Wrestling | 11/5/2014 5:17:00 AM
| Brent Harris
Wabash is ranked third nationally in the 2014-15 preseason rankings released by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
While appreciative of earning a place in the top-three positions, this Little Giant team has only one spot that on their mind --- finishing as national champions.
"I think the number-three ranking says we're doing the right things as a program," Wabash head coach Brian Andersonsaid. "Our expectation this year is to get a qualifier to nationals in all 10 weight classes. If we do that and compete the way I expect us to, we could bring a very special trophy back to this school. We need to stay focused on our efforts week in and week out by making progress individually. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself."
Wabash received 28 total points in the preseason poll conducted the NWCA. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was the top selection with 31 points. Messiah College earned 29 points for second. Delaware Valley College sits in fourth with 27 points, followed by Coe College in fifth with 21 points. The Little Giant wrestling team's social media efforts continue to be rewarded, as well. Wabash ranks 22nd in the first NWCA/Elite Level Sports Marketing Best of Brand Rankings.
Last year Wabash sent six wrestlers to nationals, including four returning competitors who are listed in the top-10 individual rankings to open the season. Tommy Poynter is ranked ninth at 125 pounds to open the year. Conner Lefever is listed third at 174 pounds. Reece Lefever, who earned All-America honors for the second consecutive season with a fourth-place finish at 157 pounds, is ranked third in that weight class to open the season. Riley Lefever claimed the first national championship for a Wabash wrestler by winning the 184-pound weight class in his freshman season. He earned d3wrestle.com Freshman of the Year honors and is picked number one in the preseason rankings at 184 pounds.
"Having four returning wrestlers who competed at nationals sets a great tone for our team," Anderson said. "The other wrestlers on our team realize qualifying for nationals is an attainable goal."
Wabash finished ninth overall in the team scoring at last year's national championship meet. Reece Lefever knows this year's preseason ranking is more tribute than reality.
"It's cool to be ranked third and receive that type of recognition for what we accomplished last year," Reece Lefever said. "But our goal this year is not to get third, it's to finish first. That's what we're training for this season. We know we wrestle against top-level competition every week. That will help us get ready for nationals this year, as well."
Reece's twin brother, Conner, and younger brother, Riley, understand the tone the veteran members of the team need to provide to the team if the Little Giants are going to achieve their goal of ten qualifiers.
"I'm trying to lead by example this year," Conner Lefever said. "I'm not the type of guy who talks a lot, but I want to work hard in practice and do the extra things that are necessary to qualify for nationals and earn a place on the podium as a national champion."
"Our motto this year is 'One Vision'," Riley Lefever added. "The fact we're ranked third changes nothing. It's definitely a sign of respect for what we accomplished as a team last season, but this is a new season. The coaches have stressed having the veteran wrestlers work with the younger wrestlers to show them the level of effort it takes to earn that place at nationals."
Poynter expects nothing to be easy this season as he charts a course to return to nationals and a chance to earn All-America honors and a national title in his senior season.
"I need to keep working hard this year just like I did last year," he said. "I'm working to be a good student-athlete here at Wabash, represent the College and our team both academically and on the mat. I feel a tremendous responsibility. I am trying to do all the right things to show hard work and perseverance can help achieve those goals."
The path back to nationals starts next Thursday when the Little Giants face Olivet College. The dual meet will take place at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne at 7 p.m. Prior to the official start of the season, the Little Giants will compete in the annual Red-White duals Friday night at 6:30 p.m.