Wrestling returns to University of Oregon with an optimistic club team

Ron Finley coached the Oregon wrestling program to its first conference title in 1975 and its highest ever NCAA tournament finish (11) in 1980. He saw his players win 22 All-America awards and 44 conference titles while winning conference coach of the year twice.

He still shakes his head when he thinks about the day the Oregon athletic department cut its wrestling team in 2007.

“They weren’t supposed to cut programs; they were supposed to add programs,” Finley said.

It’s been eight years since Oregon competed in the sport. But this 2015-2016 school year, senior Daniel Larman successfully brought the sport back to the UO as a new club team.

“The history of the program is a big source of motivation for me with the club,” said Larman. “What I’m doing is worthwhile for the sport because it’s helping bring back something that was a great program and was lost.”

The club team’s path to recognition wasn’t easy, though. It began when Larman was a sophomore and submitted the required paperwork to create the team. According to Larman, the club office “would not look at the request for two terms.”

In the fall term of 2014 – his junior year –  the team was put on a year-long “probation.”

“We couldn’t rent out practice facilities and we couldn’t compete,” Larman said. “We couldn’t even say we were a club, even though we secretly were.”

The club office did not comment on the policy for new teams.

It took a year and a half for Larman to say he’s officially an Oregon club wrestler.

When Finley thinks about the new club team, he’s met with a crossroad of joy and concern.

“I think the guys definitely deserve a right to wrestle,” Finley said. “But I think it’s hard to get it back into a varsity sport once it’s in a club sport.”

Finley is concerned about another factor of Oregon’s new team: practicing.

Larman, in his original application, requested for five practice days per week. Yet the team is allowed only two practices, a total of four hours per week.

“You can’t get good working out two days a week,” Finley said.  “You got to train. Wrestling is a conditioning sport – you’ve got to train every day.”

The team is “still developing,” says Larman, with a small group of committed wrestlers. But they’re missing a leader.

“We’ve tried just about everything [to get a coach],” Larman said. “Occasionally a name will pop-up, but people have stuff in their lives, so, surprisingly, no one has been open to coach.”

Without a coach, an official roster or competitions scheduled, the club team remains in the maturation phase. But what can be said for certain about wrestling at the University of Oregon:

Welcome back.

Follow Andrew Bantly on Twitter @AndrewBantly

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