Leaving Maryland started Wesneski’s title run

The day Garrett Wesneski walked into Kerry McCoy’s office to tell him he was leaving the University of Maryland was one of the toughest of Wesneski’s life. McCoy, the former Penn State two-time NCAA champ and two-time Olympian, had invested considerable time into getting Wesneski prepared to wrestle at the collegiate level.

The day Wesneski walked into the Terrapins’ practice room for the first time, McCoy told the Canton graduate he was a great athlete but he didn’t know how to wrestle. Being an NCAA heavyweight champion, McCoy helped turn Wesneski into a collegiate wrestler.

On the day Wesneski told McCoy he was leaving because of two years of injuries and some family issues which made him want to move closer to home, Wesneski looked to McCoy and saw his coach was angry, upset and understanding all in one.

Two years later, after Wesneski won a Division III NCAA championship for Lycoming last Saturday, McCoy had left him a message on his phone congratulating his former wrestler on the accomplishment. McCoy’s Twitter feed was littered with multiple retweets congratulating Wesneski on becoming Lycoming’s 10th national wrestling champion.

“I created a good relationship with him just being an upperweight,” Wesneski said Wednesday. “He took my game to a whole new level and that carried right over to Lycoming with (head coach Roger Crebs) and (assistant coach Seth Lansberry). It’s amazing to me that he would reach out, and I appreciate him reaching out. He’s really proud of me and I’m really proud to share the years we had together.”

The start of his journey at Lycoming began on the day he told McCoy he was leaving Maryland. After a redshirt season and two injury-plagued years, Wesneski needed a fresh start, one which Crebs was happy to give him at Lycoming. Wesneski’s dad, Lyle, was a three-time NCAA qualifier for Crebs, and his uncle, Luke, also wrestled for Crebs.

Two years later, the whole transition was worth it. Wesneski won the 285-pound NCAA championship Saturday when he defeated Augustana’s Adarios Jones in the final, 9-7, in overtime. He completed about a perfect tournament run as the fifth seed at 285 pounds. Three of his four wins came against eventual All-Americans (Jones, Connor Calkins, Bowen Wileman).

So how does a Canton native who is on spring break from school celebrate a national championship?

“Well, my mom’s working and dad’s got school, so I’m stuck with doing the barn chores,” Wesneski said. “Things haven’t changed too much.”

This result was a complete turnaround from a year ago when Wesneski was bounced from the national tournament in the blood round. He felt like he wrestled those days nervously and never got his offense going.

That wasn’t the case this past weekend. He opened the tournament with a 10-0, pushing the pace against Castleton’s Jesse Webb that Webb was nearly stalled out of the match by the official. Wesneski scored a first-period fall in the quarterfinals to guarantee his first All-American honor. And he made a first-period takedown stand in a 4-3 win in the semifinals over Wileman.

In that semifinal bout, Wesneski suffered an injury to the LCL in his knee, an injury he’s dealt with before. And for a moment, but just a brief moment, a bit of doubt finally crept into his mind. For a wrestler who had finally carried so much confidence into the biggest tournament of his career when he was wrestling at his best, that doubt had Wesneski thinking that of course an injury would happen at this moment.

But he quickly blocked it out, setting his focus on Jones. He continually moved around during the finals or spent time on the stationary bike to keep his knee loose. He never felt the injury during the finals.

Instead, he was his same explosive self scoring a critical takedown in the first period to show Jones, a 2017 third-place finisher, he was in for a fight. He carried that fight through three periods before finishing the 7-minute regulation tied with Jones, 7-7. Wesneski actually initially thought he had lost the bout in regulation. He had read the scoreboard wrong during the third period and thought Jones may have the necessary riding time to get the bonus point and the win.

But when he saw they were tied and headed to overtime, Wesneski’s focus again changed.

“I was pretty tired and he was tired. But something sparked in me and I was instantly not tired anymore,” Wesneski said. “I remembered all the times I had come up short and the failures and disappointments. I said I’m going to get gutsy and set up this shot and finish it as fast as I can.”

Wesneski quickly got his setup and shot a sweep single to the right knee of Jones. Just as quickly, he sucked in the leg with both hands and scrambled behind to finish the takedown and earn the 285-pound national title.

As he stepped off the stage, Wesneski was immediately pulled aside for an interview. He watched his dad bear hug each member of the coaching staff and the other Lycoming wrestlers at the tournament.

“Crebs thought my dad broke his back,” Wesneski said.

Wesneski had never seen his dad get so emotional. The wrestling coach at Canton, Lyle has always been the stoic type, understanding the macro of a season in the midst of the micro. But in this moment, his emotion couldn’t be contained. He cried as he hugged his son.

Having been on a strict season plan of training throughout the season, Wesneski is going to take some time to enjoy his championship for a while. He’s scheduled to graduate from Lycoming in May and he’s thinking about a career in medicals sales.

But he also loves being around wrestling. He figures he’ll eventually find his way to coaching, whether it be at the college or high school level.

“I love being around wrestling. It’s something that has made me the man I am today,” Wesneski said. “I hope a lot of kids see it as anything is possible if you work toward it. It teaches life lessons which are going to make me a really good employee for someone. This sport has changed my life.”