Every athlete has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic since the worldwide shutdown of sports in March. It would be no stretch, however, to say that Noah Adams got the rawest deal of them all.
It was March 12 and Adams was four days removed from winning the Big 12 championship at 197 pounds. He ran his record to 32-0 competing in one of the nation's toughest wrestling conferences and secured the second seed at the NCAA Championships.
All-America status seemed a certainty. A national championship was more than a realistic goal.
Then, like everything else, the national championships were canceled. Just like that, Adams was done. Unbeaten, yet unfulfilled.
Predictably, Adams didn't take kindly to the realization that he would be denied his shot. But he was able to move on.
"For a couple of weeks, I was pretty upset about it," Adams said. "Then I gathered myself and did whatever I could to train for this upcoming year."
Several weeks later than customary, West Virginia will start its season Sunday, and Adams' 2020 accomplishments have not been forgotten. The redshirt junior is the No. 1-ranked 197-pounder by FloWrestling, Intermat and The Open Mat.
On paper, it's Adams picking up where he left off. The 2017 Independence graduate was named the Big 12 Wrestler of the Year and was a finalist for the Dan Hodge Trophy, which is college wrestling's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy.
And to pick up where he left off would be ideal. Adams said he was wrestling at his best and his confidence level was soaring as he left Tulsa, Okla., with his Big 12 title.
"About as confident as one could be," he said. "I was feeling good, wrestling good. I felt like my mind was in the right place."
That's where he will need to be every night out, suggests third-year WVU wrestling coach Tim Flynn.
“I expect him to keep doing the same thing — coming to work with his hardhat on, working hard and competing hard," Flynn said. "Things aren’t always going to go your way. … When you’re the top-ranked guy, everybody wants to beat you. It’s different from being the No. 2-ranked guy. It’s just a little bit different and he’s got to deal with that. Every time he goes out, he’s going to get someone’s ‘A’ game."
Of course, Adams will be prepared to compete. Mat time was impossible through the spring and summer because of the pandemic, but that doesn't mean Adams took time off.
"I was doing about everything I could," he said. "Lifting weights whenever I got the chance. I've done a lot of running, a lot of cardio-type workout. Getting as much mat time in as I could once we started getting back into our facilities."
The Mountaineers were able to get back to the mat room in August under limited circumstances. Practices have been divided into two sessions and wrestlers were placed in pods to limit possible exposure. Adams worked out mainly with volunteer assistant Cody Walters.
In November, Adams finally got back on the mat in a competitive setting at the U23 and UWW Junior Nationals in Omaha, Neb. He dominated his first two matches in the 93 kg division, 11-1 over unattached wrestler Michael Loyola in the quarterfinals and 10-0 over North Carolina's Brandon Whitman in the semifinals. He dropped a narrow 10-9 championship decision to Tanner Sloan of South Dakota State in a rematch of their Big 12 championship.
Now it's time for the real deal. The Mountaineers will host Kent State, Ohio and Virginia Tech Sunday starting at noon. No fans will be allowed inside the Coliseum, but the matches will be televised live on ESPN+.
"We expect him to keep going out there and competing hard and doing his best," Flynn said. "His best is a really high level. We’ve seen it. So if he can perform at his best, good things will happen.”
Not that Adams needs extra motivation, but the way things ended last season provides just that.
"It does, yeah. It also gives me a sense of urgency, knowing I've got to step back up and do what I've got to do for the season," he said.
"Just try to get better every week like last year. If I can do that, I'll be on course to do the same as last year. Maybe more."
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