Bulls prepare themselves for nation's top wrestlers
NCAA Wrestling Championship preview
For sophomore wrestler Bryan Lantry, the NCAA tournament is not just a possible championship win. It’s his chance to make history.
He wants to make history for himself, his program and his family – the kind of history that would permanently etch a wrestler’s name into UB history.
The Bulls will be competing at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in St. Louis, Missouri from March 16 to 18. Fellow sophomore wrestlers Kyle Akins and Jake Gunning are joining Lantry. The three qualified earlier this month at the MAC tournament and now have their sights set on March 16.
“I don’t care what I did in the past, everything is focused on this national tournament,” Lantry said. “I want to make my coaches proud and my family proud. I don't want to see this season as a failure in my eyes.”
This national championship appearance represents a career's worth of work for all of the wrestlers involved. This competition marks Lantry’s second trip to the NCAA tournament and after coming up short last year, believes he will find success on the mat this time around.
“I have never doubted myself or my hard work. I know I have never taken a shortcut when I have stepped in the wrestling room and I am confident in what I can do,” Lantry said.
Lantry is heading into the tournament after losing in the MAC finals. Even though he already successfully qualified for the NCAA championship, he still considers the MAC tournament a failure.
“The MAC tournament is definitely a sour taste in my mouth right now,” Lantry said. “I wasn’t trying to make it to the national tournament, that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to win the MAC tournament.”
With the NCAA tournament around the corner, Lantry will have an opportunity to not just wipe away the loss at MAC tournament, but become a national champion.
Akins feels the same way.
Akins’ season was almost in jeopardy when he suffered from nagging injuries during the season. But he was still able to “play it smart” and wrestled in a qualifier match during the MAC tournament, where he successfully punched his ticket.
“It’s a career milestone but also a small milestone… It was great when it happened but now it is time to move on,” Akins said
Akins doesn’t have the time to reminisce over past accomplishments. This next event is the biggest of Akins’ career and he knows staying healthy is key.
“I feel great right now, I feel ready to roll. I just keep those injuries in the back of my head because I just have so much adrenaline pumping when I am out there,” Akins said. “I want to go out there and beat guys people don’t think I should beat.”
Gunning recently won the MAC tournament against favored opposition.
Now, Gunning wants to take his MAC Championship and turn it into a national one.
“Coming off good wins like that makes you feel like you can go out there and become an All-American,” Gunning said. “I was happy for like 15 minutes and then all I could think was ‘let’s go win ourselves a national tournament.’”
Gunning is continuing his training with his teammates and coaches, looking to keep “business as usual.” He hopes to stay consistent with his workouts and listen to his coaches.
“No one deserves anything, you have to go out there and earn it,” Gunning said. “I’m going there to win. Whether that's four matches to be in the finals or in the All-American rounds, I believe coach Stutzman has prepared us for this tournament.”
Head coach John Stuzman embraces his team's high expectations. He knows his wrestlers want to make the most of the competition. Stuzman has seen their highs and lows, and he knows that the lows motivate them more.
“If you never want to feel that way, you better remember the way you felt,” Stuzman said. “It’s those experiences that help motivate them to reach their expectations.”
Last year, Gunning and Akins both failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament and instead of “sitting aside” during the tournament, they made the drive to watch it in person.
No longer spectators, all three men have the opportunity to make history.
“We are going there to try and win… this year we got three guys who are going to do the work and be committed to the sport of wrestling,” Stuzman said. “All three guys want to get on the podium and as a coach that is very exciting.”
Thomas Zafonte is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org