A Tale Of Two Mat Returns
Super 32 was this past weekend, and there were certain trends that were undeniable. The first noticeable one was if you're in the top 10-15 percent of the country's high school wrestlers, then you probably know how to scramble really well. But if you're the top 3-5 percent of the country's young athletes, your position is so good that it makes scrambling out of your offense nearly impossible. The second, and more important trend that I saw, was that when all things are equal, mat returns from top can be the difference in a match.
Take a look at this weekend's semifinal between No. 3 Mitch Moore and No. 4 Brian Courtney. Mat returns were undoubtedly the story of this match. In the first period, Moore finishes a clean takedown. This is not an easy task as Courtney is one the country's best scramble wrestlers (which alludes to my first point about staying in good position) and finishes the period on top.
The second period belonged to Courtney. While he may not have done what looks like traditional mat returns, he did an amazing job of finding ways to drag Moore into a scramble, which eats up a ton of clock. Courtney finishes the second period still on top without giving up a point.
In the third period, Courtney finally manages to get an escape after choosing the defensive position. He would then get a takedown with about 30 seconds left only to relinquish the lead to a reversal just a few seconds later. Here's where it gets good. After that reversal, Moore heads back to the center with a one-point lead and 18 seconds left on the clock. It may not sound like it, but that's a lot of time. Courtney got to his feet THREE TIMES in that 18 seconds, and Moore returned him to the mat every time.
The thing that impressed me the most is not simply that Moore was able to mat return Courtney for the win, and it wasn't even the incredible mental toughness that it takes to wrestle that way. What was most impressive to me was the way that Moore got to his mat returns. Many of them were your standard rear standing, step in front, lift, and return. Some others, however, were cross trips that Moore used because Courtney adjusted to original mat return. Moore adapted his mat return to the situation and it earned him a spot in the Super 32 finals.
So what's the moral of the story? Mat returns win. Easy enough, right? But what you have to remember is that you don't get a Mitch Moore-level mat return by accident. It takes practice. And practicing mat returns is awful for all parties involved. No one likes to drill mat returns. It's painful for the guy getting returned. It's exhausting for the guy doing the returning. It's not only boring for the coaches that tell you to do it, but it also makes them the least popular person in the room.
How many reps per day are you willing to spend on getting good at mat returns?