WALESKA - The philosophy of iron sharpening iron will surely be tested on the practice mats in Waleska this fall.
In the program’s third year of existence, Reinhardt wrestling head coach Jeff Bedard lead the team to a final ranking of No. 5 in the country. Now entering year No. 4, Bedard said he expects even better results.
“We sat through some butt-whoopings that first year,” Bedard said. “It’s totally different now compared to where it was three years ago. If we stay healthy, with the guys that we got, we should bring home a trophy. To be honest, I’ll be upset if we don’t.”
The top four teams at the NAIA Wrestling National Championships receive a trophy, and by finishing fifth a season ago the Eagles fell one spot short. Bedard said last season’s finish has served as motivation during the offseason.
“We don’t wanna feel that again,” Bedard said. “I truly think if we get our 12 best guys to the national tournament, I think we could make a serious push for a national title.”
Reinhardt finished the 2018-19 season with five All-Americans and returns its entire roster. Antonio Stewart (184 weight class) will lead the group as a two-time returning All-American while Michael Carew (174), Cole Tenety (157), Justin George (165) and Koby Milner will all also return this season. The Eagles have won the Appalachian Athletic Conference for two straight seasons and have increased the number of wrestlers to qualify for Nationals in each season under Bedard.
Last season, 11 Reinhardt wrestlers competed at the NAIA Wrestling National Championships and Bedard was named the NAIA Wrestling Coach of the Year.
“Our biggest asset is our conditioning. My guys are gonna wrestle hard for seven minutes, because if they don’t they’re not gonna be in the lineup,” Bedard said. “The way we train and push them is a little bit different than most NAIA schools.”
Bedard, who’s personal resume includes competing in U.S. Olympic qualifiers along with winning multiple international wrestling titles, will be joined this season by assistant coach Matt Moley who was a two-time Division I All-American at Bloomsburg University. Bedard said Moley, who is 31 years old, will be able to help push a few of the team’s wrestler this season in ways he isn’t able to anymore.
Bedard said he’s already noticed a difference in practice.
“You know I can wrestle maybe once or twice a week, I’m pushing 50,” Bedard said. “I don’t go up the weight classes like I used to when I was younger. But he can wrestle everybody in the lineup. And beat them.”
The team began practice last week and will begin its season on November 2 at the Georgia Open tournament in Franklin Springs, Georgia. The following day will be the team’s first home match against Emmanuel College. Bedard said the team’s regular season schedule will be full of high level competition including matches against North Carolina State University along with tournaments in Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri. The Eagles will face a number of programs from higher collegiate divisions and Bedard said the scheduling of higher competition isn’t by mistake.
“Our schedule is brutal,” Bedard said. “I want to wrestle the best guys. It’s all geared toward getting the guys ready for the end of the season, to win national titles and become All-Americans. I truly believe that’s why we did so well last season, because our guys got there and had already faced Top-10 Division 1 programs.”
The addition of several transfers and freshman has also ramped up the competition at practice. Bryce Davis (133), Trent Leon (141) and Nolan Saxton (157) transferred into the program during the offseason and Bedard said all three could push for starting positions. For Davis, a three-time state champion at Creekview High School and the program’s all-time leader in takedowns, the return is something a homecoming after spending two seasons at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio.
The optimism is high for Bedard and the Eagles with a little more than one month before the start of the season. More will be expected of the Reinhardt wrestlers who hope to start and Bedard said that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
“If you’re gonna be successful it’s gonna require a lot of work, especially in a combat sport,” Bedard said. “ You have to train a certain way to be that good. That’s how we’re training with these guys right now and hopefully we see some of that hard work pay off.”