Wrestling ramps up for nationals

Gavin Bradley wrestles an opponent to the mat.

As the hard-fought wrestling season is near its end, the VTSU Castleton wrestling team is sending six stars to compete in the NCAA National Championships. 

James Rodriguez, Gavin Bradley, Sampson Wilkins, Nate Camiscioli, Nick Roeger, and Darby McLaughlin will all represent the school.

Rodriguez, a senior and two-time All-American, is making his third straight trip to nationals.

“He leads by example and has been the road map for our guys on the team to see that they do belong on the national scene,” said head coach Scott Legacy. 

Despite not having “the greatest of draws” in his nationals runs, “he has proven that the draw doesn’t matter to be able to fulfill your dreams,” Legacy added. “James is good at keeping the mindset of keeping your feet in the moment and wrestling one match at a time,”

In the case of Bradley and Wilkins, this will be the second national appearance in a row.

“Experience at this level is huge. All of our team members have been exposed to the bright lights, however having this little extra experience can go a long way to your national success,” Legacy said. “They have high expectations of themselves,” he added.

Bradley said he’s ready for the opportunity Nationals presents.

“I am preparing by really just staying in the moment and working on all the adjustments my coaches are instructing me to make,” Bradley said. “I learned a lot from last year, and I am very excited to go back.”

Bradley, a sophomore, is making his second Nationals appearance in just his second year in the program, a feat that isn’t lost on Legacy.

“Gavin’s ceiling has no limits. That’s because he’s never satisfied. He is always trying to find ways to get better every minute of every day,” Legacy said. “He strives to be the best at everything he does, with no shortcuts.”

Bradley is modest about hearing the praise.

“Like always, I attribute everything to my coaches and support group, and I wouldn’t be anything without them. I also attribute everything to my drill partners and awesome teammates,” Bradley said. “Also, as always, I give everything to my God and my savior Jesus Christ. Ultimately, I work for them and do everything that I can to honor them and their message in this world.” 

When Wilkins was asked about how he’s feeling heading into nationals, he only had two words come to mind: “ecstatic,” and “confident.” 

Sampson Wilkins gets pumped up.

“The biggest plus about this being my second trip is I know I belong here,” he added.

He also attributed this confidence to the team being “prepared unlike any other team in the country for this moment.”

“Staying in routine is very big at this time of the year. We are maintaining their conditioning, which is already at its peak,” Legacy said. “They have been grinding daily since October,” Legacy added. 

Camiscioli, Roeger and McLaughlin will all be making their first appearances on the national scene, and they also see the value of prior experience at the national level.

“I have learned so much from all my teammates,” McLaughlin said. “Having teammates that have had this experience before is a great feeling.”

Despuite this being their first trip to nationals, Legacy isn’t worried about them at all.

“Nate, Nick and Darby are all familiar with the highest levels of competition. They all come from top high school programs that competed on the national level,” Legacy said. “For this tournament, qualifying has fulfilled half of their dream. The other half is becoming a national champion or getting on the podium as an earned NCAA All-American.”

As much as Legacy is trying to keep them in top shape, he also knows it’s important to prioritize health and wellbeing.

“We are being extra careful to not put them in situations that will get them injured. These guys have to train year-round to get to this point, so their bodies are nicked up. Nobody is 100 percent at this time of the year,” Legacy said.

A huge part of this is focusing on not tiring out their legs, which means making the switch from sprinting and long-distance running to biking.

Even though the coaches are making sure they are staying healthy, they’re still putting in all the work that it takes to be a national champion.

James Rodriguez matches up with his opponent.

“If you don’t get outworked day in and day out, you won’t get outworked when it’s showtime,” Wilkins said.

At the end of the day, these six wrestlers aren’t just representing themselves – they’re representing their team.

“It took every member of our team to get Gavin, James, Nate, Nick, Sampson and Darby to the National Tournament. They could not have done this without their entire team,” Legacy emphasized.

The wrestlers will travel to La Crosse, Wisconsin, to compete on March 15 and 16.

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