With the critical National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), National Qualifier tournament just three weeks away, First-Year Edrich Nortje (known as Eddie among teammates) has been waiting a long time for this moment.
Hailing from South Africa, Nortje came to Hastings this season with high expectations for himself due to his success back home, where he won many national championships. Nortje currently has a record of 19-15 with 10 pins in the 141-pound weight class.
“I was aiming on being a national champion and that goal is still there but I was also aiming for an undefeated record but here I am, having already lost like 15 matches. I’m not too hard on myself because I’m only a freshman. The transition is hard, but I think the ultimate goal is to be a national champion and I’m still going for that,” Nortje said.
One other key difference for Nortje has been the style of wrestling. In many places around the world, free-style wrestling is very common. In the college ranks in the United States, however, wrestlers are more accustomed to folk-style wrestling, with the main difference being that free-style wrestling does not penalize for stalling if on bottom, unlike folk-style wrestling.
While the transition from South Africa to Nebraska has been pretty smooth besides the change in culture, Nortje recalled his first practice at HC as being far from normal.
“In preseason, the first practice we had, we had to run five miles, timed. I ran as hard as I could and I actually popped blood vessels in my eye because my body ran out of oxygen because I was pushing myself that hard. I won the run but after that, we did drills so we did have a wrestling practice after that. It was just crazy and intense. I thought, ‘if this is what it’s going to be like all year, I’m going to die before the year’s done’ because it was super hard, but it’s fun grinding it out,” Nortje said.
Since that practice, Nortje has maintained that same level of focus as he works towards his goal as a national champion.
“I just worked my butt off every day in the wrestling room and I try to keep the guys motivated in the wrestling room and they keep me motivated just working towards the goal,” Nortje said.
Nortje has also become more comfortable as the year has gone along, emphasizing the importance of staying positive, especially in dual matches when they are trailing.
Another critical aspect for Nortje has been his attitude, as he has learned that if he pushes himself by wrestling through the tough times, so will his teammates.
“Coming here, I just wanted to win all the time. Having lost so much matches already, I thought about the winning part of wrestling. You shouldn’t like the winning part, you should like the wrestling part, so I actually started enjoying the wrestling part more than the winning part. I think that the wrestling hard for seven minutes is more important than going out there and just getting your hand raised,” Nortje said.
With just a few more duals left, including HC’s final home dual on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. against Bethany College. Nortje has his eyes set on wrestling tough to get ready for the National Qualifying tournament, which is Feb. 21 and 22. The top two finishers from each weight class will qualify for the NAIA National Wrestling Championships. The championship takes place on March 6 and 7 in Park City, Kansas.