When senior co-captain Tyler Baier graduates in the spring, the Red will lose more than a great wrestler.
“When we lose him, he’ll be hard to replace,” said head coach Rob Koll. “Tyler is a phenomenal leader. He’s intelligent and charismatic. People really like him and they want to follow him because they want to please Tyler. He’s an absolutely ideal captain.”
This season Baier has a 27-3 record and is ranked eighth in the nation. He has a 9-1 dual meet record and has earned 38 dual meet points — second only to fellow captain, senior Travis Lee. In addition, he is tied with sophomore Luke Hogle for the team lead in pins. Tyler’s recent success is not a surprise.
“He had this ridiculous farm boy strength that kind of scared me,” Koll said. “I knew that if we could teach him a few moves, he’d be pretty good. He grew up on a farm carrying cows around and that strength really transfers over into his wrestling.”
For Baier, the journey to the top was not a straight shot. After an 8-8 record freshman year, he missed his entire sophomore season due to a back injury and was forced to defer his eligibility. Fortunately, in the spring he was able begin a rehab program and suffered no lasting affects from the injury.
The following year, Baier seemed poised to become a star, but could not reach his full potential. He was good at 174, qualifying for the NCAA tournament in 2003 and 2004. But his style of wrestling, which used power and strength rather than finesse, did not work well in the 174-weight class. He still needed to mature, grow and learn.
“In order for me to transition to a Division I college wrestler, I really had to believe in myself,” Baier said. “Luckily, the coaches believed in me and pushed me a little harder. It took time –I had to understand that I wasn’t given Travis Lee’s quickness or great technique. I had to learn to work with what I had.”
As Baier honed his skills and improved, he was finally given his big break. At the end of last season, sophomore Jerry Rinaldi was bumped to 197, clearing room for Baier to move up to 184 — a weight class better suited for Baier’s power style of wrestling. Determined not to miss his chance, Baier hit the weight room hard in the off-season, adding muscle and eliminating the possibility of a slow transition. The results speak for themselves, but Baier credits two other things for his success this season.
“Hard work,” Baier said. “You get better over time and you learn more if you keep going. I’m a year older and a year more mature. Second, my confidence — in the past I let the rankings go to my head. Right now, I feel that I can beat anyone in the country.”
Baier’s hard work as well as his excellent leadership ability is paying dividends elsewhere. One member of the team who has benefited is Rinaldi, who is also Baier’s workout partner.
“There are days when you just don’t feel like working hard,” said Rinaldi. “He’ll get in your head and find a way to make you work hard. He’s freakishly strong and, even though he’s lighter than me, he gives me a good fight.”
With a little more than six weeks left in the season, Baier is firing on all cylinders and is confident he can achieve anything.
“I definitely want to be an All-American,” Baier said. “There’s no reason why I can’t be a national finalist. I have to walk into the tournament expecting I can beat anyone. It may be a big shot to be a national champion but that’s how I’m walking into the tournament.”
Archived article by James Rich
Sun Staff Writer