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Old 03-24-2011
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MR TWISTER MR TWISTER is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Chicago
Posts: 18,954
Tears for a champion; Tears for the death of a wrestling progam

Nebraska-Omaha's great program set to end

I always wondered what would my reaction be if my son won an NCAA National Championship. Well it turns out he gave me the opportunity to find out eleven days ago.

I cried. A grown man cried and I am not ashamed to say it either. Actually, I cried twice. Once for tears of joy and two hours later tears of sadness. More on the second crying part in a minute.

I believe as best I can tell I have cried three times in the last five years. The first time was when my father Charles died. My son Mario’s entire University of Nebraska at Omaha Maverick wrestling team plus the coaching staff came to the funeral in Omaha. Head Coach Mike Denney got up and spoke. Back in 2007-08 Mario was a red shirt freshman just returning from an injured ACL knee and fresh into the lineup. When my father, whom Mario lived with, died suddenly Mario’s other Omaha family was there for comfort. When Coach got up to speak and comfort Mario, I had been doing the manly thing of keeping it together. However, to see 40 of my son’s teammates come together as family and his coach do this honorable thing was too much for me, I basically lost it.

******

Fast forward to last weekend. Mario had managed to string together 28 straight wins after starting 2 and 4 in his final season. The pressure this year was real. So much respect hung on getting back to the finals. In 2010, he had reached the DII finals only to lose on a poor shot that turned into his opponents victory dance on Mario’s home mat. And to add insult to injury that opponent marched around the ring showboating with a gesture to show he had broke Mario’s 30 match win streak. Let that be a lesson to all wrestlers. If you don’t open up and wrestle your match, you will invariably wrestle your opponents’ match and he will dance on your grave. While that night at UNO was not a night for crying it was a night for planning redemption.

I did not have to say much to Mario leading into this season. When you have been doing something for 18 years you should know what to do. You don’t need your Dad or even your coaches to motivate you. Losing in the finals will usually do it. The only problem is there are other pressures. Some visible like what if you get injured and can’t get back to the finals. On the other hand, what if you get upset and don’t get back to the finals. Then there is the responsibility of being the senior captain and having to lead a back-to-back national title back to the Promised Land. What if that team is not as dominant as the previous years but still good enough if you show some leadership? Don’t even begin to think about life after college and the failing job market. Moreover, in the back of your head you wonder if your legacy will be can you really win the big one? So much to think about and juggle, sort out and make sense of. He only said to me once that the only way his final season could be a success was to win the national title. Anything less would be a failure. I was so glad he said it. I never could of told him that is what I was thinking.

What no one was prepared for was the chance that this great program, the dominant UNO Maverick wrestling team could possibly be no longer two hours after winning the national title. A coach or a dad can’t prepare you for your own school dropping your team. That is exactly how the unexpected ending of the dream ending is playing out.

Nebraska Roundtable discussion on ending UNO's program
http://www.ketv.com/r-video/27248460/detail.html
The dream season went well after a rocky start. First tournament two injury defaults with Coach Denney throwing in the towel to Mario’s shoulder injury at Iowa State. The next week on his home mat in the tough Kaufman-Brand tournament more injury problems. This time a pinch nerve in his neck along with the still lingering shoulder slowed Mario down. He gathered three DI wins enroute to a 4 and 2 day but both losses were also DI. After this cold November day he would not loss again in his college career. Mario rolled off 28 wins including a perfect performance at the National Duals when both the 125 and 133’s did not win a single match. It was up to Mario to jump-start UNO’s lineup in order to three peat to the championship. He even got a chance to avenge his national finals loss in the championship of the national duals with a 4-0 shutout. A perfect 13-0 dual season added to his 39-match streak of straight dual meet wins dating back to 2009. He just kept winning and his team followed suit.

In his 32nd year at the helm of the Mavericks, Coach Denney had to actually move people around the line up, plus bring someone out of red shirt to solve the problem at 125 and 133. Unlike previous seasons blowout championship seasons, his team had to pull a few rabbits out their hats. A rare loss came at the hands of St. Cloud State when Illinois native Eric Ellington got a pin after UNO forfeited at 125 due to injury. In February, UNO caught fire and started blowing teams out in their more customary style instead of the close wins that took place in January. Another Super Regional championship for the Mavericks and Mario (his third) setup a return trip to the national finals, this year held at UNO rival Nebraska-Kearney, three hours to the west of Omaha.

Mario faced tough opponents in every match. The first round match featured a hard fought come from behind 9-4 win against Simon Rice, a sophomore from Shippensburg (PA). Are there ever any easy matches against East Coast wrestlers? Definitely not Mario’s best match but he has shown a penchant for not wrestling well at 9 a.m yet still getting his hand raised. Still he survived and moved on to the evenings All American match.

His 16-man bracket included on his side Naveed Bagheri (San Francisco State) who had been ranked #2 all season but suffered and injury default in his own regional and caused the bracketing Gods to force a quarter final match of what most thought should be the finals. Losing 3-2 in the third Mario cut Bagheri to trail by two. With 40 seconds left Mario hit the most perfect lateral drop ever. It was unexpected by all and Mario held it for a fall and a win. In all of my years involved in the sport I never heard such a loud response from a crowd. It was deafening and inspiring at the same time, one of those rare moments in the sport. I have included a link just below to the video for your viewing pleasure. I even had some old timers in the crowd tell me that was one of the top five DII tournament matches of all time. I don’t know if it was but UNO sure needed the boost.


