Elizabeth Forward grad shooting for NCAA wrestling title at W&J

| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 10:12 p.m.

In his final year at Washington & Jefferson, Josh Etzel is looking to take a victory lap.

After being named Washington & Jefferson's first NCAA Division III All-American wrestler since 2002 as a junior, the second-year captain has his sights set on the nation's top prize.

“The only goal I have individually for myself this year is a national championship,” said Etzel, an Elizabeth Forward graduate. “I don't want to say I expect it, but I'm striving toward taking first at nationals.”

Already this season, Etzel was recognized as the Presidents' Athletic Conference Wrestler of the Week after winning the 165-pound championship Dec. 29 at the Rochester Institute of Technology Invitational, and he followed that with a victory in the 157-pound championship Saturday at the Waynesburg Invitational.

But, ultimately, regular-season accolades don't mean as much.

“He's kind of learned since his sophomore year that the whole year is practice for nationals,” coach Tommy Prairie said, “and he's taking his losses better.”

Last season, Etzel finished sixth at Nationals in the 157-pound weight class and has rebounded well from that disappointment.

It's clear to everyone around him what really sets Etzel apart from his competition.

“Definitely his work ethic,” Prairie said. “Academically and athletically, he's just one of those guys that works from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed.”

For his work both on the mat and in the classroom as a biochemistry major, Etzel was named to the Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American team in June.

“He leads by example,” Prairie said. “He's not very vocal, but the younger guys see what they need to do to be successful through him.”

Since he started wrestling, Etzel has been known as more of a scrambler.

This year has been an opportunity to work on the weaker points of his technique.

“I'm still better on the mat in contact, but I've been focusing more this year on neutral position,” Etzel said. “Rather than relying on somebody attacking me and me scrambling out of it, I need to be able to put points on the board myself.”

So far, scoring points doesn't seem to be very difficult.

At 15-2 this season and 83-15 in his career, Etzel is one win away from moving into fourth place on the W&J all-time win list.

Although he started the year wrestling at 157, Etzel's busy life has put a strain on his practice schedule, making it easier to wrestle at 165 in December.

“It's not that difficult at all for me to make 157,” Etzel said, “it's just the time to work out to get a couple of extra pounds off.”

But when he has the time, you won't hear the national championship hopeful complain about practice.

“He's very focused on getting certain techniques right,” Prairie said. “He doesn't mind the grind of going over the certain moves — the daily drilling — to perfect things.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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