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|Askren, Konrad, Ware and Rosholt kick off NCAA week with press conference|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
The NCAA Championships week traditionally starts off with a press conference featuring coaches from the contending teams talking about their team's chances in the tournament to follow. This year, the NCAA also brought four star athletes who are expected to excel during the week for the media to interview.
Giving their own perspective on the big show were Ben Askren of the Univ. of Missouri at 174 pounds, Cole Konrad of the Univ. of Minnesota at 285 pounds and Teyon Ware of the Univ. of Oklahoma at 141 pounds. Jake Rosholt of Oklahoma State at 197 pounds appeared a bit later to take on a few questions also.
Askren and Konrad are both juniors who enter the tournament as unbeaten wrestlers with No. 1 seeds, although neither have ever won this tournament. Ware and Rosholt are both two-time NCAA champions and seniors, but neither are top-seeded this year coming in.
The athletes seemed to have a good time answering the questions, especially with the colorful Askren telling it like he saw it. Askren and Konrad grew up together in Wisconsin wrestling circles, and joked with each other as they answered their questions.
Some highlights of the athlete press conference:
Ben Askren, Univ. of Missouri, junior, 174 pounds
(on facing pressure in his quest to be his college's first NCAA champion)
"There's no added pressure. I expected to win this the last couple of years. Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do. There is no added pressure."
(on who he is focusing on for the NCAA meet)
"I knew that the last few years, Chris Pendleton (of Oklahoma State) would be the man in the finals. I focused on getting ready for him. This year, my focus has been on improving my wrestling, and it has worked well. Chris picked up on my weaknesses, and that's why he won. I have worked on these things over the summer. I have improved and have been dominant this year."
(about looking ahead at competition)
"You can't look too far. Everybody else has said I will be facing Mark Perry and Jake Herbert. Patrovich or Klein, I might see in the semifinals, so I have to think about them. If I wrestle my finals match like I should I don't see anybody going against me."
(on his funky style)
"I don't think about it. I have wrestled for so long. My body just does the work. It goes. I wrestle hard though. If they try to keep my pace, I make them dead tired by the end. I don't just say, 'oooh, I want to be funky.' When I was a kid, I wouldn't just shoot double legs. I wasn't strong or fast. I had to wrestle to win matches. I had to do what works."
(about possibly facing Iowa's Mark Perry)
"I'd like to face him. He was talking trash early in the year. So if he is going to call me out... actually he called me and Jake Herbert out. He met Herbert twice and it didn't work out for him. If he gets past Herbert, I'll see how it works out."
(on how his success in freestyle wrestling has helped him in college wrestling)
"Freestyle has shaped my overall style, specifically with hand fighting. That helps me in folkstyle. But it is a couple of extra months of wrestling. Other guys might not be working so hard. I am training for the U.S. Open, the World Team Trials and the Pan American Games. I am in training. It makes me a better wrestler. My freshman year, it helped me with my confidence. I wrestled at the nationals and make it to the World Team Trials, and I felt, yeah, I belong. But once I proved myself in folkstyle, I knew that I belonged."
(on both he and Konrad going to college outside of their native Wisconsin)
"There were others who did a better job recruiting us than the in-state schools."
(on the team race)
"Oklahoma State and Minnesota are the favorites. But crazy things have happened here. If OSU and Minnesota wrestle to seed, it is over. But if they don't, somebody else could slip in."
Cole Konrad, Univ. of Minnesota, junior, 285 pounds
(on what it took to beat two-time NCAA champion Steve Mocco)
"I worked on a lot of position stuff. He is hard to get out of position. I worked on my offense, moving more. I didn't make any mistakes."
(asked if winning made a mental difference to him)
"That is the biggest part. I had to prove it to myself. I am confident going in. I am sure he is motivated, too. We will be ready to go."
(about Olympic medalist and fellow U of Minnesota wrestler Garrett Lowney, who is from his hometown in Freedom, Wis.)
"He played an influence on where I went to school. He was like a role model to me. We traveled a lot together in wrestling as we grew up. Like him, I plan to go on, but I will wrestle freestyle, for 2008 and maybe 2012."
(on Minnesota's chances of winning as a team)
"That's our goal. We will know on Saturday. We are focused. We know what we have to do to win. We have to wrestle to or past our seeds and get bonus points."
(on whether teammate Roger Kish's performance was a surprise)
"He might be a big surprise out of the room. We know he works so hard, so much talent. He is putting it all together. It is not too much of a surprise to us. It is good to see him turn the corner."
(on if he is concerned about anybody in the bracket besides Mocco)
"You can't overlook anybody at this tournament. You have to take it one match at a time. You can not look ahead. Who knows? Mocco might get upset, too. Anything could happen."
Teyon Ware, Univ. of Oklahoma, senior, 141 pounds
(On what it will take to beat rival Nate Gallick of Iowa State, who is the top seed, but who Ware beat in last year's NCAA finals)
"I just have to wrestle for seven minutes. The last couple of matches, I gave something up on the edge or in the last seconds. I have to wrestle more than six minutes and 58 seconds like the Big 12. I have to move, go forward, not get into his tieups."
(On competing in his final NCAA Tournament in his native Oklahoma)
"I am excited. But I am looking at it as if it were being held in Kansas City or in St. Louis. I am excited that my friends and family are here. But I am looking to be standing on the top of the podium at the end."
(about Oklahoma's chances to wrestle better than predicted, as they have in recent NCAA meets)
"We have got the team. We have eight guys qualified. The first round will be important. We have eight guys who have to step up. We have to take it one match at a time, one win at a time. But we can pull some surprises here. We are going to have to get some upsets and not get upset."
(about how his matches against Gallick are often considered boring)
"I've heard that too. I am not here to please people. I am here to win. We are doing more than people realize. Sure, there are not lots of takedowns. We are smart wrestlers and have got good defenses. Usually, the first takedown comes out on top. If it meant to be us in the finals again, the match will probably be like that again. I'm not here to please. I am here to win."
Jake Rosholt, Oklahoma State, senior, 197 pounds
(on being a returning champion, but not favored to win)
"It's the same as any other nationals. I never come here and have been expected to win. It doesn't make a difference to me.You have to beat everybody anyway. It doesn't matter or not if I am seeded first or not at all. You have to beat everybody to be the national champion."
"My freshman year, I wanted to be a national champion. I struggled through the season, but I came here with the same attitude. I didn't have any pressure on me. That is the approach you have to take every year. That is the one thing I learned from this tournament. You can't hold back, not wrestle, regret anything. You have to go for it."
(on the Oklahoma State team)
"Going into the season we pretty much were pointing to the NCAA Championships. We have not backed off getting ready. All of our focus and mindset has been training for the national tournament. Now it is here, and our team is ready to go."
(on the team's losses this year)
"I'm not surprised. Somebody is going to do it sooner or later. People put expectations on us how we did last year, having all the individual champions and having four returning champions and some All-Americans. Having to get up for every match is hard to do. We weren't able to do that. But as I said, more of our focus has been on the national tournament and preparing for that, instead of for every match that came along."