Story by Alex Agueros, for The Muleskinner
The Mules wrestling season begins Sunday with the annual UCM Open, a meet that is expecting more than 300 entries.
Along with the Mules, the meet will feature athletes from the University of Missouri, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Newman University, Pratt Community College, and last year’s community college national champs, Labette.
“It’s the biggest tournament we’ll see all year,” third year head coach Justin Ensign said. “We’ll get guys from all different levels. It makes things interesting.”
Ensign pointed out the parity a tournament this large creates.
“Three years ago, a D-I champ lost to one of the D-II guys here,” he said.
The UCM Open also serves as the first opportunity to improve on a 2011 season that saw many injuries, and a 3-14 record in duals.
Ensign wasn’t discouraged despite those struggles.
“It was a disappointing year last year, and I wasn’t too happy about it, but I think we’re better for it,” he said. “Sometimes you have to go through those rough spots.”
The challenge will only be steeper this season, with last year’s Division-II champions Nebraska-Kearney and regional champions Central Oklahoma being added to the conference.
Despite the tough conference, reason for optimism is all around this year’s Mules team. John McDonald and Blake Gillis are both new additions to the coaching staff this year. They also add talented transfers Tyler Loethen and Zotaih Tuaquoi.
The Mules were picked fifth out of six teams in the preseason poll, but Ensign hopes a confident, winning attitude will catch on this season.
“We’re trying to get a new energy and get excited,” he said. “Create a work hard culture, and change the attitude. The culture of negativity is contagious just like the culture of winning is contagious. You’ve got to believe you’re better than them and believe you belong. Why not us?”
Competition begins at 10 a.m. on Sunday in the Multipurpose Building.