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IAC WRESTLING: OWEGO THANKFUL TO BE BACK ON MAT (2021-02-17)

BY TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
OWEGO — In mid-January there was a popular belief there would be no high-risk sports this winter, due to the stances the governor and state health department had taken. Then it all changed and the door opened for many more high school athletes to enjoy some semblance of a season.

The Owego wrestlers and their coach are among them.

"It feels great. I was telling the team that I'm just very thankful to be back here, especially in our situation," coach Nick Rodgers said. "We've got six seniors. It's great to have one more opportunity to work with them and make sure they have some time to compete and practice with each other one last time."

Unfortunately, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association canceled all state championship events during the pandemic, dashing the hopes of grapplers whose sights were set on state medals. That decision hurt several Tioga County wrestlers who had an increased possibility of becoming state tournament competitors due to a change in state qualifying procedures. The Indians had a handful of potential qualifiers, including one with a legitimate shot at standing atop the podium.

Rodgers said his team has handled all the adversity with positive reactions.

"They're reacting well," he said. "No one thought we were going to have anything, so that's pretty much what we've been talking about in the (practice) room, just be thankful for what we have and they're buying into that mindset. They're just happy to be here and glad they're not sitting home on the couch."

The requirement of wearing a mask while competing has met with scowls as it is nearly impossible to wear the mask correctly while trying to maintain one's focus on a close-contact battle.

"No one likes it," Rodgers said. "They have a lot of stoppages because of it, but it is what it is. It's just the reality of what we're dealing with this year."

COVID-19 has forced some coaches to change their approach to the way they conduct practices. Rodgers is no exception.

"In terms of the COVID restrictions, I really haven't changed too much," he said. "I'm still doing a lot of fundamentals. The timeline is the main difference. I'm going through a lot more things quicker than I used to do, but for the most part I have an experienced crew."

The first few days back in the wrestling room were focused on "busting off the rust," then the team would "get back into the swing of things," according to the coach.

"I've been a lot of preseason stuff with quite a few guys," Rodgers said. "We're not in a bad position as a team. Not too much has changed, aside from trying to keep them away from each other."

Owego has temporarily moved to the IAC and while they won't see their STAC foes, the Indians are familiar with the teams they will be competing against.

"I'm taking everything with a positive mindset," Rodgers said. "I'm not complaining. I'm glad to be there. There's some great schools in the IAC. It's tough. They've got Tioga, Newark Valley, Spencer-Van Etten / Candor, Waverly. They're great schools. There's definitely not going to be a lack of competition in wrestling.

"We're all Division II, so we see each other postseason at least, and we run into them all over. We usually have a dual with Waverly and things like that, so we've seen them. I'm thankful to be on the mat."

Owego opens the season this evening at home against Edison.

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IN PHOTO 1: Coach Nick Rodgers (back) and Tyler Benjamin. ... PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.

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