One More Shot
Often, it takes the most bitter of defeats to prove one’s true character.
Never was that more prevalent than for Chris Henrich in the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
In a span of about three-and-a-half minutes, the Virginia All-American, just two weeks removed from leading the Cavaliers to their first ACC championship since 1977, went from the penthouse to the outhouse, his dreams of a national championship shattered in a torturous span.
Yet, it was the way he responded to that turn of events which has set the tone for his senior season in 2010-11.
To set the scene, Henrich, seeded No. 3 nationally at 174 pounds and leading 9-3 midway through the second period of the NCAA semifinals against No. 2 national seed Jay Borschel of Iowa, seemingly was in complete control. He had dominated in every aspect in the first period, scoring an early takedown and three-point near fall to jump out to a quick advantage.
Then the bottom fell out – slowly and agonizingly.
Borschel scored a couple of key takedowns while capturing the momentum and energy of the partisan Iowa crowd. As the final seconds ticked away, Henrich lay helpless on the mat as Borschel rode him out for the decisive point.
“I could just taste the finals and I think that got in my head a little bit,” Henrich said. “I focused on not losing the match as opposed to winning the match.”
It was a tough way to learn a valuable lesson.
“There is definitely a moment when you go from feeling like you have things under control to losing,” Henrich said. “I know it’s cliché to say that ‘you wrestle to win and not to lose’ but there is just something about that mentality that separates you from actually winning the match or losing the match. I definitely learned from that experience and I am going to come back a better wrestler.”
The loss stopped Henrich from becoming just the third UVa wrestler to compete on the main stage for a national title. For most, it would have started a downward spiral. Despite the lump in his throat and the shattering disappointment, Henrich had to regroup – the consolation round was just hours away the next morning. The bounce back started right after the loss.
“Coach (Alex) Clemsen and I were really emotional after that match and I was about to walk out of the arena and he stopped me and said, ‘Don’t you walk out this door until you are ready to take third place tomorrow,”‘ Henrich said. “That really sank into me. I always felt like I was a wrestler who could come through after a tough match and bounce back. Him grabbing me, telling me that, giving me an order and really being a coach gave me the motivation and discipline to come back the next day.”
“At lot of times, a guy will lose in the semis and won’t be able to bounce back and ends up sliding down to sixth – we call it the semi-slide,” Clemsen said. “We knew he would have all offseason to think about that match and use it as motivation – NCAAs was not the place to dwell on it. I thought it showed a lot about Chris for him to come back and get third.”
Henrich started his bounce back with a nail-biter, going to sudden-victory time before scoring a takedown to knock off seventh-seeded Ben Bennett of Central Michigan.
“When I heard the whistle blow I knew I had to get back on to that mat,” Henrich said. “It didn’t mater what happened – there was just no way that I was going to lose that match. I had proven to myself that I was the best in the tournament and even though I didn’t finish like that, I definitely had confidence.”
Henrich ended his run at the championships in grand fashion, with a 10-1 major decision over fourth-seeded Stephen Dwyer of Nebraska, whom he lost to earlier in the season. By virtue of his third-place finish, Henrich became the first two-time All-American in UVa wrestling history and wrapped up a 35-3 season.
“It wasn’t as good a feeling as being in the finals and coming out a national champion, but I’m proud that I got third place,” Henrich said.
Third place won’t cut it this year for the senior – an ACC team championship and an individual national championship are his main goals.
If that wasn’t enough motivation, consider this: the ACC Championships this season will be contested in Charlottesville at John Paul Jones Arena. Furthermore, the NCAA Championships will be held in Philadelphia- right down the road from Henrich’s hometown of Lansdale, Pa.
It also will be the last year of wrestling for Henrich, who enters the year ranked No. 2 nationally. He plans to pursue graduate school next year before starting a career in finance in sales or trading.
“It’s all about motivation,” Henrich said. “I plan on this being my last year of competing, period. It almost makes it easier for me to give it my all this year, leave everything on the mat. When I tell myself that this is my last year, it really gives me a sense of urgency.”
Combine that sense of urgency with Henrich’s lessons learned and it makes for a scary prospect for his opponents.
Story originally ran in football gameday program