When Richard Bailey moved to San Diego with his family in 1984, he began wrestling as a 114-pound junior at Valhalla High School. One of his workout partners was 105-pound senior John Galkowski, whom he had previously met at freestyle tournaments.
“When Rich was there,” Galkowski said, “we had a lot of good practice time together, and that helped prepare us for college.”
Five years later, Bailey and Galkowski are successful college wrestlers competing in this weekend’s NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City. Galkowski is a 118-pound senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bailey a 150-pound junior at Cal State Bakersfield.
They have not forgotten each other.
“I always root for him,” Bailey said. “It’s kind of nice to know people at big tournaments.”
Although this was Galkowski’s third national tournament appearance, he had never won a match until Thursday’s 3-3 (6-4) victory over Eastern Michigan’s Doug Harper in the first round.
In the second round, he was beaten by No. 1 seed John Cuvo of East Stroudsburg on a technical fall. But he’s still in the tournament, with a shot at third, after winning a consolation preliminary against Kent State’s Jack DeBoe, 5-2.
His coach, Lennis Cowell, feels he has a better shot for success this time because he has literally grown to match his strength with his weight.
“He was a small 118-pounder his first two years at this meet, and it was the biggest drawback for him,” Cowell said. “He started lifting, and now he has to lose weight. I think that’s really going to help him. He’s as skilled as anyone in the tournament, but he’s always been smaller. We’ve talked all year that he’s capable of winning it all.”
Galkowski, who took a 30-10 record into the meet, wants to finish his college career as an All-American, an honor for wrestlers who place in the top eight. Not only is he stronger physically; Cowell said he has acquired a new mental toughness.
“The first year was rough,” Galkowski said before the tournament began. “I wasn’t quite ready for the level of intensity. My body has since matured mentally and physically. I’ve had some ups and downs this year, but I’m more ready for this tournament than last year.”
Cowell said that Galkowski’s biggest problem over the years is that he hasn’t used his athletic ability and has been afraid to “open up”.
“He’s better on his feet and is really skilled,” Cowell said. “He has good ability to ride when he wants to ride.”
Although NCAA tournament experience is invaluable, coaches and wrestlers agree that attitude is a definite factor in a meet of this caliber.
“The big things to bring into the meet are skills and ability but it usually comes down to who wants it more, the guy with the right attitude and who has his head on straight,” Galkowski said. “A lot of times the difference between the guy who wins it and the guy who doesn’t place is his attitude.”
Bailey brought that recipe into the weekend and hopes to place in the top four in his first NCAA tournament. Bailey is ranked seventh by Amateur Wrestling News and seeded sixth at 150 pounds. He won his first two matches Thursday to advance to a quarterfinal today against Indiana’s Brian Dolph, defeating Iowa’s Doug Streigcher, 15-7, and Pitt’s Scott Hovan, 6-2.
Bailey competed well during his freshman and sophomore years, but never did well in the Pac 10 meet (which has a different list of member schools for wrestling). Cal State Bakersfield Coach T.J. Kerr said this could be because of cutting so much weight. He was recruited at 126 pounds but wrestled at 134 his first two years. Bailey was the first true freshman to wrestle for Kerr and that year placed at the Midlands Tournament, a high caliber meet in Evanston, Ill., featuring top major college wrestlers.
Kerr said Bailey came into Bakersfield’s program as a mat wrestler, meaning he had better upper body strength and spent more time wrestling on the mat than on his feet. He is extremely flexible in every joint but hasn’t always had the strength needed to wrestle well on top. Bailey’s strength has improved this season, Kerr said. Bailey, who is 35-4, learns moves easily, according to Kerr, and has a couple unique rolls that give him an edge.
“I don’t anticipate a lot of stage fright,” Kerr said. “He has a strong desire to place. The thing that stops Rich is Rich himself. He loves to wrestle, that’s the thing. He’s trained harder this year than he ever has. I hope this will help him next year to run for the title.”
Galkowski agrees with Kerr about his former teammate’s first appearance at nationals.
“The way Rich has been wrestling all year, he should have no problem in this meet,” Galkowski said. “He’s ready for it and he’s one of the top guys. The stress won’t be as bad if he was a dark horse coming in.”
Bailey won the Pac 10 title this year, defeating Arizona State’s Tommy Ortiz, 7-1, in the finals. Ortiz placed fourth at nationals last year.
Bailey says he prepared for the meet like any other and says a lot of wrestlers change their technique for a big meet and end up not doing as well.
“I’m just going to wrestle the same way,” he said. “The mistake people make is they try to overdo it.”