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Wrestling caps off season with endings and new beginnings at nationals

Sophomore+133+pound+Isaias+Torres+qualified+for+All-American+status+at+the+NCCA+Division+III+Wrestling+Championships+at+the+University+of+Wisconsin-La+Crosse+on+March+15.+The+Bombers+sent+five+wrestlers+to+the+competition.
John Henry Downes
Sophomore 133 pound Isaias Torres qualified for All-American status at the NCCA Division III Wrestling Championships at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on March 15. The Bombers sent five wrestlers to the competition.

The Ithaca College wrestling team sent five competitors to the Division III wrestling championships at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on March 15. The tournament capped off what was another successful season for the Bombers as they continued their tradition of excellence in the Division III wrestling scene.

This season the Bombers posted a 14–5 record in dual meets, won the New York State Championship tournament, took second place at the SUNYAC Championships and took second place at the NCAA Mideast Division III Regional Championships, which included two regional champions — junior Jackson Gray and sophomore Isaias Torres.

Gray and Torres were joined by graduate student Matthew Beyer, junior Wenchard Pierre-Louis and sophomore Ryan Galka to represent the team at the NCAA championships. While only Torres was able to make it to day two, Torres continued his dominance from two weeks prior and took home All-American honors, finishing seventh overall in the 133 pound weight class.

Torres said that at Nationals he was looking to build on what had been a very successful first-year campaign and while he said is not content with a seventh place finish, he is proud of the progress he made from his first collegiate season.

“I’m definitely not satisfied,” Torres said. “I didn’t go over there to place seventh, but I feel like all my hard work is slowly paying off and this is a good way to track my progress.”

Torres said he was glad he had the experience of going to Nationals last season as he believed he knew what to expect this year which helped to settle some nerves.

“This year I was more calm and collected and I felt like I’ve been there before,” Torres said.

One area of added emphasis for Torres this year was to work on his mental performance. Torres said he worked on areas that he could control, with focus on his workouts and putting himself in future situations.

“I feel like your mental game is really gonna get you the wins when you need it, putting yourself in those positions before you even out in the match wrestling,” Torres said. “I did a lot of meditation and envisioning myself in the positions.”

Gray said he also put a specific focus on his mental performance during the season. Gray has had a very up and down career up until this point, including a fourth place finish at regionals his first-year season, just missing Nationals by one spot. This season, Gray began to speak with a sports psychiatrist in order to make himself feel more confident in big matches. He credits these talks as a main reason for his success this season.

“It’s such a big part to believe in yourself and believe in all your training and coaches. … I think the mental aspect is bigger than the physical aspect,” Gray said. “I went from the athlete of just trying not to lose to trying to win.”

Another adjustment that Gray made this season was moving up a weight class from the 165 pound class to 174 pounds. Gray said this is much closer to his natural, year-round weight, therefore he did not have to worry about cutting weight throughout the season. He credits this decision by his coaches as another prime reason for his success.

“It definitely helped with my mental game as well cause I was so focused on just making myself better instead of having to lose like 10 pounds a week,” Gray said.

Gray, Torres, Galka and Pierre-Louis will all be returning next season with Nationals experience under their belts. However, the fifth Bomber who competed at the big dance, Beyer, capped off what has been a fulfilling career here on the South Hill.

Beyer wrestles at the 149 pound weight class and has been a team captain for the last two seasons. He has qualified for the national championships the last two seasons and this season recorded his 100th career win in a Bomber uniform. Beyer said he is sentimental about his career ending but is proud of both himself and his teammates for the season that they had.

“I mean it was a little bit of a bittersweet end,” Beyer said. “I had a great season, the whole team had a really great season, which I was really happy about. I wrestled as hard as I could and was fully prepared, but it was a good tournament and I just wish it ended differently.”

Torres admired the impact Beyer made on the team and said the team looked up to Beyer both on and off the mats.

“He plays a big role on our team, just leadership-wise, and we just look up to him,” Torres said.

Beyer said the season got off to a rocky start only taking fourth place at the opening Ithaca Invitational, but the team was able to rally. Beyer said the whole team deserves credit for the turnaround.

“The younger guys really stepped up,” Beyer said. “All the guys that were expected to do well really stepped up and got better and better as the season went on and we won a lot of great tournaments and a lot of great dual meets.”

Some of that development could be seen in Galka’s turnaround during the season. Galka said that because of a slow start he was worried he would lose his spot in the starting lineup.

“I wasn’t even thinking about Nationals,” Galka said. “I was just thinking about keeping a starting position.”

However, Galka caught fire in January with a stretch that carried him into Nationals. After a tumultuous start, he was able to place third in the 197 pound weight class at regionals. While he unfortunately went 0–2 at Nationals, he said he is proud of the work he put in and plans on using the experience to make him an even better wrestler over the next two seasons.

“The biggest takeaway for me is that I belong there,” Galka said. “I got two more seasons to get better and get on that podium.”

Galka said the best part of the experience was being able to experience it with his teammates. It also helped that Pierre-Louis, Beyer and Torres all have national-level experience and were able to provide valuable insight to himself and Gray as they made their debut on the national stage.

“We just have such good chemistry on the team,” Galka said. “So being able to go with four of my best friends, it’s awesome. Having all those guys with that experience and being able to shed light on what we were gonna face. … It’s awesome.”

While the team ultimately fell short of its goal of getting on the podium, Gray said they could not be more proud of Torres as they could not think of anyone better to represent the Bombers on the podium.

“It was great to see Ice [Torres] make it up there,” Gray said. “He works so hard and he’s deserving of it.”

Beyer also said he is honored to have been able to train alongside such a talented athlete over the prior two seasons and cannot wait to see the great things Torres will do for the Bombers in the future.

“Isaias had a great season and it’s just the start for him,” Beyer said. “He’s going to be a national champion and I’m proud I got to train alongside him for these past two years and chase our goals together.”

Along with Torres being a threat to an individual national championship, the Bombers are poised to make a run in the team battle in the near future. Along with the four national competitors returning, they also return sophomore Konrad Parker (165 pounds) and first-year student Jake Jones (184 pounds) who both podiumed at the regional meet.

While the South Hill squad will take time to reset and rest up after the long season, Torres said they are already planning on how they will get better over the summer. One thing Torres said they plan to do differently this offseason is to meet up over the summer to practice.

“We can improve the whole team … if we work with each other over the summer,” Torres said. “Working on stuff on our own and really picking our own brains … I can offer and teach other people and they have things they can offer and teach me.”

After competing against the best Division III wrestlers in the nation, Gray said the team knows what they need to get to the next level.

“I know what I need to work on now so I’ve got to fix up a few things and next year I’ll be on the podium,” Gray said.

The Bombers are more motivated than ever and as they leave the 2024 season and prepare for 2025, the long eluded national championship still fuels them.

“We want to be one of those powerhouse teams, we know we can,” Galka said.

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