In the semis an old adversary awaited, Matt Irwin of Indianapolis. Mario had beat Irwin three years ago in the Super Regional final 12-2. Once again, Mario came from behind to post his second semi final win of his career, 3-2 and return to the finals. I guess all of the one and two point wins (8) during the season were preperation for this moment. Not only was Mario in some tough scraps at this tournament but so was UNO. Augustana (SD) and St. Cloud State, were right on their heels. Heading into the finals UNO only lead by 4 points but had their three seniors in the finals while SCSU had two finalists, Augustana one. Mario definitely needed to win his national title this time to help the team as well as himself.

Dalton Jensen from the home team, Nebraska-Kearney was Mario’s finalist from the other side of the bracket. Although 3 and 0 against him he needed to be considered dangerous. Jensen was a transfer from Iowa State, a ranked DI qualifier who only transferred when he asked the ISU coach for more money and got rebuked. The last time Mario faced him a month earlier, an escape with 2 seconds left produced a 4-2 win for Mario, barley. And he had reversed Mario in that match, something that did not happen too often. Plus Jensen got into the finals with a :17 fall of the defending DII champ. The same one that had beat Mario a year earlier.

The finals started out bad with Jensen shooting in on Mario’s leg and almost scoring. Mario did a tremendous job with his wizzer and hips in that situation turning Jensen’s move into his for two points. Jensen got one point beyond reaction time as they rolled out of bounds. Another takedown later in the first by Mario increased the lead 4-1. Second period a locked hands on Mario and an escape by Jensen closed the gap to 4-3. In the third Mario really got untracked with an awesome power double and Jensen's missed takedown attempt countered by Mario gave him a comfortable 9-4 lead. Before it was all said and done Mario finally had his title winning 12-5. UNO increased their lead to by 8 points.

NCAA National Championship Match
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19ly8mxxPYg

Mario ran and jumped in his associate head coaches arms. Simultaneously I ran to the other side of the elevated mat, meeting Mario and he came down the stairs for the hug that was so many years coming. So many thoughts flooded my head, the 7 a.m. bus rides, the 29 hour drive one way to Reno, the disappointments at all four IHSA state tournaments, the thrills at Senior Nationals, the IKWF state title, winning Dvorak with his mom having surgery, the super hard practices at the Twisters, the wins against Blair, St Rita and Providence and on and on. After hugging me I whispered in his ear, “Go find your Mom.” With that he took off and ran to the UNO section, Lambeau leaped into his mothers arms. Ex UNO wrestlers are slapping him on the back and his girlfriend is beaming with pride.

What a great moment. My phone is truly blowing up like never before. Text messages, pmails and phone calls from all over the country. Mario’s good friend from the Twisters’, Oklahoma State’s Albert White is watching the finals and I answer his call. I head up stairs to get ready for the podium shot after the 149 match. Talking to Albert it finally hits me and so do the tears as I try to stand in the hallway away from those that are watching the 149 final. Everything goes so fast as I look back on it. The podium shots. Then I finally sit down with Mario for a few moments, then he has to go and do some interviews and cheer for UNO’s 174 pounder. His win clinches UNO’s third team title in a row and sixth in the last eight years. Another win at 184 pounds and Mario’s senior class, the three studs recruited by Coach Denney back in 2005 come through and deliver a national championship in their final time on the mat.

The announcer says, “The 2011 National Champions-the University of Nebraska at Omaha.” Now the entire program, wrestlers, parents, coaches, ex wrestlers from past championship teams, girlfriends and media are now up on the raised mat taking pictures. The national broadcast cameras for CBS Sports are whirling.

Everything seemed so perfect. A perfect ending to a storied college-wrestling career for Mario, or so it seemed.

After returning to our hotel coach talks to the wrestlers, fans and parents, detailing a lot of good things about the entire line up. The team serves dinner and then the wrestlers disappear, going to their rooms to change clothes and go out and celebrate, college style-out on the town. The parents are left to have our own party or to catch a little shuteye after a long day. Coach Denney retires to his room.

About an hour later cell phones start to receive a simple text message from coach. Return asap to the meeting room. IMPORTANT! One by one, we all fall back to the room that was so filled with joy earlier. When I walk in I notice a big difference right away. Coach is speaking in a whisper. Several Moms are crying and the wrestlers are staring as if they are a deer in headlights. “I just got a call from the Athletic Director, our program has been cut. We no longer have a team.”

UNO Public Rally to Save Wrestling
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANSDEmUlJSY

No way. This is some type of April Fools joke. Then I am told a newspaper article has been leaked. I look the article up on my iPad. It is all there. The gory details of a sneaky backdoor maneuver by our own sports administrator. Before I realized it, tears were streaming down my face. Twice in one night. At least this time I was not the only one. Everyone was either crying or in shock. I looked at my son and he dropped his head, much like that day at his grandfathers’ funeral.

What should have been his greatest night had turned out to be just another defeat. Except this was one that he could not wrestleback from.

UNO wrestling, the greatest program in NCAA DII was no longer anymore. What does this mean for the sport and teams in other states? If UNO was one of the three untouchables (as Gail likes to call them) along with Iowa and Wartburg and could have the rug pulled from underneath them then no team is safe.

I am pretty sure I will be crying around 10:00 a.m. When the Regents kill the UNO program.

I wonder if there will even be wrestling in 15,10 or even 5 years.

We are losing the war wrestling fans.

Here are last weeks casulities.

R.I.P. University of Sioux Falls
R.I.P. University of North Carolina – Greensboro
R.I.P. University of Nebraska at Omaha
__________________

Last edited by MR TWISTER; 08-30-2012 at 05:14 PM.
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