Coming off from the incredible success of last winter, Wesleyan’s wrestling team is primed and excited for its new season to begin. Last year featured a host of successes, ranging from individual titles to the ultimate culmination for any team—a New England title. The defending New England Wrestling Association (NEWA) Champion squad is ranked #20 in Division III, boasting a pair of returning New England champions and two runners-up as it nears the start of a new journey. That time will finally arrive this Saturday, Nov. 17 at Springfield College during the Doug Parker Invitational.
With the start of the season on the horizon, all eyes are on the Cardinals’ most decorated wrestler, Jefferson Ajayi ’13. Last year, Ajayi won the New England championship at the 184-pound weight class. He then went on to the Championships at Wisconsin-La Crosse and earned three victories, gaining him a seventh-place finish and the coveted title as an All-American wrestler. Going into the 2012-13 campaign, Ajayi is ranked #1 nationally in his weight class and has high aspirations for both himself and the team.
For Ajayi, the outlook for the season centers around one goal: the repeat and defense of the team’s New England championship title. When asked about the outlook for the Cardinals’ campaign, Ajayi responded simply and emphatically.
“We plan to be Northeast Regional champs, the same as every year,” he said.
Ajayi said his training and preparation for the season have been similar to what he’s done most years, but with a few changes to prepare for the expected long season.
“I’ve been doing a lot more cardio and yoga than usual,” he said. “I’m just trying to make sure my body holds up. I had a recent injury [he bruised his IT band last week while practicing] this past weekend, and I am making sure everything is holding up and healing. I’m trying to be healthy for the end of the season when it matters most.”
“It starts at a slower pace and we’re undermanned,” Ajayi said. “We might not be doing as well as we hoped [at the beginning of the season]. But we anticipate peaking at the end of the season and performing the way we want to by the end of the season. We have to appreciate the process and the end results.”
While his comments that the team is not as sharp as it was at the end of last season may lead to some concern, Ajayi was quick to clarify.
“The team looks like we have every year [at this stage], we start later than most teams and are at an immediate disadvantage because of that,” he said. “We usually all hold up and then come together toward the end of the season when everyone is in their peak form and wrestling shape. We still have the highest aspirations for the season, just like every single year.”
After succeeding at the highest level last season, Ajayi sees only one logical progression for his personal goals.
“I want to be the national champ,” he admitted.
He made sure to point out that a lot of work needs to be done between now and then, but that most of it was in his control.
“I know that the only person that can beat me is myself,” he said. “I need to be confident in the abilities I know I have. I need to maintain the confidence I have in my coaching, and my support systems. All I have to do is believe and perform the way I know I can. Believe in the process.”
The process that Ajayi describes is a long and arduous one. One wonders what his mindset is heading into a season with so much expected for the #1 ranked wrestler in the nation.
“I’m just trying to make sure I do everything better than last year,” he said. “I think the only thing I can do in order to improve from last year is believing. At this point it seems more a mental challenge than physical. I know I have the ability to succeed with what I have set out to do. I just need to respect the process and focus.”
Though Ajayi is proud of his personal accomplishments, he was quick to note that the ultimate goal remained his team’s success.
“[I must] lead by example, be as energetic and as positive as I can,” he said. “I am going to focus more on the team than myself, because if the team prospers then I will prosper also.”
Ultimately, Ajayi knows this is his final year as a collegiate wrestler, and the weight of the situation did not escape him when contemplating his role as a leader of the team.
“It feels like there is a lot of expectation on me this year compared to previous years,” he admitted. “The only way I can deal with it is reminding myself we’re all one team. We all help one another out. The team isn’t a group of individuals, but a collective whole. I just want to make sure I am doing my part.”