CLINTON, S.C. – Not far south from the bustling and modern city of Greenville, S.C., complete with its ever-expanding network of highways and byways that help connect the city to nearby places like Atlanta and Charlotte, you can seemingly take a step back in time and slow down.
To a time when things were not so hectic and fast-paced. It’s then you can remember that life is not really complicated after all.
Clinton, S.C., with its abundance of green landscape and tall trees with their colorful foliage that surround the area, has that sort of calming effect on people.
While Clinton may not have been the town where Dr. Ben Stone, a character played by Michael J. Fox in the 1991 hit movie Doc Hollywood, encountered car troubles only to see his life forever changed, it very well could have been the setting … sans the squash festival.
And while Clinton allows people to recall bygone days, history is about to made in the small community of less than 9,000 residents.
Presbyterian College, home of the only NCAA Division I women’s wrestling team, is set to compete at home for the first time in the history of the fledgling program.
Plenty of eyes will be watching.
Season Kicks Off December 7th
The Blue Hose will take on a pair of opponents on Dec. 7 at Templeton Gymnasium on the cozy, picturesque Presbyterian campus.
The school has also brought its men’s mat program out of a 70-year hiatus. The Blue Hose, coached by Ashley Dick, competed for three seasons (1947-50) before the program was discontinued. It has been resurrected under the leadership of Mark Cody, who oversees both programs, and Tony DeAnda, the head coach of the men’s team, and will have competed in three tournaments before the women take the stage at home Dec. 7.
The PC men, who are a wrestling member of the Southern Conference, began Chapter II of Blue Hose wrestling Nov. 3 at The Citadel Open and competed Nov. 17 at the Wolfpack Open at North Carolina State. An appearance at the Cornell Invitational on Nov. 24 highlighted the new men’s schedule. The men begin their dual season Dec. 18 in Boiling Springs, N.C. against Franklin & Marshall. The men’s first home dual is scheduled for Jan. 15 when the Blue Hose take on Truett McConnell.
“There’s certainly an excitement that is building as we get closer to that historical day, said Robert Acunto, the school’s new athletics director as he anxiously awaits the women’s home opener. “It’s hard enough to know when history is going to happen, but it’s even harder to plan for it.”
The PC women’s squad is tentatively scheduled to compete against Limestone College in the first-ever dual in their home gym as part of a triangular meet that day. The Blue Hose will take on Life College in the second dual of the day and the two visiting teams will tangle in the finale. The exact order of competition could change.
Acunto said the school has already extended invitations to the history-making day to many VIPs and the local wrestling community. He also said students at the school are being encouraged to become a part of the festivities surrounding the historical event in the campus gymnasium that seats 2,000. Acunto, and other school officials, are hoping for a packed house to help celebrate.
They won’t be alone.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Mike Moyer, the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
Eyes Will Be Watching
Moyer said a large number of administrators from other D-I schools are also expected to be in attendance.
“There are several other schools looking at adding Division I women’s wrestling and there will be plenty of people watching what takes place at Presbyterian and how that program comes together … and failing is not an option,” Moyer said. “But, I will tell you this, the coaching staff, the president and the administrators at the school are top notch and there is no reason to expect the program will not succeed under the type of quality people they have in their leadership positions and the talent the coaching staff has already assembled.”
“Women’s wrestling needs Presbyterian College to be successful,” said Cody, one of the top coaches in the nation after spending time as an assistant with the men’s programs at Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Oklahoma earlier in his career.
During his time at Nebraska he was in charge of the upper weights. He was instrumental in recruiting Tolly Thompson and Brad Vering, who both won NCAA titles during their time with the Huskers. Vering would go on to compete in two Olympics while representing the United States.
Perhaps Cody’s most well-know recruit to Nebraska was former All-American Rulon Gardner, who captured a gold medal, and the hearts of America, at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Cody later helped reinstate the men’s program at American University and led the Eagles to a dual record of 63-95 in nine seasons (2002-11), including a mark of 60-67 over his final seven seasons there before taking over the University of Oklahoma program. His Sooner squads posted a dual record of 55-34 and finished among the top 13 teams at the national tournament on four occasions. He coached 10 All-Americans while in Norman and two of his wrestlers, Kendric Maple (2013) and Cody Brewer (2015), captured national championships.
Cody-coached wrestlers are also outstanding in the classroom. More than 50 of his wrestlers over the years have earned academic All-American honors.
Cody was three-time All-American during his own collegiate career. He spent his first two seasons at the State University of New York at Delhi before transferring to the University of Missouri and competing for the Tigers.
“With the backing of an administration, no matter what sport it is, it’s hard to fail and our administration showed tremendous insight when making the decision to launch the first women’s D-1 program in the nation and they have not wavered in their commitment.”
Cody also praised the work of the committee of volunteers that has been assembled to help prepare for the history-making day … and beyond.
“We’ve got a group of nearly two dozen tremendous people who have been meeting and doing a wonderful job of planning events to coincide with that big day,” he said.
Looking Forward To Home Opener
Women’s coach Dany DeAnda, like everyone else involved in the fledgling program at Presbyterian, is looking toward the home opener.
“We are Division I, but we are also an incredibly young team,” DeAnda said. Her roster is comprised of 14 women, 10 of them true freshman.
