before."