photo courtesy of McKendree Athletics
The McKendree University Bearcats are in the final preparation stages for the 2019 Women’s College Wrestling Association (WCWA) National Championships that are now only a week away. It has been an exciting season for head coach Sam Schmitz and his second-ranked McKendree squad as they have taken on all challengers with great success. They finished their regular season a perfect 7-0 in duals and recently claimed the program’s first-ever title at the NWCA Multi-Divisional National Duals. In addition to that, two Bearcat wrestlers competed at the 2018 U23 World Championships in Romania and became the first American women to earn medals at the prestigious tournament. Alexandria Glaude and Kori Bullock each earned bronze medals at 68 kg and 76 kg respectively. Also worth noting was the spectacular performance of Alexis Porter at the 2018 NWCA All-Star Classic where she defeated Nicole Joseph (King) by score the of 6-3. McKendree’s lineup loaded with depth and star power from top to bottom. Coach Schmitz’s squad has 15 wrestlers ranked in the top-10 of their respective weight class, including Glaude, ranked first at 155-pounds. They will be hoping to take advantage of that depth to claim the program’s first-ever WCWA team national championship. Below is a recent Q&A with Coach Schmitz I about this year’s season and the squad he leads, as he prepares them to make a run at the program’s first WCWA national championship in what could end up being a special season for the Bearcats.
TOM: McKendree is currently second-ranked team in the country. Can you comment on the program’s growth since you started it and the importance of capturing its first national championship?
Coach Schmitz: The growth is very amazing. It has been a lot of fun watching the program grow over the years. Getting to see kids who started the program grow into young women and leaders in society, it is remarkable. As far as our ranking goes, there are many great teams and any one of them could easily be ranked ahead of us. We just continue to focus on our day-to-day work and what we can do as a family to continue to improve. Winning National Duals was a very fun experience after coming up short two years in a row. I think the team was hungry to accomplish that together and it was fun.
TOM: When you and your staff are recruiting, what are you looking for in potential recruits besides wrestling ability?
Coach Schmitz: We just want kids who want to be different. Our world needs great leaders and great people to start leading the charge. Work hard, not be scared to fail, say “thank you” when needed, and ask for help when they are struggling. Finally, yet most importantly, treat other people with respect. After that, just work hard, show up every day and good things will happen. It is our responsibility to coach wrestling; we want the kids only to be concerned with their energy and effort every day.
TOM: With all the success that McKendree has had this season, how do you continue to keep the team focused and motivated each week?
Coach Schmitz: If I knew the answer to this, my job would be a breeze. We just try to keep it “light.” Some days we are just drilling, some days are a grind, some days the dodgeballs are out, etc. These kids work very hard and we demand maximum effort each day, after that, we just try to keep the smiles bright and the wrestling crisp.
TOM: You have a team that is loaded with depth with 15 wrestlers currently ranked in the most recent WCWA rankings, including five weights where multiple wrestlers are ranked. How do you maintain team chemistry in the practice room when eventually they will be competing against each other at the national tournament?
Coach Schmitz: I think our kids have a great understanding of the notion that “their toughest opponents need to be in the practice room.” There are girls on our team that go days without “winning” live goes, then they go out on the weekend and win tournaments. If there is mutual respect for one another, they can use each other to get better every day. The goal is to have those girls wrestling in the national finals against each other.
TOM: What impact did the success of Alexandria Glaude and Kori Bullock at the U23 World Championships have on the McKendree women’s wrestling program this year? Did their success surprise you?
Coach Schmitz: What they accomplished had a large, lasting impact on our team and our university. We were, and continue you to be, very proud of their success at the event. I think I can speak for both of them, that is not their goal for their wrestling careers and it is not the end. They both strive to be the best they can be on and off the mat, and that is what we look for as a team and as individuals in our program. As far as being a surprise, it did not surprise me. They both are destined for success; it was and is just a matter of time. There have been failures and adversity leading up to those moments, but they both do the things they need to do to prepare day in and day out. They are both INCREDIBLE human beings and athletes. They are both a little bit of perfectionists as well and they are going to keep working. As long as they believe, they will accomplish anything they set their minds too.
TOM: What did it mean to claim McKendree’s first NWCA National Duals title this year?
Coach Schmitz: It meant a lot for our program. Not just getting a trophy or being the champion, but in the sense that the hard work of our coaches and athletes is paying off. It is nice to see some of the struggles finally turn into success. Starting this program from the ground up was not easy and the road was full of failures and heartache. It is just nice to see it go our way one time. It was a lot of fun and our kids are right back to work trying to accomplish more this spring and summer. We are very blessed to have that event go well for us and beat a very young and talented team in King University. We hope that we can keep working and have some more success.
TOM: What will it take for McKendree to end the season as national champions?
Coach Schmitz: We have to believe in each other, trust the process, and have fun. We hope that when the dust settles, we can be on top, but we cannot control the outcome, the other teams, or anything else. All we can do is just be the best version of McKendree Wrestling for those two days. If we do that, we should do just fine.