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Time off fed Pokorny’s hunger for NCAA title

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Time off fed Pokorny’s hunger for NCAA title

Andy Pokorny wrestled at Nebraska and the University of Nebraska at Omaha before transferring to St. Cloud State. He’s 14-1 this season and ranked No. 1 in Division II at 133 pounds.

Some days, Andy Pokorny doesn’t know why he likes to wrestle so much.

There’s the weight cutting, the tough practices and the difficult and bloody losses.

But it was the best feeling in the world when he finally walked into his first official workout at St. Cloud State on Dec. 29.

“I just enjoy the time I get to spend with the team,” Pokorny said. “The first day back lightened my spirits quite a bit.”

Because he had just a half-year of eligibility remaining, the former three-time state champion at Bennington had to work out on his own during the fall. That meant no official practices or meets, which was hard on someone who likes to be out there yelling and screaming for his teammates.

Instead, Pokorny ran and swam to stay in shape, begged teammates to give him a workout after they’d already gone through a team practice and arranged his own way to open tournaments. Paying for hotel rooms and entry fees gave him a new appreciation for what his parents had sacrificed.

“It wasn’t something I could mess around with if I wanted to be a national champion this year, and that’s my ultimate goal,” Pokorny said. “If I wanted to achieve that goal, I had to put in the time.”

After some adjustment — he said riding a bike in no way prepares someone to wrestle — Pokorny is on track for the stretch run. He’s ranked No. 1 at 133 pounds in NCAA Division II with a 14-1 record. His only loss has been to a Division I opponent, Northern Iowa’s Levi Wolfensperger.

St. Cloud State, which is coached by Steve Costanzo, also is ranked No. 1 with a 17-0 dual record. Costanzo is a former state champion at Bennington and a three-time All-American at UNO who won an NAIA title as coach at Dana.

Costanzo, Pokorny said, is 90 percent of the reason he ended up at St. Cloud State after things didn’t work out for him at Nebraska and then UNO abruptly ended its wrestling program. Pokorny jokes that he watched from his stroller as Costanzo won a state title for Bennington, where Pokorny’s father, Alan, is head coach.

“He’s kind of turned into my St. Cloud dad up here,” Pokorny said. “It’s great to have him up here.”

Pokorny’s own father hasn’t made it to a meet yet because of the demands of his job. But he and Pokorny’s mother, Renee, plan to attend regionals and nationals, which take place after the high school season is over.

Still, they talk often and Pokorny gets lots of advice after sending tapes to his dad to review.

“Between him and Coach, I get it from both sides,” Pokorny said.

Costanzo said Pokorny has been around the sport so long, he’s seen and done it all.

“He’s very good technically. He’s super smart. He is a student of the sport,” Costanzo said.

Teammates often ask him questions about technique or for help trouble-shooting. Pokorny enjoys that, and said coaching may be in his future. But he has to finish up school, and he’s also appealing for a sixth year of eligibility after taking a medical redshirt before arriving at St. Cloud. He’ll likely find out if he qualifies in May.

First, though, there’s his goal of winning a national title after placing second last year and going 22-7 for the Huskies.

He’s working on his consistency and intensity in practice, watching videos to pick up on his mistakes and getting feedback from his coaches. He’s cleaning up his technique and making sure his conditioning is good enough to stretch a full seven minutes and into overtime if needed.

“If I can do all that, put it all together,” Pokorny said, “I can certainly achieve the goal of winning a national title.”

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