By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Before entering Junior and Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D., Stillwater assistant wrestling coach Neil Erisman wasn’t quite sure how well Taylor Day would do. After all, the 88-pounder was coming off a couple of injury-plagued seasons.
But that’s the thing about Day. He knows that when it comes to wrestling in Stillwater, there’s a standard.
And when it was all said and done last weekend in Fargo, Day stood next to fellow Stillwater natives Joe Smith, Kaid Brock and Andrew Nieman as All-Americans.
“I was really proud of him coming back and training as hard as he has,” Erisman said. “He was out for almost a year and a half to two years with some injuries. Coming from where he was to now, I’m awful proud of him and it just shows his hard work.”
Hard work is nothing new to Day or the other three All-Americans from Stillwater. Often they will spend more hours in the gym working on technique than time enjoying their summer vacation.
But it’s in those late nights and early mornings where a new standard has been set for all Pioneer wrestlers.
“It sets and example, but it also sets a standard,” Erisman said. “We have a new standard of wrestling with these guys coming up. It didn’t start with Joe and Kaid. We’ve had past Fargo All-American such as Chris Perry, but it says a lot for who we’re trying to become. We don’t just want one or two Fargo All-Americans every year. We want a lot of our kids to become All-Americans, competing at the highest level and striving to be the best that they can be.”
For the four All-Americans, wrestling isn’t just something they worry about during the high school season. Nor is it something that’s the key to summer vacations in places like Florida or North Dakota.
“It’s not just a November to February thing for them — it’s what they live for,” Erisman said. “You could ask Kaid Brock. He’s more fired up and passionate about wrestling than anybody you could meet, and the same could be said about the other three.
“Wrestling is something that you usually don’t make it very long if you don’t love it. ... They’re still training while everyone else is going to the pool or taking vacations. These guys are focused on one goal — getting better every day.”
It’s that passion that Erisman is looking for as he begins his first season under Doug Chesbro at the high school.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Erisman said. “It’s always fun to look forward — especially with four Fargo All-Americans on your team. But right now, we’re just focused on getting better every day and being the best that we can be from now on.”
And if there’s one thing that will help this quartet of Stillwater wrestlers get better, it’s wrestling against each other.
“It’s great because you’ve got all these guys who can train together,” Erisman said. “It’s one thing if you’re doing it by yourself. Even though wrestling is an individual sport, it’s nice to look over and see your teammate working hard for you and for the rest of the team.
“It’s great to have a bunch of guys around the same weight. You can’t get a better situation, with Joe and Kaid going together and Andrew and Taylor working out together.”
Whether its pushing each other in the wrestling room toward a state championship or helping each other prepare for Fargo, their methodical work seems to be paying off. Along with Day’s seventh-place finish, Brock finished second at 120 pounds while Nieman took silver at 106 pounds. Smith also took third at 138 pounds.
And none of that surprised Erisman.
“I’m not surprised by any of these guys because they work so hard,” Erisman said. “...Coach Chesbro, the rest of the coaching staff and I are really proud of these guys. We’re trying to set a new standard on top of the one that’s already been set. We want this stuff to happen every year. This is the direction we want the program to go and it’s a great example of the hard work that our coaches and these kids have put in.”
But even with a new standard and the upcoming wrestling season looming in the not too distant future, Erisman said in order to keep elevating that standard the four — along with the rest of the Pioneers — will continue to take it day by day.
“We’re not looking past the next day,” Erisman said. “We know that Edmond North is probably going to be the team to beat, but we’re not worried about them. We’re just worried about getting ourselves better each day. We’re not looking ahead to the season or the state championship. We’re just looking at ways we can improve ourselves each day.”