By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Going up against teams like Perry, Midwest City and top-ranked Broken Arrow, Stillwater High School wrestling coach Doug Chesbro knew his team was going to take its fair share of lumps during the month of January.
Now Chesbro and the Pioneers hope those lumps pay off as they look to snap a four-match losing streak against Norman High at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Pioneer Fieldhouse.
“You just have to wrestle your way through it,” Chesbro said. “These things happen sometimes and things can turn on a dime sometimes. You should always expect the unexpected.
“It’s not that our kids have wrestled poorly lately — in fact I was pretty proud of their effort (against Broken Arrow). It wasn’t quite the devastating beating that most people thought it was going to be. We lost some close matches and wrestled hard.”
Four straight losses was not what Chesbro was hoping for with just over a month left before the state tournament begins. But in those losses, the Stillwater coach has seen the Pioneers’ confidence grow and his team improve — even if it may not be noticeable to the casual fan.
“When you’ve face the best — and believe me, we’ve wrestled some of the best in the Sapulpa Tournament and facing Broken Arrow,” Chesbro said. “Once you face the best, even in a loss, you kind of step back and realize that, ‘Hey, the sun came up the next day. Practice was the same. I went back to work and it didn’t kill me.’ We survived that tough stretch, we’re still here competing and the kids realize that they still have something to give.”
And you can bet that the Pioneers will be giving their all Thursday — after all, it is homecoming.
“I expect that our kids are going to wrestle hard,” Chesbro said. “It’s our second-to-last home dual of the year and it’s homecoming so hopefully they’ll be fired up. They’re coming off a pretty good wrestling effort. Of course it was a loss, but I expect us to come out and wrestle well.”
Saying that his team will wrestle well is one thing. Having them focused and ready to go is another — especially with all the festivities that surround homecoming.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Chesbro said. “The kids are excited because it is homecoming and the crowd will probably be a little bit larger than what it normally is. I don’t know if homecoming means the same as it meant 30 or 50 years ago, but they know what it’s supposed to mean. Hopefully, they’re going to try to defend their home mat on homecoming and give that big crowd a show.
“At the same time, kids get a little bit tied up in the pomp and circumstance of the whole thing. You have pretty girls walking around in evening gowns and they get their name and bio read to the public. Sometimes they lose a little bit of focus on what they’re really there for. There wouldn’t be a wrestling homecoming if there wasn’t a wrestling match.”
That’s where Chesbro comes in. He knows that if the Pioneers lose focus, Norman will take advantage — looking to play the role of homecoming spoiler.
“We just have to get them together and kind of yank their chain to get their attention again,” Chesbro said. “A majority of the kids understand that things can be turned around pretty quickly and we’ll do our best to have them ready to go back to work.”
Norman comes in as a team hoping to garner some respect. A win over Stillwater would do that — putting Chesbro on high alert for the upset.
“Because they’re located in a suburban area, they don’t get the kind of exposure that we get,” Chesbro said. “They’re kind of a small fish in a big pond, so we know they’re going to come in and be focused on getting a win at our place. Everybody wants to beat you during homecoming and spoil your big evening. We’re just hoping that they don’t catch us off guard.”
Stillwater already had a target on its back, but the addition of homecoming makes the target that much larger. Chesbro said the key will be taking everything in stride.
“Once all that stuff is behind us, we still have work to do,” Chesbro said. “We’re going to wrestle like it is any other match. It doesn’t matter if we’ve lost the last four. It doesn’t matter if it’s homecoming. All that matters is that we’re facing Norman — a well-coached, quality team. That should be the only thing on our minds.”