Injury slows, but fails to stop Lauer

River Hill wrestler rebounds for W.Va.

College Wrestling

January 29, 2002|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

West Virginia's Brandon Lauer has emerged this season as one of the nation's best 133-pound wrestlers. But last year at this time, the River Hill graduate was dejected, out of uniform, and on the sidelines recovering from surgery to repair a career-threatening arm injury.

"I was in the consolations of the Las Vegas Open, two rounds away from placing, and my shoulder popped out in a match. I lost all feeling. It felt dead to me," said Lauer, 20. "Here I was a freshman from Maryland, not wanting anyone to think I wasn't tough or I was faking it."

An operation reattached ligaments that connect bone to muscle in his right shoulder, aborting a promising season during which he had won 10 of 15 tournament bouts.

It was a crushing blow for a kid who had become a symbol of invulnerability in Maryland wrestling circles: a three-time state champion, 111-0 through high school and twice All-Metro Wrestler of the Year.

"My shoulder will never be the same, and that's probably one of the hardest things I had to realize," Lauer said. "I lost a lot of motivation, because here's something, in wrestling, I had been doing since the fourth grade and it's something I had done almost every day."

"When he got hurt, it took its toll on our relationship," said his longtime girlfriend, Megan Wright, who, nevertheless, remained with Lauer. Wright, who is majoring in nursing, had transferred from Towson University to West Virginia when Lauer began college in fall 2000.

"I tried to get him to look at the other things he had going for himself, like his schoolwork, his family," Wright said. "But wrestling is his passion, and anyone who has ever known Brandon knows that taking that away is like taking away his pride. He just didn't know what to do with himself."

"My parents were very supportive all the way through, but they're at home, so it was really rough," Lauer said. "My girlfriend, Megan, she was the emotional support. Even when we were arguing, she was a good friend to me. ... I appreciate the fact that she was there for me."

Granted a medical redshirt year, Lauer spent the next nine months rehabilitating himself by running, lifting weights and, eventually, wrestling. But the time away from the mats was more of a personal challenge to Lauer than any opponent he'd ever faced.

"He wasn't interested in going to class, so his grades dropped from a 3.8 to a 2.57," said his father, River Hill coach Earl Lauer. "Brandon had never really been hurt, so having to sit out is something he wasn't used to."

It was only when he could return to training that Lauer got back on track outside wrestling. The physical education major rededicated himself to school, bringing his grades back up to 3.57, an A average. And his relationship with Wright improved.

Meanwhile, Lauer was impatient with the recovery process. "Brandon wanted to be back N-O-W," said West Virginia assistant coach Zeke Jones.

"When they told him six months, he said `four.' When it was three weeks, he said, `two,' " said Jones, a former Olympic wrestler. "When they cleared him to drill, he wanted to go live. He was always one step ahead. You don't have to push Brandon as much as you have to hold him back."

Lauer had scarcely developed full range of motion in his arm when he wanted to start lifting weights and wrestling.

"I told him to take it easy, but that's like telling a horse that it can't go out into the pasture and run - `You can go out and walk, but I don't want to see you break into a gallop,' " said the elder Lauer. "A thoroughbred's not going to like that. A throroughbred's going to want to run. Brandon's a thoroughbred wrestler in that regard."

Cleared to lift weights in August, Lauer was wrestling in the fall. He started the season 9-1 before his first big test, against Rene Hernandez of Purdue in the Navy Classic. At the national championships when both were seniors in high school, the two had split a pair of matches. This time, Lauer defeated Hernandez, 8-4, to win the Navy Classic title.

"To beat him in college, that was a pretty big match for me, because we were pretty evenly matched in high school," Lauer said. "To me, that shows development on my part. That was kind of a big match for me after not competing for a whole year."

Lauer's 14-7 record this season includes a 3-4 mark against nationally ranked opponents. He ranks 19th in his weight class in the latest Amateur Wrestling News poll, and has been as high as 16th. Lauer's four pins rank second on the team, and his three technical falls lead the 12th-ranked Mountaineers (6-2).

Lauer's coaches say his potential and strength of schedule give him a realistic shot at qualifying for this year's NCAA tournament as a redshirt freshman.

"I have some tough losses to top-ranked opponents," Lauer said. "And I know that in those close losses, there are things that I can fix by March. Right now, I'm in the mix of it."

On Jan. 12, Lauer scored his most impressive victory, a fall in 1:20 over Ohio State's then-No. 7 Jeff Ratliff.

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