It might be hard to picture wrestling as beautiful, but that is what Rock Bridge senior Cam Purcell calls it.
Purcell, the Bruins’ lone returning state qualifier this season, said the sportsmanship in wrestling makes it beautiful, not the grappling between two sweat-soaked athletes.
“There is no other sport where each man goes into competition and has a massive amount of respect for each other,” Purcell said. “You see someone make a tackle in football and they are jiving all over the place. You see a wrestler pin his opponent, and he’s helping the guy stand up.”
Respect for wrestling is also evident in Purcell’s training, according to coach John Kopnisky, who said Purcell dedicates himself to being a better wrestler.
“Even when he’s not in practice, he is always doing something to make himself better,” Kopnisky said. “Whether that’s asking questions, looking at film, or being in the weight room, he’s always pushing himself and working hard and motivating other guys to do the same.”
Purcell motivates his teammates by example and also by being vocal, Kopnisky said. Purcell said the main thing he can do as a leader is set the tone in practice.
“Each year, each person is different,” Purcell said. “If you don’t set a good tone at the beginning of the year, the work ethic isn’t going to be that great and the motivation isn’t going to be that great the rest of the year. We’re going to go into the practice room, work hard for two hours and go home knowing we worked hard.”
Purcell has gained about 20 pounds in the past year, moving to the 171-pound weight class after wrestling at 152 pounds as a junior.
Purcell said he is still lanky and not as strong as his opponents, and he must take advantage of his speed against slower opponents.
“He has not lost any quickness since gaining that weight,” Kopnisky said. “He maintains his diet and stays in good shape through hard work.”
Purcell said he hopes his work pays off with another state qualifying berth at the end of the season.
After losing in the first round and in wrestlebacks at last year’s state meet, Purcell focused his training this summer on honing his technique.
Between American Legion baseball games, he worked on his fundamentals during the summer with Mike Eierman, an All-American wrestler at Nebraska in 1993 who helps coach the Rock Bridge Wrestling Club’s youth team.
“Ninety-nine percent of wrestling is positioning,” Purcell said. “I wanted to make sure I kept my positioning in top shape.”
Purcell’s training partner, sophomore 171-pounder Max Hartz, said he has noticed Purcell’s increased motivation.
Hartz, who also worked out with Purcell and Eierman during the summer, goes one-on-one with Purcell every day in practice. He said he can tell by how hard Purcell practices that Purcell is dedicated to qualifying for the state meet this year.
Senior 152-pounder Jake Hardesty said although Purcell is a hard worker in practice, his intensity level increases right before a match.
“When he gets out there on the mat, he is so determined to win that he gets real aggressive,” Hardesty said. “He wants to get better every match.”
This year should be easier for Purcell. Last year, Purcell had to overcome a staph infection that covered his face and neck and kept him sidelined for more than half the season. The illness affected his endurance when he finally did return, but Purcell still advanced to state.
“The last few matches he would look like he was gassed, but he just kept winning,” Kopnisky said. “That’s a great example of his character. He just found a way to win.”
“I did the best I could,” Purcell said. “This year, I’ll be disappointed with myself if I can’t place at state. I’m working hard everyday in practice to get to that point.”