Raider Wrestling once again showed its dominance at the top level of competition as the team returned home second in all of NAIA lead by a pair of individual champions.
“Any time you come away with a couple of national titles, it’s a good weekend,” said Raider wrestling coach Mike Ritchey, who has just entered his 19th year as head coach. The team certainly can label this weekend successful as they earned their fifth second place finish at NAIA Wrestling Championships in the past seven years.
Seniors Brock Gutches and Taylor Johnson lit the Kansas Expocentre afire Saturday as they each rolled their way to national titles. Gutches returned home with his fourth national title, one from each year in attendance at SOU. “The first title is always the best,” he says, “it’s a huge weight lifted off of your shoulders, it has the most impact. But winning every title is special.”
In the final match Gutches dominated Campbellsville University’s No. four ranked Travis Mclntosh. Gutches had already pinned Mclntosh when the two met earlier in the season and won this rematch definitively with a score of 8-0. “I take it personal wrestling these guys, it was awesome beating him,” Gutches said.
“(He) put in a lot of extra time. They are self driven men with high goals,” said Coach Ritchey about Gutches. Four national titles in four years is quite the accomplishment, as Gutches is only one of seven wrestlers ever to achieve this in NAIA history.
The kind of pressure an athlete feels at the high level of a national tournament must be staggering and yet Gutches seemed unfazed. “You know practice makes perfect, I prepare for it the same way I do for every match,” he responded, when asked how he readies himself. Gutches is certainly confident in his preparations and it’s as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The night did not only favor Gutches, but Johnson also as he went on to win his first national title. In the final round Johnson took down 184 pound Garrett DeMers of Montana State University. With 16 seconds left in the round, Johnson defeated DeMers with a tight final score 6-5.
“Success brings more success,” said Coach Ritchey, “the culture here helps, you work as a coach to be a positive influence. The support from the school as well as the fans is also a huge factor.” Ritchey said in response to how the program has been able to stay dominant for so long. Since 1977 SOU wrestlers have won 34 NAIA Championships, 17 of which have been achieved since 2001. Thats nearly a title every year.
Gutches attributes SOU’s success to both Ritchey and the team itself saying, “Coach Ritchey has a unique coaching style and our team is really close.” He continues saying “There are a lot of tough times in the year, it (the team) is really close and very family oriented. It makes it easier to go through tough times with these guys.”
If it wasn’t for this long streak of success one would almost be concerned by the fact that the raiders will be graduating ten seniors this year. Five of which have taken part in the NAIA National championship. Coach Ritchey admits that next years squad will be more inexperienced but does not seem overly concerned. “SOU is a great place for wrestling. The success we’ve had has made recruitment easy. Next year will be a dogfight but we intend to stay in it and fight right along.”