As the Maroons move closer to the postseason, they can’t help but remember what they did over winter break. After going through the emotional and intellectual pain of finals week, and before their standard break, the U of C wrestling team subjected themselves to four days of intense training and physical pain—and liked it.
Over the “vacation,” the Maroons traveled to Colorado to hone their discipline, sharpen their skills, and take their conditioning to another level. The team hopes their training aids them in their quest for a UAA title.
“I felt like we got a lot of work done,” Head Coach Leo Kocher said, “and the team really bonded.”
The team stayed in Colorado Springs, and worked out at the Olympic Training Center (OTC), home of two 50,000-square foot sports centers and an almost equally gargantuan aquatic center. In addition, 12 national sports federations have headquarters in the complex, which features a hall of fame memorializing past champions and a regular rotation of current Olympians training.
“We got to work with some of the guys from the American Olympic freestyle [a type of wrestling] team,” said second-year Paul Mahoney, who wrestles at 133 pounds. “We got to see how they practice, how they train.”
The example set by the Olympians was particularly useful considering how young the Maroons are this year. Only one wrestler is graduating after the season, and 20 of the 25 members of the team are underclassmen.
More important, though, is the work that the wrestlers got done at the training camp. Despite the trip being optional, 22 of the 25 wrestlers came to work through grueling two-a-days.
Each day, the wrestlers left at 8:45 a.m. for the morning mile-and-a-half run to the OTC through Colorado’s punishing thin air. There, they began their first workout of the day, taking advantage of the center’s comprehensive weight room to get reps on equipment they don’t normally have at Henry Crown Field House—like an extensive set of sand bags and machines to work on shoulder muscles.
After a break for a shower and lunch through the OTC’s meal service, the team would either receive special assistance from OTC staff or simply gather for a team meeting. After another two-hour workout, they were free for the evening to do what they pleased. For many of the athletes, that meant a nap back in the hotel.
“Most of the days we couldn’t really get anywhere interesting, so sometimes we just hung out in the hotel,” Mahoney said. “After [5 p.m.], we were just so tired.”
Colorado Springs is not famous for its attractions, but the team made a point to visit the Garden of the Gods, a national landmark and nature center filled with ancient and massive monotonic red rock formations and generous greenery.
“We went mountain climbing and did a little bit of exploring,” said first-year Joseph Ruettiger, who wrestles in the 141-pound weight class. “But [Colorado Springs] was more of a place where you go to get focused.”
Kocher agreed, saying that the trip gave the wrestlers an opportunity to work with “a minimal amount of the distraction they normally have from school.”
On the last day of camp, the team went to the nearby Air Force Academy (AFA) for a scrimmage against the AFA’s B team, in which each wrestler got about three matches against the cadets, after their four-day taste of their military-style daily discipline.
The cadets had about 35 wrestlers present at the scrimmage. Even though AFA’s first stringers were absent, the Maroons were still pleased with their performance.
“Not being acclimated [to the high altitude] put us at a disadvantage against the AFA cadets, but I thought we took some real steps forward,” Kocher said. His wrestlers were confident that they may have even won more of the matchups than they lost.
Overall, the wrestlers were satisfied with the trip; they considered it a great opportunity to work on their skills and spend time with their teammates, rather than an obligation removing a chunk out of their breaks. Despite the pain that comes with training and maintaining weight, wrestlers relish the discipline—and grow closer because of it.
“The amount of time we spent in the wrestling room brought us together,” Mahoney said.
Time spent alone with wrestling was also useful to the team.
“It helped us individually, and let us think about what we need to fix,” Ruettiger said.
The Maroons are hoping that the work they put in over break, the work they put in now, and the disciplined mindset they have garnered will help them reach their goals for the end of the season.
“I have a bit of a spring in my step now,” Mahoney said of spending time training in high altitude.
The Maroons think they are strong enough to win UAAs, and many of the wrestlers have shown themselves to be strong enough to compete at a national level. At recent tournaments like the Elmhurst and Wheaton Invitationals, the Maroons have seen their wrestlers take down a handful of nationally ranked wrestlers, although it remains to be seen whether they can beat the best of DIII on a regular basis.
What is certain is that the Maroons have the youth and the chemistry to improve as individuals and as a team in the next couple of years.
“We’re kind of like a family,” Ruettiger said––of a group of guys who live together, train together, and fight together.