Much like its new training facility, the new wrestling program at St. Ambrose is a work in progress.
The start of the sport's inaugural season on the St. Ambrose campus is less than a week away for coach Bo Bettinson and the Fighting Bees, who are training in a newly-constructed facility at the St. Vincent’s Complex in Davenport.
“We’re anxious to get things going and get our program established,’’ Bettinson said. “We've had a lot of help. The wrestling community in the Quad-Cities has been awesome, doing everything they can to help us get started.’’
There are 23 wrestlers on the St. Ambrose roster, a group that includes 17 freshmen and one wrestler with prior collegiate experience, 133-pound sophomore Matt Robertson.
A two-time state champion for Davenport Assumption, Robertson returned home to the Quad-Cities after beginning his career at traditional NAIA power Grand View.
“I see a lot of young guys here in the room that are working to get better, putting in the extra work it takes, and it’s going to be great having a chance to help build the foundation for the program here,’’ Robertson said. "There's a lot of good potential here.''
Bettinson sees Robertson’s experience as a benefit to the Fighting Bees as well.
“He’s the perfect guy for us to build around,’’ Bettinson said. “He spent the past three years with a program that is the gold standard in NAIA wrestling and he knows what it takes. Guys see how hard he works and they’re following his lead.’’
St. Ambrose wrestlers are also working in new surroundings.
The Fighting Bees have a practice room large enough for two-and-a-half mats in their new facility. Coaches’ offices, locker rooms, a room for the team’s study table and an area for wrestlers to simply relax and be together are all adjacent to the Bees' wrestling room.
The facility is connected to an existing structure which houses St. Ambrose football offices and training facilities and construction crews are still putting the finishing touches on the wrestling complex.
New mats scheduled to arrive soon will eventually fill the wrestling room. In the interim, Alleman High School has provided two mats to help the Fighting Bees get the season started.
“This is open for our wrestlers to come in whenever they want,’’ Bettinson said. “I feel like it’s going to become a real home away from home for the guys, somewhere where they can work on their skills, somewhere where they can study and somewhere where they can just be together.’’
Nick Matthys, a 149-pound freshman from Bettendorf, said the facility includes everything the Fighting Bees will need.
“It’s a great room. St. Ambrose is doing this the right way,’’ Matthys said. “The majority of us are freshmen and this will be a good place for us to work out and learn.’’
St. Ambrose wrestlers are working toward the program’s debut next Monday when the Fighting Bees host Augustana in a 7 p.m. dual at Lee Lohman Arena.
Bettinson and Vikings coach Tony Willaert have talked about making a dual between the two Quad-Cities collegiate programs an annual season-opening event.
“I reached out to Tony when we were putting our schedule together and he wanted to bring his team here this year and help us kick things off,’’ Bettinson said.
“I’m really appreciative of that. We’ll go there next year and hopefully it’s something both programs and the Quad-Cities will look forward to into the future.’’
The Fighting Bees lineup is in the process of being determined through wrestle-offs that began last week and will wrap up on Wednesday.
“We’re going to be young, but that’s not necessarily bad as we build,'' Bettinson said. "These guys bring a lot of energy and I’m looking forward to seeing how we progress through the year.''
St. Ambrose will be tested.
The Fighting Bees will compete in the Heart of America Conference in wrestling, a league led by a Grand View program that has won nine of the last 10 NAIA national titles.
Conference members Missouri Valley, Baker and Graceland also finished in the top 10 nationally last season.
“It's a good spot for us. We’re not going to shy away from good competition,’’ Bettinson said. “If you want to win national championships, the best way to do it is to get out there and compete against that type of competition.’’