2020 was an excruciating year for many of us, but spring athletes of all ages felt especially robbed, as many did not get a chance to experience a post-season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Cody Baldridge and the North Central College wrestling team, it was particularly painful. Head Coach Joe Norton explains, “We were there, at Nationals. We were in the arena, we practiced twice already when the decision came down to cancel the tournament, it was tough.” An arena full of coaches and athletes whose hopes and dreams would be postponed. Cody Baldridge was amongst those athletes whose dreams were delayed.
Baldridge did not let last season have a lasting effect on him. He won the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) National Title at 197 lbs. In impressive fashion. Baldridge dominated his opponent in the finals, defeating him by major decision with a score of 10-2. For Baldridge, it was a long-time coming. “It was exhilarating, because of last year. That was one of the first thoughts that came in my head. How we didn’t get this opportunity last year, so there were so many feelings because I was upset about how last year ended, and just finally getting to do it.” Coach Norton echoes these thoughts, “I think he earned it, so I just wanted to make sure he got it. I think he earned last year, for them to stay on that grind for 12 months. Knowing that something was taken from them that they should have had, and just go out and get it, at the next opportunity. I was really proud of him for doing that.”
Baldridge felt like he was ready for the National tournament. “About 3 weeks before Nationals I just flipped a switch in practice, my practice partner (Brock Montford) and I, would literally just come into the room and battle, we would have just regular drilling, and regular drilling would just turn into live sparring and live wrestling and it would just be a match at that point. It felt like we were just so competitive with each other, and we were drilling so hard that our t-shirts were sopping wet after practice.” Baldridge’s workout partner, Brock Monford, also became an All-American for the Cardinals placing 4th at this year’s National tournament. Coach Norton agrees, “You hear all the time, if you put the work in, you’ll get the rewards. To actually have that come to fruition, is rewarding.”
The Cardinal program is on the rise with two National Finalists and seven total All-Americans this season. Baldridge placed 1st and his teammate Robert Precin placed 2nd at 133 lbs. Baldridge gives credit to the coaching staff. Baldridge speaks highly of Head Coach Norton. “Out of any of the coaches that I have ever talked to I feel like he is one of the few that actually takes the extra time to do what it takes, to see someone succeed. He preaches about it all the time, wanting to see all the athletes walk out of here successful.” Norton is quick to deflect any praise. “When you combine his extreme competitiveness with a great work ethic you are going to get great results. All I have to do is point them in the right direction, I think they give me more credit than I deserve. I just create the structure and the system for them to do what they are already good at.”
When it comes to Assistant Coach Zack Cook, National Champion, Cody Baldridge, is happy to sing his praise. “Cook and Joe want to see us succeed. They preach it all the time, wanting to see us walk out of here successful. Both go way beyond out of their way just to help, not just me out, but everyone else out. In the practice room they are so dedicated to wanting us to win.” He continued, “Cook comes in there and wrestles with all of us, it doesn’t matter if you’re the lowest weight class or the heaviest weight class, he’ll wrestle anyone. He’ll go over film with anyone, again just takes that extra time to help us out.” With a dedicated coaching staff it is no surprise why NCC Wrestling is finding success, that they hope to continue next season.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic all NCAA student-athletes were granted an additional year of eligibility. Some athletes are graduating and deciding to leave a year of eligiblity on the table.
We asked Baldridge about his goals. “Definitely the goal for next year, if they have the NCAAs is to win an NCAA title. Then I got that extra year, so hopefully I can get 2 more titles.” Hopefully, Baldridge will be leading the Cardinals to a National Title in the near future.