Sports are all about overcoming obstacles.
Sometimes, the opponent is that obstacle. The sport itself can also be one. And sometimes, the obstacle is something out of your completely out of your control.
Glen Este High School grad and Thomas More College junior Avery Jones overcame a major obstacle this past winter, battling back from an injury suffered his freshman year to win a conference title in the 184-pound class.
Head coach Jason Russell called Jones one of the team’s leaders, and praised his ability to make things fun for his teammates while keeping the squad on target.
“He was a great leader for our team,” Russell said. “He’s one of those unique guys, he can be a leader and lead by example but at the same time be funny, goofy and lighthearted. I think that’s something that’s rare today. You get those leaders that are either not serious enough or take things too seriously, but he’s the kind of guy who can keep the guys in the room having fun and keep things on track.”
Russell said when he initially started working with Jones, he considered having him change how he approached things on the mat. Then Jones started winning, so Russell adjusted instead.
“He’s a smooth wrestler,” Russell said. “It’s funny, when I came here he and I had the conversation where I told him that’s probably not going to work on the best guys in the country, we’re going to have to change some things. After the first couple tournaments, he was pinning the best guys in the country, so I had to make an adjustment as a coach. He’s a big-move wrestler, he can pin just about anybody. He’ll kind of lull you to sleep, and the next thing you know you’re on your back.”
Russell added that Jones’ ability to pin his opponent was a key part of the team’s success on the mats this past winter.
“He finished the year ranked in the top 10 in the country for pins,” Russell said. “He was one of the best guys in the country for that. We could always count on him in the lineup for us.”
Jones said he felt that the season was a good one from a team standpoint, noting the squad’s youth.
“I think it went well,” Jones said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of success, but we’re a very young team. We did pretty well for this being such a new program. We didn’t place how we wanted in the conference tournament, but we had a lot of individual good moments. I think we did good overall.”
Jones also thought his season individually was solid, despite the ending.
“I won the conference tournament, and I ended with 24 pins,” Jones said. “Individually, I think it went well. I didn’t end it how I wanted to, taking fourth in the regional tournament. I still have two more years to wrestle, and even though that match didn’t end the way I wanted to, it was still a good season.”
The Glen Este grad said he chose Thomas More for a few reasons, including the school’s proximity to the area. The launch of a new program also played a role in his decision.
“It’s a local school, since I’m from Glen Este,” Jones said. “Thomas More was pretty close to me. Starting the program was pretty cool, I could be one of the first ones to start this, and I could graduate being a four-year starter. It’ll be nice to build a program here, Thomas More dominates at sports. It’ll be pretty cool to add another one that dominates. I thought that would be a cool thing to be involved with. That’s what drove me.”
That drive helped Jones get through a freshman campaign that didn’t quite end the way he wanted it to. Jones suffered a knee injury in December of 2016, and after sitting out six weeks, returned to action. Three weeks after his return, Jones was injured again.
“The week before the regional tournament, my knee just folded in and everything tore,” Jones said. “I didn’t get to wrestle in the regional. That was tough. It took a lot of rebuilding to get my legs back to strength. They weren’t as close to what they were. I wore a brace until the Wheaton tournament, when I forgot the brace. I finished eighth in the tournament, and my knees felt pretty well without [the brace]. That was a long journey.”
Prior to his injury, Russell said Jones was constantly looking to pull off a big move. In his sophomore campaign, he learned to manage those moves.
“I think one of the things, his freshman year, was it was always go big or go home,” Russell said. “That was pretty much all he had. Now he’s learned he can go big, but he has to feel it. He knows if he’s up by 10 points in a match, it’s not time to try a big throw or anything crazy.”
When the conference tournament came around this past season, Jones said he was familiar with most of the opponents he faced. He pinned Tyler Jones from Thiel College in six minutes in his first-round match, then earned a 9-7 decision victory over Waynesburg’s Nick Kusich to advance to the finals. Jones won the title with a pin of Washington & Jefferson’s Alex Miller in 5:25.
“I had wrestled one or two of those kids throughout the year,” Jones said. “When I came up to those kids, it wasn’t anything new. The only new kid was a close match, but it was a big match. The tournament went very well overall.”
Looking ahead to this season, things will be a bit different for Jones and Thomas More as a whole. The college left the Presidents Athletic Conference, and will compete this season in the American Collegiate Athletic Association this year. The ACAA does not sponsor wrestling, so the team will wrestle as an Division III independent this year. Thomas More will move to the NAIA, starting with the 2019-2020 school year. The team will join the Mid-South Conference, the current home of Georgetown College and Shawnee State, among others.
Even though there won’t be a conference title on the line this season, Jones and his coach expect him to be in position to win a championship as a junior.
“I think we have similar expectations,” Russell said. “We both expect him to be on the podium at nationals, be an All-American and national champ. It’s something I certainly think he can do.”
Jones agreed, adding even if he wasn’t in position to win a title, he would still wrestle.
“I want to make it to the national tournament,” Jones said. “Obviously I want to place, but right now I just want to make it…I just want to wrestle. I don’t care how it goes, I’m going to wrestle no matter what.”