Season livening up for Lopez: Hawks’ No. 2-ranked heavyweight feeling good after knee injury kept him out nearly 2 monthsJose Lopez’s senior season hasn’t gone exactly the way he wanted. But it is definitely getting better.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Jose Lopez’s senior season hasn’t gone exactly the way he wanted.
But it is definitely getting better.
After winning the title at the Dakota Wesleyan Open to begin the season in November, Lopez suffered a knee injury that kept him sidelined until last weekend.
He calls himself, “Really rusty. It’s almost like beginning-of-the-season fresh. … I don’t feel like I’ve had a season yet. I’m basically starting fresh.”
Lopez doesn’t have to wait long to see a good deal of mat time.
A whirlwind January schedule continues today when Lopez, the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked heavyweight from Montebello, Calif., leads the No. 9-ranked Blue Hawks into a pair of duals that serve as a lead-in to the Tyler Plummer Classic tournament on Saturday. DSU faces the University of Regina (Saskatchewan) at 5 p.m. and No. 3-ranked University of Great Falls (Mont.) at 7 p.m.
Lopez will wrestle in one, if not both, of today’s duals and will likely be the top-seeded heavyweight in the Plummer Classic.
“He’s a hard worker. He pushes himself to the limit every time,” said DSU junior heavyweight Brian Klevis, Lopez’s competition in the practice. “We could rely on him to pretty much get bonus points. He’s a tough guy. He doesn’t lose, no matter what. That’s his thing.”
Lopez began his season by cruising to four consecutive wins, including two by pin, to win the loaded Dakota Wesleyan tournament on Nov. 10 in Mitchell, S.D.
Six days later, he suffered a sprained right knee just before a dual at Minnesota State Moorhead. It was bad enough that Lopez had to sit out until Christmas. He missed four duals and two tournaments.
“It was pretty bad at first,” Lopez said, shaking his head. “After some good rehab with (DSU athletic trainer) Tim (Kreidt), it got better as we went. It was still pretty sore coming back from Christmas break. I’ve got it back now.”
Lopez played a huge role in helping the Blue Hawks take fifth place at the NAIA National Dual tournament last weekend in Springfield, Mo.
In DSU’s first match last Saturday, he pinned No. 7-ranked Theodore Furnish of Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) in 2:35 to give his team a 21-19 victory. In a Sunday consolation round, his pin of Midland (Neb.)’s Lonnie Brown with 58 seconds left in their match gave the Blue Hawks a 21-18 victory.
“We had two duals this weekend that came down to him,” DSU head coach Thadd O’Donnell said. “He likes to have that pressure put on him.”
However, O’Donnell said while Lopez has been nearly unbeatable in dual situations during his time at DSU, he has had his share of difficulties in individual tournaments.
Last season, he finished fifth at the NAIA national tournament. Good enough for all-America honors, but not the result a wrestler accustomed to winning wanted. Lopez was a two-time California junior college state champion at Cerritos Community College in Norwalk, Calif., before transferring to DSU.
“It’s a whole different thing than the individual side of it,” O’Donnell said. “He does much better with team pressure. He likes that atmosphere. He likes that team part of it. We’ve got to carry that over to his individual demons he has going on in matches.”
Lopez has aspirations of becoming the sixth national champion coached by O’Donnell, who believes the heavyweight is definitely “in the game,” when it comes to the title hunt.
“I don’t think there’s really anybody better than me,” Lopez said. “I think the only person who can beat me is myself. I’ve got to continue to work as hard as I am and listen to my coaches, stay healthy, do the right things and I’ll be there.”