Jones Switches Gears For Summer

Many athletes work year-round at their chosen sports, but how many of them have to train and compete under different sets of rules? Mountaineer wrestler Greg Jones faces that challenge as he uses WVU's off-season to prepare for his career after college.

Imagine you're a football quarterback. You're working over the summer with your receivers, getting down timing and adjustments. Suddenly, a referee appears and says "Sorry, but you can't throw the ball overhand. You can only throw the ball underhand across the line of scrimmage."

Or, you're a basketball player progressing through individual work. Again, an offical walks onto the court and says "During the offseason, you can only dribble the ball twice before you have to pass it or shoot it. No more than two bounces."

Perhaps that sounds a bit crazy, but that's the type of challenge faced by collegiate wrestlers who compete in Olympic-style freestyle wrestling training camps and competitions during their offseason. Two-time national champion Greg Jones is doing just that as he works out and competes at the Olympic Training Center over the summer months.

"There's a lot of technical adjustments, and a lot of differences in the scoring system," Jones noted as he compared wrestling in college to the international freestyle method. "From not having done a lot of freestyle wrestling when I was growing up, there are a lot of things I have to get used to. You have to learn those things and get a feel for it, just like I did collegiately. That's going to be my main focus this summer - learning those things about freestyle."

Jones has already competed at the U. S. Nationals, which served as the main qualifying event for the Olympic trials later this summer. And while he just feel short of making it to the trials (Jones lost in the medal round), he still counts it as a good experience.

Although Jones won't be competing in those trials, he still plans to work on freestyle over the next few months, with an eye toward the future.

"My goal now is to get as much experience wrestling freestyle as I can this summer and then look forward to the World Championships and Olympics in 2008. I think that's a realistic goal for me," the quiet, yet confident, Jones said.

During these months, Jones often gets to go head to head with other wrestlers among the nation's elite, which obviously provides an excellent chance to compete and improve. In previous seasons, Jones has competed with a number of outstanding wrestlers, including Iowa State alumnus Cael Sanderson, who is the only undefeated four-time national champion in NCAA history.

"Our coaches take us out to the Olympic training center each summer, and I got the chance to work with Cael a good bit," Jones said of the experience. "I was comfortable where I stood against him. I'm going to try to get into a training environment like that again this summer."

For those concerned that Jones might lose his edge in college competition as he works in a different arena this summer, take heart. The Slickville, Penn., native still has his senior season in his sights, and believes that working in different styles may actually benefit him during the 2004-05 campaign.

"Either way you look at it, wrestling is still wrestling. There are the differences, but getting good in one might make you better in the other. It's a transition that you have to make, but I think it's going to be very beneficial for me."

Jones is in a similar situation going in to this season as he was in 2003. After winning the national championship as a freshman in 2002, Jones went undefeated during the 2003 regular season and EWL tournament, only to suffer a pair of upset losses in the NCAA. He then bounced back last year to again go undefeated, but this time steamrolled through the NCAAs for his second national title and an unblemished 26-0 record.

Jones believes that having gone through the experience of being a defending national champion will help him during his senior year, when every opponent will be looking to earn his stripes by picking off the two-time NCAA titlist.

"I've been through this situation before, and I think I know how to handle it now and be ready to go when the season rolls around. I don't think my sophomore year was that bad," Jones continued in something of a understatement. "I want to take all the experiences that I had from that year and put them to use. I am a much more mature person now, I've learned how to enjoy my sport and relax and have fun for it."

Jones has already set numerous WVU records, and figures to shatter just about every mark in the Mountaineer record book by the time his career ends next spring. He is WVU's only two-time national champion, is fifth all-time on the carrer wins list with 101, and holds two undefeated regualr season records. With his place in Mountaineer lore already secured, has he given any thought to his place in West Virginia history?

"Not right now," Jones said, with the focus one would expect from an athlete dedicated to his sport. "It's not the appropriate time to think about those things. I don't think about where I stand in the record books or anything like that. My main focus is just going to be on what I do next year."

And what he does next year should be special indeed.

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