The 2016-2017 finale
Teague Moore reflects on AU’s 2017 NCAA performance
The scene in the athlete tunnel at the end of Friday morning’s NCAA session stood in direct juxtaposition to the scene one year earlier in Madison Square Garden, when head coach Teague Moore jumped with celebration as he congratulated 2016 graduate David Terao on his All-American status.
Friday, Moore’s reaction was quite the opposite.
Standing in front of the NCAA media banner backdrop, Moore attempted to hold his emotions together as he tried to explain why AU would not have a wrestler competing in the remainder of the tournament.
AU junior wrestler Jeric Kasunic had just lost his second consolation match 3-2, and he sat in the corner, his hands over his face and his red, white and blue sweat jacket wrapped over his shoulders. His tournament was over, and, as a result, so was the team’s.
AU senior Jason Grimes lost his second consolation match Thursday night, and AU sophomore Josh Terao lost his second consolation match Friday morning. Kasunic was AU’s last chance to move on and last chance for All-American status. For the first time in several years, AU did not advance a single wrestler to Session IV of the NCAA tournament, and Moore tried to remain composed despite the disappointment.
“We definitely just have to stay focused on the positive things that have happened for us and be willing to build on it,” Moore said. “Guys are going to have to dig a little deeper than they’ve been digging and make some changes in their wrestling for the positive. Little changes like that go a long way here.”
The Eagles finished the regular season with a 6-8 dual meet record and ended the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association conference tournament in 7th place with three NCAA qualifiers. AU hit an upward trend at the end of the season, and Moore had high expectations for his athletes coming to St. Louis for the national tournament.
Terao had his sights on a national championship, Grimes looked for his first NCAA match win and Kasunic hoped to rack up a few more pins before the end of the year. After two days, only Kasunic came close to his goal, earning a pin in his second match on Thursday. Moore, when reflecting on the year as a whole, noted the successes but hopes his guys learn more from the losses and continue to grind towards their goals.
“We had some individual highlights that guys performed very well this year, so those are the things that we have to look to,” Moore said. “These teams that we’re losing to out here, the Minnesotas, the Oklahomas, the Missouris, these are the teams that we can compete with and beat. We’ve done it in the past, we can do it again.”
Breaking down the battles
Kasunic faced a tough draw in the first match of the tournament, as he faced No.1 J’den Cox of Missouri, an athlete who earned a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Cox pinned Kasunic in the first period, but Kasunic turned his momentum around and pinned his next opponent, Austin Severn, in his second match. He fell then fell in his third match to end his run.
Terao followed a similar pattern but won his first match before losing the next two. Grimes lost his first two matches but still had the opportunity to experience college wrestling on the national stage as a senior.
“For any student-athlete, to be able to come here, if you haven’t qualified your first three years, but you make it as a senior, it’s kind of putting a nice exclamation point on a career,” Moore said. “But this is a guy who has wrestled from a young age and to be able to finish his career at the pinnacle of college wrestling events, it’s a great thing.”
Moore’s frustration with his team’s performance did not diminish his AU pride and he still smiled and spoke passionately about next year’s team. AU will not leave St. Louis with any hardware, but the team will return to D.C. with new motivation and greater experience, Moore said.
“I think there is going to be some mental focus changes for the key individuals, for guys like Josh and Jeric that have now seen the tournament and know that they can compete here,” Moore said. “They have to change the way in which they train. Not so much in the training regime, but the way in which they train, and seeing these athletes and the resilience that they had, I really believe that they are going to be hungry for next year.”