Editor’s note: The Gering Bulldogs’ J.J. Behrens heads into his fourth year as head coach for varsity and junior varsity wrestling teams, and his sixth year overall, with two years as an assistant. The Bulldogs varsity wrestling team is looking to improve on a 15-17 record last year, a relative building block season. Below is a Q&A with Coach Behrens and how he feels about how this year’s team is shaping up, and what they’d like to accomplish as a team. Their first match was yesterday, Dec. 1, against Sedgwick County in Ovid, Colorado. The team heads to the Cozad Invite on Saturday, Dec. 3. (The complete schedule is listed below). The rest of the schedule reveals an unrelenting season against tough opponents, that includes conference foes in Class B, but one that could provide the necessary lessons in improving on basic skills.
Q: What is the general outlook for this season?
A: We have a lot of guys with varsity experience coming back this year, and still have a tremendous amount of growth ahead of us since we only have two seniors out this season. Obviously, our goal is to improve on last season and I am confident that we can achieve this. At this time, we still have a few lingering injuries from football, and may not get some (wrestlers) back until after Christmas.
Q: What are the team’s goals? Individual goals for varsity wrestlers?
A: Academics have to be our first team goal. Last year and unfortunately looking into this season our toughest opponent is going to be eligibility. Individually, we have several guys that have goals of not only going to the state tournament, put also placing.
Q: Who are some of your main opponents? What is their style of wrestling?
A: The Panhandle will be well represented this year with quality wrestlers. Scottsbluff, Alliance, and Sidney will all have very competitive teams coming into this season. As for style, the only style we tend to focus on is ours, “Gering Wrestling Style.” I feel that at all levels, we are getting a culture and expectation established.
Q: Are you changing anything in practices, or your approach with the wrestlers, such as working more on fundamentals and/or technique?
A: The coaches and I feel that we need to continue to work on our technique and putting ourselves is positions to get better, physically and mentally. One of our mottos for this season is “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” There will be difficult times on the mat. We may have to work through those tough times; having the mental fortitude to fight through those times is a life skill that will help them beyond the wrestling mat. Coach Berger and I have been together for three years now and I feel that we are definitely creating a culture within Gering. This culture is starting to show its face at our federation and junior high level. Because of this we are continuing to build on technique and mat time that many of our guys put in this summer.
Q: How many total wrestlers do you have out? New wrestlers? Returners on JV and Varsity and their achievements last year? Which of the wrestlers do you think will have successful seasons? Which of them are the leaders or captains?
We are right at about 25 to 30 guys. We have three returning state qualifiers, and another who qualified two years, ago. Obviously those four have high goals set for this season along with several others that have spent plenty of time on the mat and in the weight-room this summer. As for leaders, we have several guys wanting to step up to the challenge, but I am going to leave it up our guys to vote who are captains are each week. I believe that it’s not going to be an easy choice for them.
Q: What is your wrestling background (high school and college)? How did you get into coaching wrestling?
A: In high school I was a three-time state qualifier and two-time state placer. After graduation, I spent one year wrestling at University of Northern Colorado, and after making the decision not to wrestle the next year, I began to coach thereafter. Since 1998, I believe that there has only been one season that I have not been in a wrestling room helping in some fashion. I made to move up to head coach in Wray, Colorado, in 2004 where I spent three years, then was able to move closer to home where I spent four years in Sterling, Colorado. My wife and I made to move to Gering, Nebraska, after circling four places on the map in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. Every location we selected had some family, but over the years I had always taken my teams to tournaments in this area, and I just loved driving down Wildcat Hills into Gering. When the opportunity presented itself to come here, it was an easy decision for us.
Q: Who are your assistants? What experience do they bring to the mat room?
A: Jared Berger has been with the program now for the past three seasons; he was a two-time Nebraska State Champion for Gering and wrestled four years for UNL. Elijah Timblin is a new addition to the Gering coaching staff; he was a two-time state qualifier and Gering graduate.
Randy Donelson also is a new addition to the Gering coaching staff. He brings a wealth of coaching experience to the table, along with coaching a state championship team of his own. Donelson also had a very successful high school year and the opportunity to wrestle internationally. Marcelino Ramos spent last season as a volunteer coach, but we were able to add him to our coaching staff this year. Marcelino was a two-time state qualifier and also a Gering graduate.
Q: Is there anything else you think is important to mention in the preview?
A: I encourage the community to come and see the hard work that our guys have put in this off-season. It should be a good time for them and the Gering Community.
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