March 25, 2004
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University wrestler Greg Jones used the disappointment of last year’s NCAA tournament performance as motivation for this year’s run to his second NCAA title at the 2004 Championships at the Saavis Center in St. Louis on March 20th.
A 2002 NCAA champion at 174 pounds, Jones entered the 2003 tournament as the nation’s top-ranked 174-pounder with a school-record 46-win match streak to his credit.
But he slipped up in the first round to unranked Ralph Everett of Hofstra, 2-1, and was eventually knocked out of the tournament without even earning All-America status. Jones, moving up to 184 pounds this season, was not about to let that happen again this year.
“It motivated me to get back there,” Jones said Wednesday afternoon. “I didn’t have a good tournament and it was a matter of refocusing and keeping my mind on the task at hand.”
Jones breezed through the regular season posting a 26-0 record and producing major wins in the Midlands Tournament and the NWCA All-Star Classic. He secured his third-straight EWL title by beating Edinboro’s Alex Clemsen, 7-3, to help the West Virginia tie Edinboro for the EWL tournament title.
Because he endured such an embarrassing loss last year, and understanding the unpredictability of the national tournament, Jones focused his attention on beating one wrestler at a time this year instead of paying attention to the brackets.
“In the national tournament if you start looking into the brackets so many crazy things can happen in that tournament and it’s something you can’t worry about,” he said.
The junior had an easy time with Duke’s Frank Cornely in the opening round winning 22-7, and he followed that up with more difficult 3-1 and 3-2 decisions against unranked Josh McLay and No. 9-rated Bryan Gylnn to reach the semifinals.
“In a tournament like this I think the main thing is trying to stay level throughout,” Jones said. “You experience so many different emotions throughout that whole weekend and I think the most important thing is staying calm and trying to have a positive attitude.”
Jones was able to dispose of Iowa’s Paul Bradley 8-3 in one semifinal match to set up a rematch with No. 2-ranked Ben Heizer of Northern Illinois in the finals.
The two had locked up two times previously this year with Jones winning both.
“I had a good idea (what to do),” he said. “We wrestled a really close match the first time and the second time I was able to score on him a little bit. I felt pretty confident going into that match.”
Jones says he used his other experience in the finals as a freshman to his benefit, too.
I felt comfortable wrestling in that type of atmosphere and I think it was something that was an advantage for me,” he said.
The one thing Jones was uncomfortable with was the breaks between matches for national television. He tried to remain focused during those long pauses.
“It was nerve wracking,” he admitted. “TV delays were something you had to deal with and it was a matter of staying calm and staying focused on what I had to do.”
Jones set the tone early with a quick takedown and he had Heizer coming from behind the entire match. All five of Heizer’s points were from escapes; Jones did not allow a single offensive point the entire tournament. In the title match against Heizer Jones spent nearly the entire match on his feet.
“I would have liked to have gone on top a lot more but I wasn’t feeling real good on top in this tournament for some reason,” he said.
“It was a great experience and something that I’ve learned to cherish is the process of it. The whole thing was fun,” Jones added.
Now that Jones has his second NCAA title one would assume that he can take some time off and enjoy what he’s accomplished. Think again. He is already right back in the gym to begin freestyle wrestling with the aim of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team later this spring.
“Freestyle season starts in three weeks and goes up to the Olympic games in Athens,” said Jones. “If I don’t make the Olympic team, though I think it’s very possible that I could, it’s going to be good for my development in freestyle wrestling.”
Jones, one of four finalists for the Hodge Trophy presented to the nation’s most outstanding collegiate wrestler, says he can earn a spot on the Olympic team by either qualifying through the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis or by winning the U.S. Open which takes place in three weeks.
He says he will wrestle in the 185 ½-pound weight class.
“I’ve got to try and get a good summer of preparation in, do a little freestyle wrestling and get ready and geared up for next season,” he said.
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