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After championship win, wrestlers look ahead

By Dan Brodhead

In a critical moment in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association Championships in Dallas, Tex., with a semifinal match deadlocked 7-7, David Bow, TD '99, caught a bad break. A questionable call from the official caused an uproar on the Yale bench.

Amidst the heightened intensity, with the season and championship on the line, Bow stepped up and quickly pinned his opponent in a cradle, and the mostly southern crowd, which gradually rallied behind the surprising upset-minded Bulldogs during the course of the championship weekend, erupted.

Though the team may currently have club status, that does not mean it's second-rate. Bow was just one of the six Bulldog wrestlers who led the team to an impressive first-place finish at the championships on Sat., Mar. 14.

"Phenomenal" was the word that co-captain James Gutierrez, CC '99, used to describe the team's performance. "Most of the guys have been on the team for three or four years and this tournament represents the culmination of hard work over that time," Gutierrez said. Gutierrez was the second-place finisher in the 142 lbs. division.

James Gutierrez
Photo of Todd Scott, CC '98

Indeed, it's been a long season of hard work and impressive performances. The team began the year with a low national ranking, but after winning the 1998 Northeastern Conference (NCWA) championships on Sat., Feb. 21, the squad quickly jumped to number four in the NCWA, a league designed for wrestling programs without varsity status. The Bulldogs sent their top six wrestlers to Dallas, where all had relatively low seeds.

After garnering many points from early round upsets, the Elis proceeded to dominate the mats, gaining an insurmountable lead after only the semifinal round. The second-place finisher, the University of Georgia, was a distant 15 points behind. In the end, the Yale wrestlers--Bow, Zach Kaufman, SY '00, Earl Lee, SM '99, Sherlock Grigsby, CC '98, and co-captain Todd Scott, CC '98--all finished either at or near the top of their respective classes.

According to Gutierrez, the team has "reached the pinnacle of what is possible to accomplish as a club," Gutierrez said. Now its members would relish a shot at the other Ivy league universities, the majority of which have varsity wrestling programs. "The tournament proved to us and others that Yale is a dominant force in club wrestling and is sufficiently mature to graduate into the varsity level," Kaufman said. The Bulldogs and Dartmouth are currently the only Ivy League schools that compete without varsity standing.

The wrestlers believed that they are ready to compete with Divsion I teams. "We annihilated New York University [a Division I school] earlier in the year without our full roster," Kaufman remarked. "We're definitely ready to compete at that level."

In light of recent success, Gutierrez and the other wrestlers are optimistc about the future of their program. "I'm hopeful, but I don't think we'll get varsity status overnight--maybe the year after next," Gutierrez said. "We work as hard as any other team, because we're a club and we don't have a coach or a large budget. As captains, we lead the team and manage the funds."

"We lack adequate facilities, a space to call our own, and a coach," Kaufman added. "What we learn, we learn from each other. This process of learning could be expanded if we had a coach." Perhaps the Faculty Committee on Athletics will hear Kaufman's bottom-line assessment: "It's time."

Photo of Todd Scott, CC '98, courtesy of James Gutierrez.

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