Same Goals, Different Circumstances

Same Goals, Different Circumstances

Twenty-six weeks ago, the Western Wyoming Community College (WWCC) Mustangs celebrated several All-Americans, a national champion and a team academic championship during the 2020 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Wrestling Championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

But since then, life has changed.

Among those All-Americans were Anthony Herrera and Andrew Nicholson, the only two returning All-Americans on this year’s roster. Little did they know that two weeks after the national tournament, the country would practically shut down and the upcoming wrestling season would be postponed until the spring semester due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

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But if there’s one thing Herrera and Nicholson have learned throughout this experience as student-athletes, it’s that there is beauty in simplicity. And both believe it’s only making them better along with the rest of the team.

Taking it Day by Day

Although the NJCAA postponed all sports until next spring, the Mustangs have been planning and strategizing on the best way to use the extra time. Training for the upcoming season has been a lot different for the team, but the goals and aspirations of the group have remained the same.

“We’re still going to have the same attitude, the same goals,” Herrera said. “A good mindset to have is to be ready and be prepared. Nothing is different because the season is pushed back. Just the circumstances are different,” Herrera said.

Head Coach Art Castillo said that he and his staff have always had a system to get the team where it needs to be at certain points throughout the year. However, current circumstances have thrown that timeline out the window. Taking a day by day approach and making the most of it is the focus of Castillo as he believes the best team will adapt and make the most of the challenges that NJCAA wrestling faces.

“It’s a new challenge, but that’s what we are here for, to find out who we are and how we can handle these challenges in life,” Castillo said. “The team that can handle all of these elements in the world going on right now the best, will have the best shot to win the national title.”

Both Herrera and Nicholson have been meeting those challenges head on for quite some time. When the pandemic hit, gyms closed and as a result, the all-americans had to get creative with their workouts.

Herrera, who is from Tooele, Utah, managed to get into his high school wrestling room to do some workouts during the offseason. He also made use of his home gym.

“I just found a way. I did what I could with what I had,” Herrera said. “You don’t need a gym to get better. If you want to get better you’ll find a way. Some people let that affect them. It’s all about perspective. If you want to find a way to find a way to get better you will,” Herrera said.

Unlike Herrera, Nicholson didn’t have the chance to get into a wrestling room the entire summer. He focused on bodyweight exercises and went as far as to weld together his own kettlebells, creating what he calls a “hillbilly gym.”

Best Recruiting Class in 13 Years

The Mustangs are scheduled to begin their season in January. Castillo believes that starting in January is only an advantage for his group, meaning that they will have an extra two months to prepare for the national tournament. While he doesn’t know when they will ramp up the pace that they prepare, he does know that with the resources and health guidelines that are in place, the Mustangs will be the most prepared team in the country.

The extra time to prepare is invaluable for a young but talented group of wrestlers. This year’s recruiting class joining the team is the best recruiting class Castillo said he has had in 13 years. Both Nicholson and Herrera also confirmed their confidence in the new faces that will be wearing black and red.

It’s a new challenge, but that’s what we are here for, to find out who we are and how we can handle these challenges in life.

— Art Castillo

“I think we’ve got so much potential as a team,” Nicholson said. “I’ve never been a part of a team like this.”

Castillo signed a majority of wrestlers earlier last year before the pandemic hit, giving him an advantage in the recruiting world. The difference this year was that he felt that he was able to study up on people and dig deep, allowing him to make connections that he hadn’t previously made before.

The results of Castillo’s hard work are quite obvious.

WWCC welcomes wrestlers from six states, who are no strangers to winning. Combined, there are 48 high school state titles won, including two four-time champions, six three-time champions and seven two-time champions.

Ten of the incoming wrestlers were mentioned in the 2020 Wrestling USA Top Seniors by Wrestling USA Magazine. Four wrestlers were ranked in the top 30, while six received honorable mentions.

“This group of guys is very special,” Castillo said. “I’m very excited to work with them. But we’ve got a long road ahead of us.”

For now, Castillo’s squad will aim towards daily improvements and make adjustments as necessary. Come January, the Mustangs will be ready to begin where they left off 26 weeks ago: chasing the NJCAA wrestling title.