By Cassidy Thornburg
The Wheaton College Wrestling team hosted the Pete Willson Wheaton Invitational (PWWI) at King’s Arena from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1.
The PWWI is unlike any other tournament: not only does it honor the late Pete Willson (‘50) and showcase impressive talent on the mat, it annually brings together the Wheaton College staff and community.
Coach Jim Gruenwald noted the many Wheaton staff members who have worked behind the scenes to make the tournament happen, including the Wheaton Athletics Department, Athletic Training Team, Bill Stukes, Brett Marhanka, Rusty Lindsey, Jesse Hill and the equipment room team and the Hospitality Room staff. In addition, the alumni and family of the coaches help with the tournament. Coach Gruenwald said, “The alumni support the tournament financially, with prayer and with service. This year my daughter was working side by side with Pete Willson’s daughter to create Championship Brackets for the winner of each weight class. My kids and Pete Willson’s kids, grandkids and great-grandchildren were working the tables as scorekeepers or on the video cameras. The tournament is a family affair.”
Leading the Thunder in their home meet this year was senior Issac Odell who took third in his weight class, wrestling at 184 pounds.
“Ultimately we need to point to God, but as his servants, we ask for him to be involved in our training, competition, and life,” Coach Gruenwald said “Isaac is a consistent young man that trains hard, trains smart, listens to his coaches, glorifies God and lives a Christ-like life. These qualities are a recipe for success.”
Sophomore Ethan Harsted, still relatively new to college wrestling, took fourth place in his weight class at 141 pounds. Harsted put on quite the debut in the tournament’s opening round Friday.
“Going into the tournament I knew it was going to be a long two days. With how big the brackets were, I had to be prepared to wrestle a lot of matches,” Harsted said. “What made me push through all my matches was knowing that no matter what the outcome is it wouldn’t define me and at the end of the day, it is just a sport. Win or lose, I know that Christ will always be with me and knowing that gives me the strength and confidence to go out and wrestle free.”
Harsted pinned University of Chicago’s Ryan Fleck early in the rounds before falling to Olivet’s Castenada. In the second round, he came back and won his next three matches on Friday. On Saturday, he continued his run with two early wins to punch his ticket to the third-place match where he faced Fleck again. Harsted wrestled with heart but fell to Fleck 3-2 in their final match, putting him at a fourth-place finish.
“The first thing I thought of going into the last match was that it was not going to be easy. It is always hard to wrestle someone multiple times because you start to figure out what to do and what not to do to win the match. So, most of the time the matches tend to be very close with not a lot of action,” Harsted said following the tournament. “For the last match, my opponent and I were just waiting for someone to make a mistake so the other could counter. As the results show, I ended up making the first mistake, which cost me the match. However, every loss is a learning experience. Now I know what not to do when I face him again.”
“Ethan came in as the number six seed, so he definitely performed above his seed, but not above the expectations of the coaching staff,” Coach Gruenwald said. “Ethan is a gifted young man, talented and strong. I believed, as I did with Isaac, that Ethan was good enough to win the tournament but he would have had to have a great tournament. He had a good tournament, made a few mistakes and ended fourth.”
The PWWI hosted hundreds of matches throughout the weekend. Among the 34 teams, the Thunder finished 15th in the conference, while North Central finished first.
“For the most part, the team exceeded objective expectations,” said Coach Gruenwald. “I operate in the realm of the delusional, so I thought we could place at seven weights, maybe more. Bottom line, the guys wrestled well and represented God well, which in turn reflects positively on Wheaton College and Wheaton Wrestling.”
The Thunder will compete in the CCIW Championships on Thursday, Feb. 13 in Decatur, Ill.