Last year, as a junior, Morris wrestler Nik Countryman finished in sixth place at the IHSA individual state tournament. While that's quite an accomplishment, the fact that he didn't get his medal on the podium down at the Assembly Hall in Champaign stills burns motivation into him.
Countryman is coming off a broken thumb he sustained playing linebacker for the Redskins football team, and though he is currently ranked fourth in the state by Illinois Matmen in the 182-pound weight class, a Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference East rival is currently third. That particular opponent is going to be at the same regional and sectional, and probably state, with Countryman, as well.
As if anyone needed more motivation to finish up his senior season of wrestling in a strong fashion. After winding up his workouts with the team in the wrestling room on Thursday, the captain of the football and wrestling teams engaged the MDH for this week's Q&A session.
Q. When did you start wrestling?
A. When I was little. Probably like third grade I want to say.
Q. Who did you start wrestling with at that time?
A. My first year was with the little Redskins but then I went up to Providence to wrestle for the Little Celtics.
Q. Why did you make the switch?
A. They are known for their wrestling up there. So I went up there to get the better competition.
Q. Were you going up there by yourself?
A. I was going up there with the Bonics and a couple of other families from Morris.
Q. What made you want to be a wrestler?
A. I just got into it. I guess because my dad (Keith) was a wrestler. I grew around the sport, wrestling around outside.
Q. Did you have success right away?
A. I was all right with it because I was a bigger kid. With the Little Celtics, they put it into you the college-based moves when you were little. I started winning a lot there and went to state in the IKWF. Then, my eighth grade year I went to Shabbona, which is where my dad wrestled. I wanted to go the same way he did. I ended up winning and was a state champ at the same weight (145) that he got second place in.
Q. What's the biggest adjustment from grade school to high school wrestling?
A. My first match in high school I had to adjust to the two-minute periods. I was used to a minute and a half. I went out there full go right off the bat and it ended up I went into overtime. I remember being so dead tired that when I walked off the mat, (I) talked to the coaches, walked into the bathroom and started throwing up.
Q. Have you played other sports beside wrestling?
A. I played football but I've also done a lot of other sports. I've tried swimming, baseball for a little bit and even basketball, intramurals, for a little bit. Then I got into high school and decided to go with two sports — football and wrestling.
Q. You broke your thumb during football season. How is it now?
A. I broke my thumb but its healed up. It was a little weak right at the start. I had to tape it up for a little bit. Now I've got strength back in it. The thumb was pretty much healed by the end of football. They just had to put a brace on it so that it wouldn't re-break. It was fine. It felt a little weird at first, but I got used to it.
Q. Which game did you break it in?
A. It was the Yorkville game. I was making a play and we went out of bounds. I hit my own player when I fell on the ground hard and I broke it. I didn't even notice right away. They put me in to long snap and I grabbed my thumb over and it popped. I thought it was just jammed.
Q. What has been the biggest transition from football to wrestling for you this winter?
A. From our football season going long and then going into wrestling, I'd say that was the toughest I've had before. I was so heavy up there with my weight because football they want you to put on weight and have speed. In wrestling, they want you lean and muscular. I had a bunch of fat on me. It was really tough at first. I could barely last two periods. If I didn't pin them early, then I was really gassin'.
Q. Coach (Jon) Lanning sat you out the first couple of meets, correct?
A. I sat out the first couple while I was waiting to get certified for weight. Coach let me get my weight down a little bit instead of jumping right back into it. You have to have some mat time, too, before you go out and wrestle your first match.
Q. Has the season gone the way you thought it would?
A. Yeah, I knew I was going to have a winning season. I wanted to get over 25 wins because that puts me in the top 10 all time on the Morris list for wins. And I passed that.
Q. Yet you finished second at the (Northern Illinois Big 12) Conference tournament. right?
A. Yeah, lost in overtime, but it was a match I should have won. I was winning by two with 15 seconds left and he happened to get a reverse and he then took me down in overtime.
Q. It was the kid from Yorkville?
A. Yeah, Bobby Schillinger. It was a tough match to lose. That kid has improved a lot.
Q. Yorkville is in the same regional and sectional as Morris, so that's not the last time you'll probably see him, is it?
A. We'll have our rematches. He's a pretty good competitor. I'll see him all the way down to state and then it wouldn't surprise me to see him again in the placing rounds.
Q. What's you weight right now?
A. I'm at 184, though it's really 182. We get a two-pound allowance.
Q. Is it going to take you getting sixth or better to make this a complete season?
A. This year I want to get down there and place in the top four. I was one match away from it last year and I didn't get it. I was one match away from getting to stand on the platform. Not getting to stand on the podium kind of makes me want to do it even more. Also, if I do get down there and place at state, I'll be one of the few athletes from Morris that has gone to state for two sports in one year.
Q. So what are you working on with the postseason now at hand.
A. Right now it's just conditioning and strength. I've got moves that I'm fine tuning like my double leg and working hard to improve from the neutral position.