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Bucknell hopes to get in plenty of competition in wrestling

Dan Wirnsberger and Bucknell’s wrestling team didn’t have its traditional preseason. Interrupted by positive COVID-19 tests on campus, the five or six weeks the Bison usually have to prepare for a college wrestling season stalled a couple times.

But the veteran coach couldn’t have been happier with Bucknell’s performance on the opening weekend of competition last Sunday. A young, but talented, group of freshmen and sophomores impressed in a round robin meet with VMI and Long Island University.

“We were thrilled,” Wirnsberger said earlier this week. “We felt it was an accomplishment just to get to that day and run an event, especially at home when you’re bringing two teams in. It took a lot to get us to that point last Sunday. There have been some highs and lows getting there, some starts and stops. Unfortunately the last handful of months we’ve gotten used to the starts and stops. But we’re thrilled to get to the point of competing.”

In the truest representation of what an abbreviated college wrestling season is going to look like, after a thrilling opening weekend, Bucknell had its dual this weekend at Hofstra canceled because of COVID-19 concerns among Hofstra’s program.

But Wirnsberger and his staff are using the time to get in at least simulated competition. He’s bringing in an official, wrestlers are going to have to make their scratch weight on Sunday, and the team is going to be holding ranking matches throughout the day. It’s something they didn’t get to do during the shortened preseason but wanted to squeeze in during the season even as it was competing every weekend.

“We have to adapt to the cancellations. We have to adapt to the circumstances and take one day at a time and focus on what we can control and get ready,” Wirnsberger said. “We’ve been trying to figure out where we can have days like this without disrupting our training cycles. It just so happened to work out this Sunday when we were supposed to compete.”

The goal for Wirnsberger is to get in as much competition before the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association tournament scheduled for Feb. 26. That leaves just eight weekends of potential competition for Division I teams.

Some coaches are making the most of dual meets by wrestling extra matches on top of the 10 for the dual meet. Last weekend, Pittsburgh and Navy wrestled 20 extra matches after the Panthers beat the Midshipmen, 22-14, in the regularly scheduled dual meet.

With all individual tournaments and open tournaments being canceled for the season, it’s how coaches are finding matches for their backups and extra competition for their starters. Wirnsberger expects more round robin formats like the one it hosted last weekend with VMI and LIU.

The NCAA and the rules committee put a rule in there that these extra matches count toward your record, and it’s all about building a winning percentage and having common opponents and being seedable for the conference and NCAA tournament,” Wirnsberger said. “That’s why we have two mats going on at the same time. It’s something I want to do and something we want to keep doing. We want to get as many matches as possible, and the majority of coaches want to do it as well.”

It’s all Division I teams can do to get back the portion of the season it lost when the NCAA pushed the start of wrestling back to the first weekend in January. This season has been about constantly adjusting to new protocols, new ways to construct schedules, and new ways to compete. At this point, adjusting has become second nature. And after having the national tournament canceled in March, Wirnsberger is seeing his student-athletes willing to do just about anything to be able to compete.

“The only thing we can control is how we prepare and the effort we put in,” Wirnsberger said. “So we want to be positive about what we’re doing. We’re grateful to be here in January and February competing because there are schools in our own league, the Ivy League schools, that aren’t even competing. So we’d do whatever was asked. If they said wear two masks while you wrestle, we’d wear two masks. If they said you have to be tested eight times a week, we’d do it. These kids have sacrificed so much, and their families have sacrificed so much to have the opportunity to wrestle at the Division I level. It’s a big part of their identity and life and they want to go out and do it.”

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