Thinking back to about one year ago, Clearview junior Ty Whalen remembers feeling that the potential for a 2020-2021 wrestling season seemed bleak.
“I really didn’t think we were going to have a season or states at all,” he said. “Just by the way things were going … I just had no idea.”
Despite that, Whalen said his main focus in the early days of quarantine and the pandemic — and not knowing when he would once again be able to represent the green and gold on the mat — was simply to get better each day as best he could, so he was prepared for when the opportunity once again presented itself.
“I was training in a way that would have me prepared in case [a season] were to come out of it,” Whalen recalled. “That’s all I was doing honestly … I was just training endlessly.
“This offseason, I probably wrestled more matches than I ever have because I just took every opportunity I could and kind of went across the country to wrestle as much as I could,” he added.
It’s safe to say the hard work paid off for Whalen, when the No. 4 seed in the 16-man state field clinched the 132-pound division title.
Head coach Steven Turi, in the midst of his second season in that role at Clearview, said it’s been evident since his time with the program that Whalen’s number-one goal has always been to simply get better, no matter what it takes.
“He had been traveling around to get some big matches [this offseason]; he wanted to take any match that he could,” said Turi. “Anybody that wanted to get in a match with him, Ty was absolutely willing to do so. He’s always ready to test himself and he’s not worried about taking losses either. He just wanted to get better.”
Having wrestled primarily at 113 the year before, Whalen had a conversation with Turi at the end of last season identifying ways he could get better, including a plan to go up a weight class or two.
Thanks to a home gym and the forced extra time at home due to the pandemic, Whalen spent hours each day lifting in an effort to get as strong as possible, eventually gaining around 20 pounds of muscle.
“The ‘corona’ season has probably developed me into a better wrestler, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without that time period,” Whalen said of COVID. “Having the opportunity to train all the time and get better was well worth it.”
Between the additional focus on weightlifting and a more strenuous offseason than usual, including tournaments such as one in Atlantic City where he wrestled eight matches in a single day, Whalen found himself more than prepared for 2020-2021 and the state tournament.
Throughout this season — in tournaments, regions and states — Whalen was not aware of his seeding or who his opponent would be before the match. Instead, Turi says Whalen focused strictly on himself and what he needed to accomplish and focus on, rather than thinking about who his next opponent would be.
“We don’t talk about his upcoming matches or his seeds going in,” Turi explained. “Ty had no idea what he was seeded in any of those tournaments. He kind of started it last year and said he wanted to do the same thing this year, so I said that’s fine with me, too, and that’s just his approach.
“It doesn’t matter who he’s wrestling, Ty’s going to wrestle his match his way and that’s the way he prepares for it.”
With one year left in high school, Whalen finds himself in the same unfortunate situation as many South Jersey wrestlers after a lost 2020 season, in that top wrestlers no longer have a real shot at reaching their respective program’s career-win record, which Turi said Whalen had the potential to do.
But Whalen is not concerned with losing out on the opportunity. Instead, he wants to repeat as state champion and help better the Clearview program in any way he can.
“The goal is to go out there and get better at wrestling and be the best wrestler I can be,” he emphasized. “If the number of wins I needed to break the record happened to come then it happened, but it wasn’t my main goal. I definitely want to repeat as state champion and dominate next year. As a team, too, I would love to win a South Jersey group title as well. We haven’t had a title in years, it would mean a lot to do that.”
Turi said over the next year, he looks forward to watching Whalen serve as a captain and true role model to others in the program for a final year.
“Ty has really stepped up in terms of a leadership role,” the coach said. “He’s starting almost like a mentorship program with the team, and I’m almost more excited now to see how he can help develop the team … As he matures, he’s taking on more of a leadership role, and I’m really excited to see that.”