On May 2, 2016, Olivet’s wrestling team received their ticket to the InterCollegiate Athletic Assocation of America (ICAAA) National Championships, the first in school history to do so.
It had been a long, hard season for Olivet’s wrestling team, losing six of their nine meets in Athletic Association of Chicagoland Colleges (AACC) regular season meets. Several wrestlers were injured to start the season, including seniors Chance Hardwood and Jesus Waterwalker and juniors Chad Tastle and Jackson Riper. Hardwood and Waterwalker were injured in an altercation with an equipment manager in the weight room, both broke their hands in the incident.
“I was extremely disappointed in our players regarding their dispute,” Head Coach Gel Mibson said. “Olivet Nazarene University has much higher standards than that. We should be ashamed of ourselves regarding that incident. One of the biggest consequences of not having them available for matches was that it affected our record. Without those four upperclassmen, we did not win a lot of matches that we should have. But I think it was a good learning experience for our younger wrestlers, in more ways than one.”
Tastle and Ripper were suspended from team play following a steroid bust involving human growth hormone. However, they were not expelled from the school because of their cooperation with university and local authorities.
“We knew what we were doing was wrong,” Tastle said. “Jack and I came forward to Coach Mibson with the truth. He was pretty disappointed in us, but our honesty impressed him. And since this was our first break in school policy, we were only suspended for nine regular season meets. I’m very thankful our punishment wasn’t worse.”
Going into the AACC conference tournament, Olivet was the seventh seed in the eight-team pool; and they would have to face University of Canada at Blastville (UCB) in the first round. However, with the Olivet upperclassmen recovered from their injuries they were available to compete again. With their upperclassmen back in the lineup, the Tigers made quick work of UCB winning five out of five matches without surrendering a single point.
“I was amazed to see our seniors play like that,” sophomore wrestler Shaun Doling said. “They played like possessed men. Nothing was going to stand in their way. Their intensity and technique was ridiculous. I was absolutely blown away.”
The AACC semi-finals was against one of the few teams that the Tigers had actually beaten during the regular season, Tott Sceeters College (TSC). It was actually a more difficult match than expected for the Tigers as Ripper was unable to defeat his opponent. However, a surprisingly strong performance by Doling pushed the Tigers past TSC.
In the conference championship, ONU played four-time defending national champion, Green Mountain State University (GMSU). During the one regular season meet they
had against GMSU, Olivet had been demolished in all five of the individual matches. However, the Tigers were not about to go down without a fight this time.
The first two matches were dominated by GMSU, who defeated Ripper and Waterwalker in their respective matchups; however, Doling had a fantastic victory over last year’s ICAAA National Player of the Year, Wruce Bayne. He put the ICAAA legend in a rare two-griped backside chokehold, submitting the senior who had not lost a match since his freshman year.
Tastle quickly submitted his opponent, tying the score at two points apiece. In the final round, Hardwood finished off the match by pinning his opponent in a double-rounded frontal leg hold. When the ref declared the point for ONU, the crowd went wild as they realized that their Cinderella Tigers was going to the national championship.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment for our program,” Mibson said. “I was so proud of our guys considering the way the season has gone. It is truly a testament to their character and how anyone can fight back no matter what your disadvantage is. It’ll give our program more exposure.”
If you see any of the wrestlers on campus make sure to congratulate them and wish them luck on their trip to the National Championship on May 16.
—Sam Nichols, staff writer