A lot has changed since Clearview High School wrestler Ty Whalen last competed at the Junior and Cadet Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota, two years ago, in the summer following his freshman year.
During his first trip, Whalen was excited just for the opportunity to attend the tournament, but he admitted not going in with the right mindset, ultimately leading to a disappointing performance.
“I didn’t even make it to the second day the first year that I went,” said Whalen. “I went 3-2 that first year. It honestly changed me as a wrestler. I would encourage anyone to go if they have the opportunity.
“I didn’t really go with the right mindset that first year,” Whelan added, “but it opened my eyes to the work that really needs to be involved, and it encouraged me to start actually working harder.”
Pete DiBiase, founder of Seagull Wrestling Club and one of Whalen’s coaches since he was 9 years old, has gone to the tournament for years as the USA Wrestling New Jersey Freestyle Chairman. He said the annual contest routinely opens the eyes of younger wrestlers early on in their careers to the hard work and dedication needed to excel.
“He was a good wrestler but not a great wrestler before he went the first time,” DiBiase recalled of Whalen. “But he was able to focus on himself more during the early days of the pandemic … and then with the tournament itself, he needed to go that first year to see what it was like.
“This tournament is the best of the best — one-third of those in Whalen’s weight class are nationally ranked — so when he went that first year, it opened his eyes to how hard you actually have to work and to realize what you’re doing probably isn’t enough yet,” added DiBiase.
“Somebody telling you that you have to run more or lift more won’t have the same effect as actually seeing it yourself, so that tournament two years ago put (Whalen) on a trajectory to become the wrestler that he is now.”
Since just after the first tournament, Whalen has put on approximately 30 pounds. His senior year will follow a junior season as Clearview’s fourth state champion in program history.
Leading up to last season, Whalen dedicated the majority of his free time — most of it due to the pandemic — to lifting weights, working out and practicing for a potential wrestling season.
After approximately two years of work, this season’s tournament was different.
“I was going there to win,” Whalen said.
“He wasn’t going there for the experience anymore, he was going to win,” said DiBiase, echoing his wrestler’s sentiments.
The Princeton commit went 9-1 in the two-day tournament to capture the bronze medal in the 138-pound division, something his younger self would have originally been more than pleased with.
As Whalen enters the final month of summer before beginning his senior year at Clearview, he is taking the opportunity to break down the matches from the tournament, especially his one loss, to become the best wrestler he can be during one final high-school season.
“After getting third, I wasn’t happy with myself, but there’s definitely a lot you can learn from losing,” said Whalen. “It’s honestly helped me a lot, because I’m breaking down the match and figuring out what I still need to work on to be the best that I can be moving forward.”
Whalen wants to repeat as state champion, but perhaps more importantly, he also looks forward to being in more of a leadership role with both his school and club teams.
“It’s much bigger than just me,” said Whalen. “I’m looking forward to being in that leadership role and encouraging the guys to get on the match at any opportunity that they have, so we can all work together and reach our individual and team goals.
“I want to do whatever I can to give back to the sport that it’s given to me over the years.”