One broken toe, two rib injuries, one hyperextended knee, a concussion and a torn meniscus have sidelined many members of Western Washington University wrestling team. All these injuries have taken place before the first month mark of the team’s competitive season.
Last year the team had a successful inaugural season, sending three wrestlers to Texas for the National Collegiate Wrestling Association’s National Championship.
One of those three was Jake Crawford, who has stepped into the captain’s role for this season, after founders Patrick Castelli and Robert Harvey graduated in 2013.
Last year the team came within four or five points of winning the state tournament, giving Crawford high hopes at the beginning of this season, he said.
“It has been challenging,” Crawford said. “We’ve had a lot of success but a lot of setbacks too.”
Crawford put in a lot of work for the team before the season started, raising more than $3,000 this summer, he said. He also brought in Mark Parrish as a coach, because the team didn’t have one last year.
However, at the same time, the team has suffered from a number of “freak injuries” as Crawford calls them.
Most of the injuries were from wrestling, but both the hyperextended knee and broken foot were from sports outside the ring. The team also had three cases of ringworm, but they were all cleared before their last match, Crawford said.
Between the wrestlers who graduated last year, as well others who decided not to come back, and this year’s injuries, the team has been downsized. The team had about 20 members last year, Crawford said. At the team’s most recent match, the NCWA Northwest All-Star Duals in Spokane, Wash. on Saturday, Nov. 23, only four wrestlers represented Western.
Antoine Paige was one of the four representing Western as an alternate at the match. Currently in his fifth year at Western, Paige is majoring in history and minoring in political science, he said. This is his first year as part of Western’s wrestling team, and his season took an unfortunate turn due to a possible meniscus tear during the Spokane Open on Sunday, Nov. 24.
Paige has torn his meniscus twice before, during both his sophomore and junior years of high school. He continued to wrestle with his meniscus torn all through out his junior year. Doctors currently believe he tore it again, but he’s waiting for an MRI to see the exact damage, he said.
“Since it’s my last year of eligibility I think I’ll still play even if it is torn,” Paige said. “Just because I love the sport that much.”
The NCWA Northwest All-Star Duals consisted of about eight or nine Division II wrestling clubs throughout the Northwest, with winners being named to the all-star team, Paige said. Crawford made it on as a starter on the all-star team, while the others are alternates, Paige said.
A dual match is where wrestlers represent every weight class together as a team, and compete against other schools, Paige said. Western had hoped to host a dual match, he said, but that’s hard with so few people.
“Since our team is pretty small, we don’t have people in every weight class, so we’re already at a disadvantage,” Paige said. “That combined with [injuries] makes it difficult for us to compete outside of individual tournaments.”
Western freshman Justin Manipis also had a setback in his first collegiate season. Manipis is just now returning to the mat after sitting out for three and a half weeks due to a concussion, he said.
“It was really difficult to focus in class, let alone go to the gym,” Manipis said. “So I had to take a little bit of a break.”
Manipis started wrestling in seventh grade, losing most of his matches that first year, but he was hooked, he said. He worked even harder the next year, and became captain of his middle school team. He also captained his high school team starting his junior year.
Crawford is in his senior year at Western now, but had originally thought about staying next year to continue heading the club. Now, the team’s unfortunate injuries are making him unsure.
“We’ll see how the season goes,” he said.
Crawford has started to shift his focus, he’s been looking at graduate schools with wrestling teams, he said.
“There’s a couple of guys that will hopefully step up and keep [Western’s club] going,” Crawford said.
The perk of an individual sport is still being able to compete, even if the team is hurting. Crawford, Paige, Manipis and others still have their sights set on Nationals, they each said.
Time is a necessity for healing, and the team does have that. The Northwest Conference Championships are not until March 1, 2014, and Nationals on March 13. Manipis is just now returning to the mat, and other wrestlers will do the same when they are ready.
“The end of the season will be the real deal, the real challenge is what we can do when we go to Nationals.” Manipis said. “I think a lot of us will be fully recovered and able to wrestle then, I’m trying to be optimistic about it.”