Photo Courtesy of Virginia Tech
Every wrestler is out to prove something. Whether it’s to themselves, to their critics, to their coaches or to the fans, every competitor wants to put their best foot forward. Some wrestlers have more to prove than others. These five athletes are all tough men with lots of wins on their resumes. However, they fell a little short of their goals a year ago and set out this year with something to prove.
Joey Dance, Virginia Tech, 125 – Senior
When you begin your career with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA tournament and lose a total of seven matches over your next two years, you might expect to have a couple more All-American awards and maybe a trip to the national finals on your record. Instead, Dance entered the national tournament each of the last two years after ACC titles, was seeded third, then second, and fell short of the top eight each time. In 2016 he had just one loss before David Terao (American) and Brandon Jeske (Old Dominion) took him out in back-to-back matches. When it happens once, you chalk it up to a bad tournament, but now that it has happened two years in a row, Dance has to prove he can finish. Everyone expects him to be really good during the season, but can he put the upsets out of his mind when March comes around? He’ll be out to prove he can get the job done and go out on a high note.
Micah Jordan, Ohio State, 149 – Sophomore
Jordan was a huge recruit and only added to the hype during his outstanding redshirt season in 2014-15. When he finally got in the lineup last year for the Buckeyes, he piled up the wins. He entered the Big 10 tournament with only one loss, to Matt Manley (Missouri), and was given the top seed. However, he was upset in the quarterfinals by Jimmy Gulibon (Penn State) before storming back to finish third. That looked like just a hiccup as Jordan, wrestling from the sixth-seed, worked his way into a quarter-final showdown with the surprising Bryce Meredith (Wyoming). However, Meredith knocked off Jordan, 5-2, and then Micah fell to Randy Cruz (Lehigh) in the round of 12 to miss the podium. Overall, Jordan’s freshman year was really good, but the losses at the end have to be driving him as he prepares for his sophomore campaign. He’ll move up to 149 easing the concerns surrounding his weight cut. Jordan will be out to prove he can be the kind of top-4 wrestler he looked like for most of last year.
Kevin Jack, NC State, 141 – Junior
It is possible that, had Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) had a better regular season and been seeded closer to the ability he showed at the NCAA tournament, neither Jack nor Jordan would have ended up on this list. After forcing his way out of redshirt in 2015 and ending up fifth nationally, Jack looked to be right on schedule for another strong finish when Meredith knocked him off in the second round at NCAAs. Even then, Jack was able to recover to reach the round of 12 before losing to Joey Ward (North Carolina). Ward proved, when he beat Dean Heil (Oklahoma State), that he could beat anyone in the bracket on any given day so this looks like more of a bad draw than anything else. Jack will be out to prove that it was nothing more than that.
Jimmy Gulibon, Penn State, 141 – Senior
The blurb on Gulibon’s page on the Penn State website says it all, “Junior Jimmy Gulibon rolled to All-America laurels at the NCAA Championships last season and heads into his junior year a title contender.” That was, of course, before last season started. The four-time Pennsylvania state champ looked to be in a position to finish strong during his last two years in Happy Valley after a fifth place finish at 133 pounds in 2015. Instead, he struggled through his junior year at 141, showing flashes of his ability, but taking far too many losses. Now he comes into his senior year, still at 141, and I don’t think anyone is certain what we’ll see from Jimmy. Gulibon will be out to prove that last year was an aberration and that he can handle the heavier weight class.
Denzel Dejournette, Appalachian State, 285 – Senior
Dejournette was just 15-17 in 2013-14, but the light came on for him the next year as he was an impressive 33-6 and was the 12th seed at the 2015 NCAA tournament. He was just 1-2 there and had a very similar year in 2015-16, going 32-4, earning the sixth seed, and going just 1-2 in the NCAA tournament. Certainly, Dejournette’s regular season schedule is a bit softer than some of the other top heavyweights, but he did beat All-American Michael Kroells (Minnesota) at last year’s Southern Scuffle so he has shown the potential to beat that level of wrestler. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a lot of exposure to that type of opponent and that may cost him at the end of the year. This season, Dejournette will be out to prove that he isn’t just a small college guy with a big record. He’ll want to show he is a real threat at Heavyweight.