Staudenmayer did just that, overcoming a slap across the face from Pittsburgh’s Geno Morelli and enduring a fit of lower-back spasms against SIU-Edwardsville’s Matt Lester to earn two wins that looked more like slogs.
Saturday presented the latest hurdles in Staudenmayer’s eventful 2013-14 season, one marred by injury, by inconsistency, by creeping doubts about whether he’d return to the standard that helped Staudenmayer compile a 56-24 record in his first two seasons at UNC.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” Staudenmayer said.
Staudenmayer began the season ranked as the nation’s 14th-best wrestler in his weight class. Before the season, he underwent surgery on his elbow to clean out floating cartilage, the result of a lanky body putting too much duress on its limbs. Staudenmayer missed seven weeks, struggled to regain his fitness and saw his performance rise and fall like stock prices.
Then he remembered, Staudenmayer said. He had to forget.
“As the season went on, I just kind of forgot everything,” Staudenmayer said. “Just forget everything that was going on and just wrestle, and I just started going up.”
Staudenmayer won consecutive bouts Saturday for the first time since winning three straight in early January. He did so by scoring a go-ahead takedown against Morelli with 16 seconds remaining and, just an hour and 25 minutes later, withstanding the pain in his lower back to hold off Lester, a three-time qualifier for nationals.
It wedged further distance between Staudenmayer’s upswing and his rocky start to the season, when, coach C.D. Mock said, he looked like deer in headlights.
He joined fellow sophomore standout Nathan Kraisser in a morass, beset with the weighty expectations of the season before. But both have rediscovered the form that anchored UNC last season, combining for seven wins in UNC’s last eight matches.
“I think we were both able to get some big wins to help us turn it around and get our confidence back,” Kraisser said. “I think we are peaking at perfect timing for nationals.”
Staudenmayer, emboldened by postseason possibilities and strengthened by setbacks, says he agrees.
“The regular season only prepared me for where I am now,” Staudenmayer said. “I’m in a good position to go to nationals, and that’s all that matters — March wrestling.”
The rest, Staudenmayer says, is forgettable for all of the right reasons.