Archive for Thursday, February 14, 2008

The fly route

February 14, 2008

There was a moment Saturday during the De Soto-hosted Frontier League wrestling tournament when it was again apparent that the Wildcats wrestling program could be in the midst of a major revival.

It's still nothing that'll happen this year - maybe not even next. But every time I'm around the program I become more convinced. It was the athletes themselves that signaled a shift several weeks ago. Saturday it was the coach, Shannon Sawner.

In the end, De Soto didn't emerge from the league wrestling tournament in much better shape than it did a year ago. The Cats were basically skunked in Louisburg at the 2007 tournament, only a thrilling fifth-place performance from then-freshman Todd Atchison adding any skip to the team's step.

Again Saturday the team floundered, but again a late-tournament surprise offered it a reason to believe. Cameron Magdaleno survived an ugly first period, then battled from a deep deficit to strong-arm his way into third place in the 145-pound division.

Magdaleno was excellent in the consolation match. He clenched his teeth and strained his way through several early mistakes, waited for the right opportunity and stomped a good opponent. He was strong, resilient and aggressive, his win not just the day's premier highlight, but perhaps the season's.

It was a similar feel last year when Atchison placed fifth. The difference came in Sawner's reaction, however.

The entire team seemed satisfied with a single fifth-place medal a year, from the coach on down. Sawner, in his first year in De Soto this year, made it clear he wouldn't be so easily satisfied.

One third-place medal is technically better than one fifth-place medal, but to Sawner, they were both the same - not nearly enough.

Sawner was thrilled with the progress of one of his many freshmen, but couldn't shake the disappointment in the rest of his flock. The Cats needed sharper moves, faster moves, tougher mentalities and stronger wills.

That's an attitude the program needs. It wasn't as if Atchison's fifth-place performance last season earned the team a ticker-tape parade down Lexington Avenue, but everyone seemed satisfied with it. Every De Soto wrestler went into that tournament a big underdog, and the whole program seemed to carry that label on its back, allowing the idea of being an underdog to lead to early and ugly losses.

Talking to Sawner after Saturday's tournament, I'm convinced he's not going to allow that to happen. He was happy for Magdaleno, but there wasn't a hint of satisfaction in his voice concerning the team's performance. He didn't let the third-place finish represent the team's weekend. He insisted the tournament's lesson wasn't to be found just in Magdaleno's success, but in everyone else's lack thereof.

Sawner stressed it was a fine line, balancing between hyping what was a true positive, yet insisting that he's still looking for more.

To me, it was all refreshing. It was great to see a member of the team enjoy true success - It was also good to see that Sawner isn't content to let one medal be enough.

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