The Baker University wrestling team ended its inaugural season by facing some of the toughest competition it saw all year at the NAIA National Championships in Oklahoma City March 4-6.
“A year ago at this time, we didn’t even have a guy signed yet,” head coach Jimmy May said. “To take seven freshmen to nationals and have them compete like they did against older competition was very encouraging.”
Although seven of the 10 wrestlers who qualified for the tournament were freshmen, Baker received some senior leadership from heavyweight wrestler Levi Calhoun.
Calhoun began the tournament by knocking off the fifth-ranked wrestler in the heavyweight class 9-4, and followed that up with a 3-2 victory to advance to the quarterfinals. He needed one more victory to achieve All-American status, but he lost 5-3 to the eventual third-place finisher.
The Wildcats also had very strong performances from freshmen Joe Pace and Jacob Nowak. Nowak and Pace both had two victories each, including an upset win for each wrestler. Nowak won a double-overtime match against a returning All-American and Pace pulled off an upset by defeating the 2009 NAIA National Runner-up, 10-3.
The team was not able to come home with anyone achieving All-American status, but the wrestlers learned a lot from the competition.
“I will know what to expect from this tournament for the next few years,” freshman Alan Callahan said.
Of the national qualifiers, the Wildcats will return everyone except for Calhoun. Junior Clarence Jordan will be counted on next year to take on even more of a leadership role than he had for this season.
“I think more than anything, we learned what it takes to compete at that level of competition,” Jordan said. “We still have some serious work to do to correct all of the little things that we did wrong that cost us a number of close matches. We will need to attack and stay focused next year in order to be more competitive.”
May was very happy with how his team performed this season, but he has already set out some goals for next year.
“We are going to try to recruit around 16 kids between the JUCO ranks and top high school kids who can be impact wrestlers,” May said.
May believes this year’s team will serve as a solid base for the years to come.
"We made an impact on the mat," May said. "It felt good that people were asking me where Baker University was. It's nice to know that our presence was felt at the national meet."<br/>&#160;