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A Wrestling Newbie’s Reactions To The NCAA Championships

I spent this weekend on the floor of PPG Paints Arena shooting photos of the NCAA Championships. It was essentially my first experience with wrestling — what a way to kick things off, right?

I wrote a wrestling match recap earlier this season (albeit with a lot of help and plenty of editing from our normal wrestling writer Anthony Colucci) and I attended a single match in high school (All-American Kaleb Young, who now wrestles for Iowa, is from my hometown), but that’s the extent of my prior wrestling knowledge.

As a newcomer to the sport, especially at the collegiate level, these are my takeaways from the weekend:

Wrestling fans (and athletes) took over Pittsburgh.

From athletes to parents to coaches to fans, Pittsburgh was truly overrun by wrestling fans this weekend. I’ve been to PPG Paints Arena for concerts, but I never expected to see it so full for a sport whose popularity I clearly underestimated. Pittsburgh hosts conventions and conferences on the regular, but I haven’t personally seen the city so crowded since Anthrocon (the furry convention). Another thing that stood out was seeing the wrestlers, past and present, just walking around in the city. It’s not every day you walk past a three-time national champion drinking kombucha on the street.

The rules can be confusing.

It took me a while to catch onto how the scoreboards worked, and not knowing the details of every rule in wrestling didn’t help. I’ll admit I had to give up even my air of understanding and ask why the wrestlers all used the same pair of ankle bands for every match on a given mat. Once you catch on, however, it’s pretty easy to keep up and get interested in what’s happening on the mat.

Singlets are a unique breed of clothing.

I’ve never been in a room before with so many nearly-naked college athletes. I guess singlets must be aerodynamic or something, and I understand that it’s important to see exactly where the wrestlers are, so wearing baggy clothes isn’t exactly conducive to that, but wow, they are A LOT. They might as well just wear underwear.

The people were hype.

Some of these moments were Beaver Stadium-level hype — I’m talking pyrotechnics for the wrestlers walking out for the finals and pretty much every fan yelling out “TWOOOOO!” for a takedown. I was surprised that everyone in the arena was so hyped up for every match, not just those their respective schools’ athletes were competing in. These people were all true fans of the sport, not just particular athletes or teams, and it showed.

Mat-side coaching goes from one extreme to another.

There’s no one size fits all model for mat-side coaching, and it truly varies depending on the coach and the wrestler. From Cael Sanderson’s quiet but intent stare to coaches jumping around and yelling specific moves to their athletes to the amount of ass-slapping, I feel like I’ve seen at all. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when I heard coaches simply yelling: “WRESTLE!”

The challenges seem pointless.

Fans complain about officiating in every sport I’ve ever watched, and this is especially true for wrestling, when the officials are directly responsible for assigning the points in each match. Of the dozen or so coaches’ challenges I watched, I think only one of them was overturned. They seem pretty pointless to me, and another photographer told me they can be effectively used as a “timeout.” The brick-throwing is dramatic, at least.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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