The way the match ended was different than any other this season.
But the end result was the same for Daton Fix.
Fix continued his stellar freshman season Sunday when he defeated No. 3 Nick Suriano 3-2 in front of a raucous crowd at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, New Jersey.
The match was controversial in many ways. It lasted more than 30 minutes because of multiple replays. Fix then won the match on a hands-to-the-face call in the second sudden victory.
“That was a hostile environment,” Fix said. “7,000-plus fans, all cheering against me. It was nice to get my hand raised, even though that’s not how I want to win. Hopefully we get to wrestle again and I can wrestle more how I imagined it.”
The length of Fix’s match, and how it eventually ended, has been publicly criticized.
But coach John Smith is having none of the negativity surrounding it.
“I read a few comments that were really silly, people talking about what’s wrong with wrestling,” Smith said. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with wrestling. Wrestling’s in its good ol’ days… It’s tougher than it’s ever been, more competitive out there than it has ever been, more people watching wrestling than there’s ever been.
“The people out there making stories up, shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You got a freshman (Fix) out there wrestling against a hometown kid (Suriano) who’s pretty good. Wrestling doesn’t hang on that match… In the end, there’s things you learn from and move forward.”
Fix is 20-0 on the season at 133 pounds, which Smith sees as the toughest weight class in the country. Seth Gross, a two-time finalist and defending NCAA champion at 133 from South Dakota State announced Thursday he will not wrestle this year because of a back injury. Smith said he believes whoever wins at 133 this year should probably win the outstanding wrestler award.
Fix faces two more ranked opponents Friday and Saturday in No. 15 Matthew Schmitt of West Virginia and No. 4 Micky Phillippi of Pittsburgh. His wrestling history, which includes a Junior World Championship in 2017, puts a target on his back. It doesn’t phase him though. In fact, he enjoys the challenge.
“I want everybody’s best,” Fix said. “Whoever I’m wrestling, I want them to be at their best. I don’t want to beat someone whenever they’re on a bad day. I want them at the absolute best they’ve ever wrestled and to be able to go out there and compete against them.
“I’m sure a lot of the guys that have been on a college team might feel like I’m getting too much hype because I’m a freshman… Only thing that really matters is what happens on the mat. They can tweet, they can post, whatever they want. But that doesn’t score you any points on the mat.”
‘More so than I realized’
Smith knew before the season started the schedule would be challenging. But even he’s been a bit surprised by it.
“More so than I realized,” Smith said about how tough the schedule has been. “I think if we would’ve started at the beginning of the year and looked at which matches would be tough, I think our two toughest was these last two (Princeton and Rutgers). Very competitive teams. Definitely kinda opened my eyes up… We’re not going to overlook it. We need to be ready to go. This is really our last long road trip and then the next month is at home.”
The Cowboys will face another tough team when they take on No. 15 Pittsburgh Saturday.
The schedule is something Andrew Shomers, a transfer from Edinboro, has had to adjust to.
“So much more challenging,” Shomers said about the schedule compared to past years. "Obviously the biggest challenge is traveling. When I was at Edinboro, we wrestled pretty much all the state schools… two, maybe three hour drives. Here, we’re flying every trip. It’s draining. We just got off a flight yesterday (Monday). Be back on one Thursday to go out east. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Shomers will see plenty of familiar faces this weekend. Against West Virginia, he and Dakota Geer will be opposite the mat from their former coach Tim Flynn. Flynn took the job at WVU this season after coaching 21 seasons at Edinboro, where he compiled a 223-95-5 record.
“It’ll be interesting, maybe a little awkward,” Shomers said. “Obviously, we wrestled for him for three years. It’s gonna be different, kinda excited though. I’m ready to go compete.”
Shomers is from Ransomville, New York, but has many family members in Pittsburgh that will be there watching. They’re also going to make the hour trip to Morgantown on Friday night.
“It’ll be nice, give you a confidence booster seeing people back home,” Shomers said. “Other than that, I just want to wrestle.”