“We don’t feel any added pressure,” she insists, “our focus is simply on developing as wrestlers and as a team. We just need to approach every day the same way.”
Like Cody, DeAnda has a long list of impressive credentials that she brings to the Blue Hose program.
She was a three-time state champion while attending high school in Hawai’i and a three-time World Team member, where she claimed a silver and a bronze medal during her own competitive career.
The Blue Hose women will take a 3-2 dual record into the home opener. PC began the season with a split against Gannon and Ferrum on Oct. 5. They lost to Gannon 40-8 in the first-ever dual in program history, before rebounding with an impressive 29-14 win over the host school.
Presbyterian competed in the King Duals three weeks later (Oct. 26) and finished with a 2-1 record that day. The Blue Hose defeated Tiffin 29-16 and later won for the second time against Ferrum this season with a 45-5 triumph after falling to King College 40-13.
Some sort of history is always certain to be made with any new program. And PC added to its list of firsts when the Blue Hose picked up three individual championships at the East Stroudsburg Open Nov. 10 in Pennsylvania.
“That was a great tournament,” DeAnda said, of the tournament in Pennsylvania. “We had an opportunity to compete against teams from all across the United States and from Canada.”
Jaslynn Gallegos (116 pounds), Haven Pennington (123 pounds) and Morgan Norris, who has competed at 143 and 155 pounds, all earned titles that day for Presbyterian.
Gallegos defeated Kasey Bayan (unattached/Emmanuel) 10-0 in their title bout, while Haven slipped past Sadie Tackett (unattached/Emmanuel) by a 2-1 score. Norris pinned Passion Hollins (unattached/Emmanuel) in 2:34 to collect her championship trophy on the day.
Cassandra Lopez (109 pounds) also advanced to the finals of the tournament before coming up short in her bid for a title at 109 pounds.
Gallegos, Pennington and Norris have combined for a 16-2 record so far this season as they head into the home opener. Gallegos is undefeated in six matches, while Pennington and Norris have each lost just one time. Pennington is 3-1 on the year and Norris, a U23 national team member, leads the team with seven wins, including four pins.
Norris is perhaps the most decorated wrestler of that trio. The Blue Hose entered nine wrestlers into the tournament.
A native of Reno, Nev., Norris won four letters while competing in high school and earned an All-American finish at the prestigious Cadet/Junior tournament held each summer in Fargo, N.D. She also earned at the women’s national tournament in 2018.
“I am excited,” said Norris, a true freshman, who competes at 155 pounds. “We performed well at the tournament in East Stroudsburg and now we have an opportunity to compete in front of our home crowd. There is a buzz beginning to go around campus as word is getting out to more and more people. It’s going to be a fun day.”
Pennington, who could best be described as the emotional leader of the PC team, is a two-time women’s national champion and competed against mostly boys while attending Grove High School in Missouri. She amassed 52 wins against her male counterparts during her high school career. A versatile athlete, she also played softball and competed on the GHS track team.
She said her parents are making plans to attend the Dec. 7 showcase. She also praised DeAnda and Cody for the instruction in her first collegiate season.
“Those two are so incredibly knowledgeable and have the background that makes you take notice and listen,” sad the 123-pounder. “They are constantly letting me know what I have to work on to continue to improve.”
Gallegos, also in her first year with the Blue Hose, competed on the boys team at Skyview High School before matriculating to Clinton and Presbyterian. She earned three letters in her prep career and won 45 matches in her final season. She also became the first girl to place at the state tournament in Colorado and has an impressive resume at the Fargo tournament. She had four All-American finishes at that tournament and three times led the tournament in pins.
Norris is a U23 national team member.
Lopez, a native of Maryland, enrolled at Presbyterian in 2018 and redshirted her first year while preparing her first season of collegiate competition. And she’s off to a great start.
She is 5-3 on the season and has posted three pins for the Blue Hose.
Lopez was a three-time Maryland state champion while attending Mount Hebron High School in Ellicot, Mary., not far from Baltimore, and has competed in several of the nation’s top tournament, including the AAU Junior Olympics, Super 32 and Fargo. She captured six titles in her career at the prestigious War of the Roses tournament.
She is a two-time Triple Crown winner by sweeping national titles in all three disciplines of wrestling, which includes freestyle, Greco-Roman and folkstyle.
Lopez’s athletic resume also includes competing in soccer and mixed martial arts.
“The whole thing is going to be exciting,” Lopez said of the Dec. 7 triangular. “There are talks of having a pep rally to help kick things off and tee-shirts being given away.”
She is also impressed to how quickly things seem to be coming together for the new team.
“We’re young, but we’re getting great training … and we’re improving day by day,” she said.
“(Norris) and (Gallegos) are really wrestling well,” DeAnda said.
She also pointed to the development of redshirt freshman Lillian Humphries as opening eyes in the early portion of the season.
“She has done a tremendous job of taking on a leadership role, something that every young team needs,” the coach said.
Humphries, who has posted a 2-4 varsity record (two pins) and another pin during an exhibition match that does not count toward her varsity mark, this season, is a native of South Carolina and competed at Blue Ridge High School in Taylors, less than one-hour drive from the Presbyterian College. She earned four varsity letters while in high school and won three state championships during her prep career.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.