Nathan Shearer guided the Washington & Lee wrestling program to its second consecutive Centennial Conference title this season. The Generals finished 11-5 in dual meets, which marked the sixth straight winning season for the program. Two Washington and Lee wrestlers will compete at this weekend's NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.
MatBoss caught up with Shearer and talked to him about the team's performance at the Southeast Regional, their two NCAA qualifiers, training facility, Ohio Northern coach Ron Beaschler and more.
You recently placed fourth out of 20 teams at the Southeast Regional and qualified a couple wrestlers for the NCAAs. Overall, what did you think of the team's performance at the Southeast Regional?
Shearer: We did really well. It's the second time that we finished in the top five and broke the 100-point barrier. On the first day of the regional tournament, I wouldn't say we wrestled badly. It's just you're trying to get as many wrestlers into the semis of Day 2. We lost a couple matches that were hard to lose on Friday. Not that we wrestled bad, but just matches that we obviously wanted to win like everyone else but didn't. Day 2 was really exciting because we won a lot of the matches that we didn't win on Friday. For the most part we were ending the day with wins. We finished with a first, third and three fifths. So Saturday was nice. Multiple guys were ended the days on wins. Aside from the two that qualified we had one more wrestler who really lost on a last-second takedown to also qualify for third. Overall, it was good. We were just in a tough region with really good teams, but I felt like we were competing with all of them and proud of the team and the effort.
Ryan Luth won his second NCAA Southeast Regional title. He avenged his only loss of the season by beating Nick Barnhart of Messiah in the finals. How do you feel about the way he's wrestling heading into the national tournament?
Shearer: Ryan's been wrestling like this since his freshman year. It's been a little bit of a tale of unfortunate events that are outside his control. His freshman year he was 22-1 with like 19 bonus-point wins. And he blew out his shoulder in January. He did come back, weigh in and technically wrestle at the regional tournament but was competing with one arm. He defaulted out when he knew he couldn't qualify. He came back for his sophomore season and pretty much dominated his way through the region. He beat two top-10 guys at the regional tournament to win the regional tournament. I think he was seeded seventh at the national tournament. We were out in Iowa and COVID canceled the tournament. Then last year he was primed and ready to go, and then it was canceled last year. It's been frustrating because he's one of those special wrestlers that in a normal four-year block would have been at the national tournament probably every year. But here we are. He's set to wrestle for the first time at the championships. He's wrestling as well as anybody and he can also beat anybody. The national tournament is really tough, but he's a guy that's just fully prepared and does a lot on his own. He's very just internally motivated.
At 125 pounds, Riley Parker bounced back from a second-round loss to claim third place. Had a nice run through the consolation bracket. What did you see from him that impressed you?
Shearer: The very first tournament of the year Riley took a loss in the quarterfinals to a guy who ended up qualifying for the national tournament. We knew that guy was a really tough wrestler because he had been ranked too. The first comment that Riley made to me was, 'Just in case something happens at regionals I have to know how to battle back and get third and not hang my head.' Come to find out at the regional tournament in the quarterfinals he takes a loss to the sixth seed. His Saturday morning was a hard path. His first match was against a returning national qualifier. He was able to get that win. The second match was against a guy who was a national-level wrestler who had actually beaten Riley, but we were able to win that match. Then in the third-place match he needed to beat a two-time national qualifier who he had split matches with. He planned on winning the regional, but he also knew that top three still would get him to the tournament. You want to believe that everybody can do it, but the reality is certain individuals can kind of have that mindset and not be rattled after losing.
You finished 11-5 in dual meets this season and won your second Centennial Conference championship. How important is the conference championship to your program?
Shearer: Not overly important but still important. We had never won the conference title until 2020. So it was really nice to win for the first time in school history. And so we did celebrate that because it was a nice level of success for our team. Like they say in prize fighting, when you win it once, you have to defend it too. We did win it again this year.
You opened a new training facility in 2020. Obviously, COVID took away most of last season so this is your first full season with it. How important has the new facility been to your program?
Shearer: It's so nice. We had a two-year transition where we were in the swing space. We made the best of it. But at the end of the day it was just really inconvenient, without showers and locker rooms. Those things don't make the wrestler because we had great seasons while we had inconveniences. So now it's really nice having everything in one building. Now we have the strength training, athletic training and locker rooms. My office is right next to the wrestling room. We have a camera replay system set up in the room, TVs, weights, ropes, pull-up bars. So if you're on the team and you come over to the building, aside from going to class or eating, you don't have to leave. We have lounge spaces and a dedicated locker room all year. Just those little conveniences that just make life a little easier and nicer as you're going through the challenges of any season.
Obviously, you are in Lexington, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, a beautiful area with hiking and biking trails, river … How much does that area help in recruiting?
Shearer: It doesn't hurt. It's beautiful. I think Lexington surprises many people that are unsure of what to expect. They see a small school with around 1,800 students. Maybe they expect a small campus. But the campus is hundreds of acres. The town has plenty of amenities and a pretty vibrant downtown. The downtown sometimes gets voted one of the best downtowns in Virginia and on the East Coast. So in town you have all the amenities. Walking distance to campus. Within 20 minutes or less you can have unobstructed views of the Shenandoah Valley, 360 views of hikes. Over Christmas break we're outside doing hikes, running outside. We'll practice on the football field. We can get outside a lot more. It may be cold, but it's relative. It could be 20 degrees, but the sun is shining frequently. I think it just kind of makes you just feel better about yourself, puts a smile on your face. There's a nice little river right next to campus. People float, families come and visit. Usually what we see is they will make a trip out of it. They will stay for a couple extra days.
You competed at Ohio Northern. What have you taken from your college coach Ron Beaschler that you have used in your own coaching career?
Shearer: Ron Beaschler is the man. I graduated from Northern in 2005 and he's still there. Still doing well. He has been there a long time and still looks good doing it. When I was a junior or senior in college I started realizing who I was learning from. This is the guy who basically helped create the OPC system in the 90s. He was instrumental. I'm not sure he gets enough credit. He and Pat Tocci created it. He was president of the Coaches Association. It's usually a Division I coach but he was a Division III coach leading the Coaches Association, voted on by his peers. He's been secretary rules editor. So this is a guy that you're learning from. There wasn't anything he would never take me to. After I graduated I was a volunteer assistant and then I was a GA before I left. He never missed an opportunity to take you to a convention or rules clinic. He's kind of like a true north type of person. You can really set your scale to that guy and be OK.