Updated Fri, Feb 21, 2014 9:01 am
When Jeremy Johnson steps out onto the mat, his eyes are unwavering and attached to the motion of his opponent. Johnson is sizing him up: his walk, his stature, his style.
No coaches or teammates will follow Johnson onto the mat to give him assistance. There is only one person that can help Johnson pull off a victory now, and that is himself.
But when Johnson steps off the mat, his vision widens. Once a wrestler has completed his bout, the meet goes back to being about the team.
Wrestling is not like football or basketball. It walks the line between an individual and team sport. During a dual meet, a wrestler from every weight class will compete in his bout and the total scores are added together. This means that even if an athlete wins his match handily, the team can still come out with a loss. Conversely, a wrestler can get pinned and the team may still win the match.
Even though a pin by an athlete does not guarantee a team victory, the energy it contributes to the team means more than what is signified by the change of lights on the scoreboard.
“I’m looking to those guys before me wrestling for that momentum,” Johnson said. “You kind of feed off of each other and you are always trying to do your individual best to help your team.”
Momentum is something that is fueled by the vibe of the team. When a team is successful the mood rises and the energy is sharp.
A strong relationship off the mat can fuel this momentum. When players are cheering for one another’s success, it is felt on the mat, on the bench and in the stands.
“I think that family relationship we have really helps us build better teamwork and cooperation with each other,” Johnson said. “I think when we’re traveling, practicing two times a day with each other, that really helps build those strong relationships.”
While relationships are key to teamwork, they are not the only thing head coach Joel Greenlee teaches his team. If other wrestlers are having a bad night, it is critical that the whole team does not unravel.
“You can control what you can control,” Greenlee said. “Go out and win your individual match and don’t worry about the team. You can’t be thinking, ‘Oh man we lost two matches going into mine,’ ‘cause hey if you start thinking like that we might lose three in a row.”
The team-versus-individual dynamic changes depending on if the match is part of a dual meet or a tournament. In a tournament, an individual’s success does play a role in the team’s overall placement but the correlation is not seen as directly as in a dual. Wrestlers do not compete consecutively, but rather throughout the course of the entire day.
“I think individual tournaments can hide weaknesses in your team. I think if I go to an individual tournament and I don’t do well, we don’t talk about me,” Greenlee said. “In a tournament we talk about you and how good you did. But most things show up in a dual meet.”
Individual tournaments also allow wrestlers who do not compete in duals to showcase their abilities. If an athlete is not redshirting, he will still wrestle in individual tournaments for his weight class.
In order to determine who will represent Ohio in dual meets, more competition is necessary. There is only one spot per weight class for each wrestler, so for the Bobcats more competitive weight classes, one-on-one competition is often required to determine who will represent the team.
This means that for some wrestlers, it is easy to see which of their teammates is their biggest competition.
“I’ve had guys in here that are fighting for a starting spot and they wanted to wrestle each other every day. They thought that it made themselves better,” Greenlee said. “And then I had some guys that never wanted to do that because they thought we will wrestle in our wrestle-off and I don’t want him to know what I do and figure me out. “
But regardless of intra-squad competition, Greenlee doesn’t allow his athletes to let it impact the team dynamic.
“For the most part we just try to tell guys you have to leave it in the wrestling room. You can be enemies in here on the mat but you can’t be enemies out there,” Greenlee said.
The Bobcats are about to begin the section of their schedule that is more about individual play. In March, Ohio will compete in the MAC and NCAA championships. Both competitions are individual tournaments that will provide the team with an overall standing once they are over, but will not have the wrestlers competing back to back.
Last season, the Bobcats tied for fifth place in the MAC Tournament. They currently hold fourth place in the conference after finishing the season at .500. After a preseason prediction to win the conference by the league office, Ohio will look to show its strength in the upcoming competition.