Iron Sharpens Iron


 

After winning his first national championship, wrestler Jay Albis ’19 doubled his efforts for a second title.

JAY ALBIS ’19 WILL NEVER FORGET the phone call that changed his young life. The JWU Providence Wrestling Coach Lonnie Morris was on the line. Albis answered, walked to the front porch of his New York home and heard something that pleasantly surprised him.

“I don’t say this to anyone,” Morris told one of his young stars. “But I truly believe you have the ability to be a national champ.” What seemed a bit outlandish in 2016 was actually an underestimation. Albis is now a two-time national champion after his performance at March’s National College Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division III Wrestling Championships in Roanoke, Virginia. Personal and team glory went hand-in-hand, as Albis and his fellow Wildcats helped lift the program to new heights.

JWU closed in third place behind perennial power Augsburg University of Minnesota and Loras College in Iowa. It was a new best for a team Morris founded barely two decades ago and a third straight fi nish in the top six. The Wildcats have grown into a national contender under Morris thanks to the dedication of athletes like Albis, who plans to pursue an advanced degree in sports psychology after graduating this spring. “It’s one thing to say it: I’m going to graduate from high school and become a national champ,’ ” Albis says. “But when you have coaches saying that, it changes everything.”

Albis pinned the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater’s Mike Tortorice to seal his place in program and school history. It cemented a two-year reign in the sport’s 125-pound ranks and brought an end to a three-year period where Albis captured nearly 150 matches. The bonus team points that came courtesy of the pinfall also helped JWU overcome what was a difficult start to the two-day meet.

“We could have taken second — we had such a horrifi c fi rst day,” Morris says. “It really looked doom and gloom — the fact that we still came out with a trophy is down to Jay Albis.”

Bobby Jordan ’19 (133 pounds) and Khamri Thomas ’20 (184 pounds) took home bronze medals and Morris was named the national coach of the year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Two Division I powers, Rutgers University and Fresno State (California State University at Fresno), and Division II Wheeling-Jesuit University accounted for three of the four dual meet defeats suffered by the Wildcats this season. They swept to Northeast Regional, NEWA Duals, New Standard Invitational and Roger Williams Invitational team crowns.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Albis says. “You go into every practice ready to battle: ‘I don’t want to lose this match. And if I do, why did I lose it? What can I do better?’ ”

Morris didn’t fully grasp that competitive zeal bubbling just below the surface while recruiting Albis, who was a 113-pound state finalist at John Jay High School in 2015. The talent on the mat was obvious. Whether or not Albis would be able to bulk up 12 pounds and impose his will in the lowest college weight class was the only real physical question mark. “I didn’t know how special Jay was until his fi rst year here,” Morris says. “His wrestling IQ is off the charts; he picks stuff up so fast.”

Albis also wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge. Standing between him and an immediate starting spot was Jordan, a returning sophomore on his way to becoming a two-time All-American in 2016–17 and 2018–19. Jordan did so in a higher weight class after bumping away from Albis, who went 19-3 in an injury-shortened first year and remained a fi xture in the lineup over the next three campaigns.

“Jay said, ‘I know who you’ve got. And he’s going to help me win a national title,’ ” Morris says. “That’s what he said as a freshman. At the time I was like, ‘You arrogant, cocky little…’ But I loved it at the same time. Usually it’s like, ‘I’m not going to Johnson & Wales. They’ve got Bobby Jordan. I can’t start there.’ This kid came in and said, ‘You’ve got Bobby Jordan? He’s going to be an amazing workout partner for me.’ ”

Albis was a marked man throughout this season after defeating Wheaton College’s Carlos Fuentes in the fi nals at last year’s national meet in Cleveland. Simple reminders to himself allowed Albis to remain patient and disciplined through five grueling months of workouts, lifting and cutting the fi nal few ounces of body weight to slip under the limit. He dominated each of his four opponents at nationals, outscoring them by a combined 28-7 and recording the lone pinfall victory among the 10 championship bouts.

“On his mirror every day, right after he won a national title, Jay wrote, ‘Two-time national champ,’ ” Morris says. “On his water bottle at practice he had, ‘Two-time national champ.’ The kid was just super-focused on what he wanted to accomplish.”

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“People think once you’re on top, it’s easier,” Albis notes. “It’s harder. What I did the summer leading into my first national title, I did that double this past summer. I stayed hungry to stay on top.

“I can’t picture a day where wrestling is not a part of me,” says Albis, who would welcome an opportunity to stay involved with the wrestling team after graduation. “Whether it’s me coaching or whatever it may be, I want wrestling to be part of my life.”

 

JWU Magazine / Spring 2019 Features:

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