By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
December 5, 2008
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Sturdy freshman Lance Bryson has already gotten an eye-opening experience in his first season as a Mountaineer wrestler.
||Freshman Lance Bryson is working hard to solidify the 184-pound weight class for the Mountaineers in 2008-09.
WVU Sports Communications photo
The well-built Shoaf, Pa., native was thrown into the fire in his first week of dual meet action, taking over the starting spot at 184 pounds during WVU’s successful 2-0 weekend at the “Sprawl + Brawl” dual meet in Vestal, N.Y.
Bryson went 1-1 over the weekend, falling to Columbia’s Kenji Porter in a competitive 4-2 decision before nabbing his first dual meet victory over North Carolina’s Kevin Owens, 5-0.
Knowing how important that first win is for a freshman looking to jumpstart his collegiate career, Bryson is searching for success this weekend when the Mountaineers wrestle among 48 other teams in the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev.
Although Bryson is coached by three-time national champion Greg Jones, who won a title in his freshman season, Bryson realizes that his first season donning a WVU singlet is first and foremost about gaining experience at the Division I level.
“Coming out as a freshman, I want to do my best,” Bryson said. “I’m like a little guy on the stool and I’ll try to get a good learning experience, but at the same time try to make some noise.”
Bryson can undoubtedly make some major strides as a freshman. He maintains a muscular physique and is a student of the sport who continues to get better each and everyday on the mat. Knowing how important it is to continue his strengths and correct his mistakes, Bryson is determined to improve through his never-ending work ethic.
“First I started looking at mistakes that I had in New York and tried fixing those,” Bryson commented. “I kept working hard, and the last time I had open drill I tried to stay after and learn from my mistakes. Coach Turnbull, Coach Jones, Coach Felix and (freshman) Anthony Rogers have helped me with that.”
After dominating much of the competition in southwest Pennsylvania during his time at Albert Gallatin High, Bryson made the adjustment of moving up a weight class after spending his high school days at 174 pounds.
As a 174-pounder, Bryson became a four-time section champion, a PowerAde Champion and finished in third place during his junior and senior seasons at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Tournament. Although he is up to 184 pounds, not much has changed for him in his pre-match preparation.
“I really don’t have to diet that much, maybe like the night before,” Bryson admitted. “There are a lot of big boys at 184. I just happen to be at this weight, but they are dropping because they are probably around 200 pounds in the summer and then going to 184 during the season, so they have bigger body frames. But I don’t let that intimidate me.”
The stud grappler has wrestled in four matches, including the WVU Open, and has already noticed some differences between high school and collegiate wrestling. Coming to a school like WVU that participates in several competitive tournaments and dual meets, Bryson is quick to recognize how skilled and fundamentally sound several of the Division I wrestlers are.
“In high school you see a lot of kids trying to do a lot of big moves,” Bryson said. “In college, it’s more of the basic moves. The intensity level is up, you have more time in a match and there are rule changes as well with riding time and the out-of-bounds rules.”
Bryson is all the more happy that he picked a school that wrestles in the challenging Eastern Wrestling League and faces a slew of formidable foes. He also is impressed by the tremendous facilities that the wrestling program has to offer, which was one of several factors that weighed into his decision.
“I like it a lot,” Bryson said of the WVU wrestling program. “I really like the lifting schedule we have, and the wrestling room itself is an Olympic Training Center now. We also get to use the football facility to lift as well. There is a broad range of equipment we can use and the locker rooms are nice.”
Another pleasantry has been the reception Bryson has been given by his teammates. The move to Morgantown was easy for Bryson because he lives nearly a half hour away, but the camaraderie he has built with his fellow Mountaineers has been a bonus.
Bryson is especially close to two of his freshman friends, emerging 157-pounder Amador Ayala and talented heavyweight Justin Haines. Perhaps all three can someday surface as the faces of the Mountaineer wrestling program, but for now they continue to work together to elevate their status as quality collegiate grapplers.
“I like the entire team,” Bryson said. “There are two freshman friends that I hang out with – Ayala and my roommate Justin Haines. I know Justin real well because we are from the same area – I’m from Uniontown and he’s from Connellsville. He and I became real good friends with Ayala, so we hang out a lot.”
One physical quality that the freshman holds is having a tremendous amount of endurance. Bryson finished his high school career as a three-time letterwinner in cross country, and developed a passion for running at great lengths when he was still an early adolescent.
However, the exercise physiology major had to end his running career after his junior season, choosing to focus on his greatest passion: wrestling.
“I’ve actually been running since fifth grade when I ran at the Mount Summit challenge,” Bryson admitted. “I started running then and I really got faithful with it in sixth grade and ran cross country in ninth, tenth and eleventh grade. I didn’t run my senior year because I got hurt in football – which I really didn’t want to play because I didn’t want to get hurt for wrestling.
“It was only a hip injury, and running helped me a lot because I would notice that my opponent would be gassed and I wouldn’t be at that point yet.”
Another attribute of Bryson is his heavy reliance on academics. He tallied a 4.08 cumulative average in high school, and is always working hard in the classroom to accomplish his future goals.
In fact, his greatest ambition is to someday be a chiropractor. After going to one earlier in his career, he not only received medical aid but some mental aid as well, absorbing all the things that were being done to keep him healthy.
“I got injured in seventh grade, and that’s who I went to,” Bryson said. “Just seeing the way he helped me, it made me want to do the same to young athletes.
“It’s hands-on. It’s kind of like free medicine because you don’t have to prescribe anything and you get to work with the body itself. I’ve had that in mind since ninth grade and wrote my career paper on it in tenth grade, and I’m sticking with it.”