Wrestling With Adversity

A wise man once said that it?s better to be lucky than smart. WVU head wrestling coach Craig Turnbull just might agree with that sentiment these days.

Turnbull came in to the 2007-08 season with high hopes for his team. His entire starting lineup from the 2006-07 season was back this year, including seven who have competed in the NCAA tournament. Brandon Rader, the two-time All-American from Parkersburg, was ready to make a solid run at a national title.

But as Turnbull readily admits, it?s not enough to be good. In order to compete at the highest levels, you also have to have a bit of luck.

"We wrestled well in the early season," the senior mentor said. The Mountaineer grapplers had a highly successful trip to California, defeating both Cal State-Fullerton and Cal Poly, two strong programs. "We were defeating, or at least strongly competing, with wrestlers who are ranked in the range of 17th to 25th in the country. That?s good."

The success in California came with a high price. Brandon Rader suffered a significant knee injury that will cost him the season. Initial medical reports suggested that his very promising career could be over.

"It?s an unusual injury," Turnbull reported, "and an extremely painful one." With five seconds remaining in the final round of his Cal Poly contest, Rader sustained damage to the posterior capsular area of his knee ? the back of his knee, where the joint bends. The damaged area was about the size of a silver dollar.

The posterior capsule is a meeting place for nerves, arteries, and muscles. A destroyed capsule would have meant a destroyed wrestling career. "Thankfully, the capsule was loose and could be repaired. Dr. [William] Post did the surgery here in Morgantown, and fixed Brandon?s LCL and PCL as well," Turnbull said.

Rader, who wrestles at 141 pounds, faces nine to twelve months of rehabilitation, but because the injury occurred so early in the season, Turnbull is optimistic that his student will be granted a medical redshirt year and return to action next season with two years of eligibility remaining.

Unfortunately, Rader?s injury is not the only one to hit the Mountaineers. David Jauregui (149) and Zac Fryling (165) are also wounded.

"Jauregui will be fine," assistant coach Greg Jones insisted. The two-time NCAA qualifier, a junior from Santa Ana, California, has a pinched nerve, which is affecting his shoulder and arm, but he should be on the mat again soon. Zac Fryling is a different story.

"Zac partially tore ligaments in his wrist," Turnbull sighed. "He has two options. He can cast it, wrestle through the season, and have the surgery to fix it after the season is over, or he can have the surgery now, but if he does, his wrestling career at WVU is over. Zac?s a senior, and this is his last shot."

Fryling has a difficult decision to make. If he waits for the surgery, the problem could be more difficult to fix, which could affect his long-term well-being. Turnbull is sympathetic to his wrestler?s dilemma. "There?s no way to know how compromised he will be if he postpones the procedure. Greg Jones had similar surgery his senior year and fully recovered, but he?s the only case history we have on this. We don?t know that Zac will automatically have the same outcome." Fryling will make his decision by the weekend.

Despite all the adversity, there is good news in this story. Steve Waite, a promising freshman from Waterford, Pa., is starting at 141 in Rader?s absence. Waite won a state title in Pennsylvania last year as a high school senior.

"This is a good investment in Steve, a good investment in his future," said Turnbull. "This is great experience for him, and you can?t buy experience. In order to make a run for a spot at the NCAAs or even a national championship, you have to have experience, and Steve is getting some good, if unexpected, experience."

"With our injuries ? and a couple of other guys are a little banged up ? we know that we will have to scrap to beat everybody," the head coach smiled. "Our experienced guys will have to carry us."

The rest of the good news is that WVU'?s home season begins Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Coliseum against Clarion, an Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) foe. "We have four home meets this year," assistant coach Jones pointed out. "Last year we only had three, so this is good, especially with our situation."

The boys in blue and gold can certainly use the home crowd?'s support. It'?s only $5 and a good seat near the action is guaranteed.

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