By ANDREW JOHNSON
The first competition of a new season is always vital since a solid performance can set the tone for a successful season. It is also the first opportunity for the new freshmen to get a taste of athletics at the collegiate level, a moment which is surely nerve wracking but also incredibly memorable. The Hopkins wrestling team ventured to Grantham, Pa. this past weekend to participate in the Messiah Invitational, where they competed in a tough nine team slate.
The Jays ultimately placed eighth in the competition, finishing with a team total of 27.5 points. The host Messiah College Falcons claimed top honors in the team competition, winning with 136 points and six champion performers. While the result might have been slightly disappointing to the team, there were numerous positives that the Jays took away from the tournament.
The opening tournament of the season was an opportunity for the freshmen to prove their mettle in a high intensity college atmosphere. While practices and scrimmages are strenuous and testing, it is difficult to really acclimate to the rigors of the sport until truly pushed in a formal setting.
Hopkins was able to secure two top four finishes on the day, as sophomore Tommy Grifa placed third in the 157 weight class in what looks to be a breakout campaign for the second year performer. Grifa’s third place finish was top among the squad, and this youth-laden team will certainly be looking for more standout finishes from him as they continue their season.
The Jays’ other top four finisher was freshman Brandon Tran, who captured fourth place at the 125 weight class in his first career tournament with Hopkins. In a field that included the two time national finalist at his weight class and a slew of other experienced opponents, Tran described how his first experience in tournament competition was both overwhelming but also rewarding.
“Wrestling at the collegiate level was definitely a huge change from high school,” Tran said. “The opponents that I faced were much faster, stronger, and overall better than the average opponent that I faced in high school. In fact, the bracket I was in seemed to have more depth than my state tournaments. It was especially eye-opening hearing from my coach that a two-time national finalist who was ranked first in my weight class was in my bracket. Watching him wrestle was awesome. To be honest, my goal for the day was just to win a match. I had no expectations of placing.”
In addition, Tran described the rigors of practice at the collegiate level this past fall and how they differed profoundly from anything he experienced in high school.
“I came from a team that started a varsity program my sophomore year so my practices were not the toughest,” Tran said. “College practices are tougher and more focused on drilling techniques and live wrestling as opposed to instruction than high school.”
However, the unity of the team and its dedicated and passionate coaching staff are ultimately reasons why we can expect the wrestlers to have a solid season. Much of team success is predicated on chemistry and buying into a system, and Head Coach Keith Norris and his staff have instilled this belief within the squad.
Tran spoke passionately about how much he has enjoyed bonding with his incredibly focused and determined teammates and heaped praise upon a coaching staff that often will go the extra mile to ensure the success and happiness of its athletes.
“The thing that I have enjoyed the most about being a Hopkins wrestler are my teammates and my coach,” Tran said. “It’s pretty great having teammates that are all so focused on wrestling and their academics. I also love having a great coach that puts so much time and effort into the team, buying food and drinks for the whole team the day before and ordering us matching shoes for our matches.”
The team hopes to build off of the performances of some of their youngest contributors to hopefully propel themselves to a solid winter campaign.
Hopkins will return to the mats on Nov. 14 as they head to Centennial Conference foe Ursinus College for their annual Fall Brawl. These early conference match-ups will be instrumental to forming the identity of this squad.