Waynesburg wrestling trio ready to match up with nation's best
Waynesburg senior Tristan Buxton has been to the NCAA Division III wrestling nationals twice — both times as a spectator. He called last year's trip “rubbing salt in the wound.”
His own wound, that is.
Buxton, a Trinity grad, came up just short of qualifying for the national tournament last season. Watching the 2017 nationals, which included teammate Jake Evans (Elizabeth Forward), fueled his fire to finally go as a competitor.
“Being there and seeing that made me know I could hang with anyone in the country,” Buxton said.
He will have the chance to prove it. Buxton (125 pounds) placed third at the Central Regional championships to punch his coveted ticket to nationals, which begin March 9 in Cleveland.
He will be joined by Evans, a three-time Presidents' Athletic Conference heavyweight champion who placed seventh at nationals last season, and Ken Burrs, a sophomore making his debut at nationals.
Evans, the Yellow Jackets' all-time wins leader with 131, also won a regional title, his second. Burrs (197) placed third in the region.
“We could definitely come home with three All-Americans,” coach Ron Headlee said. “I'm really happy for Tristan. He puts so much work in, and he's been so close.”
Last season, Buxton lost the match that, had he won, would have sent him to nationals. He didn't make any sweeping changes in between seasons, but Headlee said he has tried to get Buxton to keep his style more basic.
Buxton, he said, likes to scramble around the mat, sometimes to his detriment. Taking a more straightforward approach has made him a better tactician.
“I'm wrestling entire matches straight through, wearing guys down,” said Buxton, who is 37-6. “A lot of times I will just outwrestle guys, and that's something I didn't do in high school. I never really realized that until I got to college.”
Evans (45-3), meanwhile, excels at putting opponents on their backs. Twenty-five of his 45 wins this year have come via fall, and 30 of his program-record 49 wins in 2017 were pins.
“I won't force anything,” said Evans, ranked No. 5 in his weight class by Intermat. “But if it's there, I try to capitalize.”
Headlee has made Evans train with smaller, quicker sparring partners to improve his defense. Headlee said he believes the only obstacle between Evans and a shot at the national title is Evans himself.
“Being at nationals last year — and he'd be the first to tell you — he respected guys a little too much,” Headlee said. “He just has to stay within himself. I am real positive about his opportunity.”
Said Evans: “I'm more confident, for sure. I'm not going to show anyone respect this time.”
That's the same advice he is giving to Burrs (23-5) and Buxton. He said he told them to be aggressive and ignore the pressure that comes with a national tournament.
He probably didn't need to tell Buxton.
With his chance to be on the big stage finally here, Buxton is going in with a nothing-to-lose attitude. He said he believes that's the approach Burrs and Evans will take as well, and in doing so, will make the rest of D-III take notice.
“I'm really confident that no one in the country is that much better than us,” Buxton said. “I think a lot of people are looking past us because they don't know a lot about us.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.