Already off to a strong season, the Waterloo High School wrestling team received tips from an Olympian last week that will hopefully boost the upward trajectory of the program.
Ben Askren, a two-time NCAA champion while at the University of Missouri who went on to wrestle in the 2008 Olympics and later in the UFC, offered key wrestling techniques and advice to Waterloo grapplers during Friday’s practice.
Waterloo head coach Chase Guercio arranged the visit.
“I met Ben Askren this summer at the X Games in Minneapolis,” Guercio said. “I saw on his Instagram story that he was going to be there, and I was already in town on a family trip. I thought to myself how cool it would be for our kids to meet someone who has done so much for the sport and I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass for something like that to happen. After introducing myself at a meet-and-greet, we exchanged emails and I asked if he would be interested in coming down and putting on a clinic for our kids.”
Guercio was impressed with Askren’s visit.
“He was unbelievable! Very personable and sees the sport unlike anyone else,” Guercio said. “The looks on our kids’ faces when he entered the room made it all worth it. It was definitely the most fun practice of the season, and he allowed the wrestlers to ask any questions they wanted when he was finished presenting.”
In addition to key wrestling techniques, Askren discussed such topics as diet, strength training and his own experiences as a wrestler from little league through the Olympics and his UFC career.
The Bulldogs are off to a 4-0 start to the season following victories last week over Red Bud, Mt. Olive and Carlyle.
Waterloo opened its season with a win over East St. Louis on Nov. 25.
Recording pins for the Bulldogs were sophomore Tanner Fry and juniors Evan Fink and Brett Howard, who pinned his opponent in eight seconds.
“Any time you can get a win against East St. Louis, it is a major boost for the program,” Guercio said.
Last Tuesday, Waterloo won 41-20 over Red Bud, with Dalton Blanchard, Fry, Damian Becker and Jordan Sommers all recording pins.
Last Wednesday, the Bulldogs won both matches of a tri-meet against Mt. Olive and Carlyle.
On Saturday, Waterloo placed fourth of 18 teams in the Civic Memorial tournament. That is the program’s best finish in the tourney since 2015.
Sommers, a sophomore, placed first at 195 pounds and has yet to surrender a takedown on the season after his first five matches.
“He has put in a ton of work in the offseason and has developed into one of the best wrestlers in the area,” Guercio said.
Howard placed second in the heavyweight class at the tourney.
“I think he deserves a top 10 state ranking after also qualifying for sectionals last season as a sophomore,” Guercio said.
Fink, who sat out last season, placed third at 220 pounds.
“He has worked hard to re-master the techniques and is turning into a solid contributor for us,” Guercio said.
Gavin Hearren, Trevor Link and Brandon Lloyd placed fourth at 113, 152, and 160 pounds, respectively.
“Link is another one who has really improved over the last two seasons and I am so proud of him for putting it all together,” Guercio said. “Hearren wrestled in the offseason and is a totally new wrestler as well, and I think he can make a postseason run.”
Becker placed sixth at 126 pounds and Adron Winget and Jacob Newbury placed seventh at 120 and 132 pounds, respectively.
Waterloo wrestled Althoff on Tuesday and will grapple with Jerseyville on Thursday.
“The coolest thing as a coach is that by looking at the results, we return everyone next season,” Guercio said. “We are an incredibly young team, but our kids are tough and scrappy. It bodes well for the future of the program.”