Perpetual preparation: MAU wrestling readies for major meets
In the Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling room, there is no distinguishing between a rookie or a nationally-ranked standout.
"Squat! Lower your knees! Act like you're going to the bathroom in the woods!" coach Scott Legacy yelled to two-time national champion heavyweight Jesse Webb.
"There! That's it, get low."
It is standing operating procedure for the Patriot wrestlers, who were preparing last Friday for the Central Super Quad competition in Springfield, Mass. over the weekend and their home match against Danbury on Monday, perhaps the year's most anticipated dual. There was no live wrestling but a high-pace 90-minute workout that left most with sweat-streaked shirts.
And these grueling sessions are at the core of the multi-layered preparation regimen that has built Mount Anthony into a 24-time reigning state champion and perennial contender for the New England crown.
It's in the wrestling room that the Patriots fine-tune their conditioning and technique with constructive analysis.
"We drill a lot on our feet and, when we're tired, all that drilling [comes into play] when you're tired in a match," said sophomore 113-pounder Troy Gassaway. "Coach likes to have everything perfect. If he sees us doing something wrong, he corrects us on the drill. A lot of the wrestlers do that, too.
"Say, Miguel [Calixto] does a move wrong, I'll tell him. Or if I do one wrong, he'll tell me."
Practices only last an hour and a half, but every minute is used efficiently. Coaches stress the importance of self-improvement during sessions, taking chances to experience new things and work out any kinks, Legacy said.
"We don't do a lot of standing around at all. There's never an idle kid, I don't believe in that," Legacy said. "I've seen where three or four are doing drills and the other guys are standing waiting for their turn. We try to stay away from that."
That efficiency lets the Patriots accomplish in 90 minutes what might take another team much longer.
"A lot of people laugh when they see how long we practice," Legacy said. "A lot of teams say they go two-and-a-half, we go one-and-a-half. The kids get in the room and we have them working on their weaknesses for 15 minutes at the start of practice. We get at in at 2:45, we're done at 4:15."
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Prepared is a little different for sophomore Jack Luciano than most of the 220-pounders in the nation. As the second-heaviest weight class in the lineup, he faces Webb every day in the wrestling room.
"[We] push each other," Luciano said. "Jesse has been really good for a long time and it's gotten me a lot better too. I've been learning from him. And he has gotten better too because I'm pushing him more."
Webb, one of two Mount Anthony wrestlers who still haven't lost this season, said Luciano will notice bad habits the junior captain might not see.
"When I'm wrestling Jack, I'm usually teaching him and he'll see little stuff I forget because I'm so going so hard I don't notice," Webb said.
"We consistently remind them that Wrestler A is only as good as Wrestler B," Legacy said. "Specifically, between Jack and Jesse, Jesse has one gear. He's going hard all the time, even if it's not a good day for him. Jesse has that work ethic, he doesn't have to switch when it's time for a match."
That intensity can take some of the uninitiated by surprise but, in the long run, it's why Mount Anthony wrestlers are, from the lightest weights to the heaviest, better-conditioned than their opponents.
"Some of the younger kids were on the bubble of breaking, but didn't. The older kids have been through it before, it's getting to [be] that time of the year," Legacy said.
That conditioning can be the difference in a tight match.
"If you need one more takedown, when you're drilling hard and your body is tired, you know you can do it in a match," Gassaway said.
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Another way that Mount Anthony wrestlers prepare is by watching video. Unlike most sports, they aren't watching film on the other team -- in fact, they are watching themselves.
"In the heat of a match, you won't think and you'll do something and screw it up, or might not notice in practice that you're drilling a move wrong," Webb said. "If someone doesn't point it out, you'll see it there and make the adjustment in practice. Lots of other teams study the other team, we focus more on what we're doing wrong so we can perfect it."
The MAU wrestling program takes advantage of available technology, recording every individual match for analysis.
"On my desk is a stack of papers, their homework," Legacy said. "I ask them to write down what they've seen as good or bad. With the [memory] cards, I can put them in and skip to certain points in the video. What I show them is how I break them down."
Legacy then gave a couple of examples: One wrestler too upright in his stance giving up crucial leverage and getting taken down as a result; another stepping back and conceding momentum when going for a takedown.
"Even if you tell them after a match, they'll say [they didn't do it], but then you show the video. He's getting ready to shoot [for a takedown], pause, and they can see it," Legacy said.
Luciano said he watches video regularly to see the mistakes in his wrestling.
"When I watch them, I see the flaws of the match," Luciano said. "If I take a bad shot or I'm not putting my hips into the guy when I'm sprawling, stuff like that. I can see what I'm doing wrong, drill it better, and get better at it."
Taping the matches is just one way to prepare for the next meet. Video managers, statisticians and scorers all play a part in the Patriots' success.
"We're fortunate we have good student-managers, they have a role on this team, even though they don't wrestle," Legacy said. "The role is to tape matches. Without it, we can't tape [wrestlers] and make them better.
"It's manpower and no one thinks about it ... It's a system put into place over a number of years. And it's still evolving, believe it or not."
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To get ready for Monday's match against Danbury, an annual clash the team calls "The Rivalry," each wrestler has a different routine. With no school because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the free day gives the wrestlers a chance to relax and get ready for the match.
"I'll wake up, do my regular routine," Gassaway said. "I stick to a strict routine; any flaw to it messes it up a lot. I'll hydrate well, eat well, make weight and wrestle."
Luciano said he tries to eat healthfully, but doesn't have to worry about making weight.
"I drink water throughout the day, then after weigh-in, I'll drink a Gatorade, that really energizes me," Luciano said.
All said they were planning on taking advantage of an open-mat session on Sunday. The session, which occurs occasionally during the season, lasted about a half-hour, a time when the wrestlers run and try to stay loose after Saturday's day-long tournament.
"We'll go in and work, even though it's our day off, so you're ready," Gassaway said. "There's no days off, because I'm sure [Danbury wrestlers] aren't taking days off."
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Tension defined the showdown. Every match with the Hatters was close; 11 of 14 went the full six minutes. In the end, Mount Anthony remained undefeated after a 34-21 victory that played to the Patriots' strength -- superior conditioning.
"We had good hard practices all week, not long, but very crisp," said Luciano, who won a 5-2 decision over Triston Jakobsen. "It built our lungs to be able to handle a six-minute match."
Halfway through the match, Luciano said he noticed his opponent tire, a mental boost in a pressure-packed situation.
"He started breathing heavy, getting slower," Luciano said. "It's a huge match-turner. "If you're thinking that you might not have a chance, it's an ego boost if you see him get tired because you realize you work way harder than him."
Gassaway put MAU's first points on the board with a 21-4 technical fall against Justin Peterson.
"We worked hard all week, and [after coming] off a loss at the MAU tournament, I just ready to get another win at home," Gassaway said. "Bonus points make a big difference. Last year, we had guys get pinned, this year we didn't get pinned at all."
Webb pinned his opponent, Ray Bruto, in the final match of the night in 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
"We wrestled a lot of tough teams [this weekend]," Webb said. "It was important to make a statement that we're here to the very end, whether we're leading or not."
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