Straight from print: Grinding towards greatness

AU senior wrestler seeks more pins before his collegiate career concludes

Straight from print: Grinding towards greatness

This article originally appeared in The Eagle's February 24, 2017 special edition.

Quiet and composed, he approaches the mat, his eyes looking directly at his opponent. He reaches out his toned arm and shakes the hand of the wrestler standing before him. The men lock eyes. The referee blows the whistle. It’s go time.

At 184-pounds, AU senior wrestler Jason Grimes could be seen as an intimidating presence. He’s well-built, but also lean and ready to do battle at any moment. While his teammates joke and cheer behind him awaiting their duals, Grimes stays stoic. The match can go on for seven minutes, but Grimes wants to end it sooner. He wants to go for the pin.

Ranked ninth in the first “Most Dominant Wrestler” NCAA rankings in early January, Grimes said he has always been an athlete who wants to pin his opponent on his back and wrestle efficiently.

His success as a pinner and his ranking in the NCAA poll puts him in contention to have the highest average of points for his team this season. Wrestlers earn six points for a fall, forfeit, injury default or disqualification against their opponent, and they earn five points for technical falls.

These first two categories favor those like Grimes, who fight for pins in every match, and accumulate team points frequently. Athletes can also earn four points in the “Most Dominant Wrestler” rankings for a major decision, a win of more than eight points, and three points for a decision, an individual win of less than eight points.

“Jay, when he’s able to get to his positions, he can normally get guys on their back, and it’s tight when he gets to his pinning positions,” head wrestling coach Teague Moore said.

Although Grimes’ ranking has fallen since January and he no longer sits in the Top 10 on the list, the senior wrestler still approaches every practice and every match with the goal of winning and earning a pin.

His training partner, 197-pound Jeric Kasunic, helps Grimes fine-tune his skills and reach his best positions. The two athletes build off one another to make each other to practice moves that they might encounter in a dual. Kasunic and Grimes both earned victories in AU’s match against No. 30 Wyoming on Jan. 6, and Moore said he has been impressed with the work that both men have put in during training to prepare themselves for the conference and national tournaments.

Though Grimes said that qualifying for the NCAA tournament remains his ultimate goal, he coaches himself to focus on just one match at a time and to give his full effort in every contest.

“I’m kind of taking the approach that we have nothing to lose at this point, it’s my last year, so I’m just kind of going out on the mat and letting it all hang loose,” Grimes said. “Nothing to hold back on at this point.”

Breaking down the pin

The NCAA defines a pin, or a fall, as move where “any part of both shoulders or part of both scapulae of either wrestler [are] held in contact with the mat for one second.” The ability of an athlete to move his opponent into this position requires strength and determination, Grimes said, as the wrestler must move a human being of similar weight onto the mat.

Grimes’s ability to pin opponents began early, and he said his skills developed both from his background as a Greco-Roman wrestling specialist and his drive to score points for the team. Kasunic and Grimes work with each other on pinning skills during practice, and while both athletes came into college with a knack for this move, their collaboration helps them continue to succeed at the position.

“We push each other really hard every day,” Kasunic said. “It’s great. We work hard in all positions, but when we get each other on our backs, we hold each other there, and we learn from that.”

The ten pounds that separates Kasunic from Grimes does not create too much of a disadvantage for the lighter wrestler, Kasunic said, and he still integrates skills from his experience as a lighter wrestler into his movements in the 197-pound matches.

The similarity in weight and mentality between Kasunic and Grimes breeds a sense of competition that lights a fire of determination in both wrestlers, something Grimes said he can take to the mat in any competition.

“There are definitely times when we go at it in the room,” Grimes said. “It’s nice wrestling a bigger guy, at least for me, because then when I get on the mat, guys are a little smaller than I’m used to wrestling. It’s definitely a plus for me to at least get to roll around with him in the room.”

Grimes’s collegiate wrestling career will come to a close in March, and while he has not ruled out competing past graduation, he is approaching each of the final matches in his career with a different, more intense mindset. He knows that practicing with Kasunic under the guidance of Moore will prepare him for the upcoming matches, and he will be able to fall back on his work ethic to rack up a few final pins.

“It’s not necessarily speed, it’s more like a strength kind of thing,” Grimes said, explaining the pin. “Holding your opponent down, trying to put him on his back is more determination and strength.”

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