For Mark Budd, the goal is not just to win. The goal has always been total domination.
That's setting the bar pretty high, and in a long season, wrestlers are bound to fall a bit short of such a demanding standard. And so the bump in the road for the University at Buffalo senior came the last two weekends.
It started Jan. 14 when he had a down day in a Mid-American Conference match against Chad Vandiver of Northern Illinois. Budd needed a three-point near fall in overtime to pull it out, making the win a not particularly joyous occasion.
"I always want to dominate. That's the way I like to wrestle," Budd said after the Northern Illinois meet. "Of course I'll take the win, but I'll look at the tapes and see what I have to work on and use this as a learning experience."
This past weekend, the 133-pounder came in second at the New York State Intercollegiate Championships at UB, losing to Army's William Simpson, 4-3. It marked his first loss against an unranked opponent this year.
Still, Budd remains the best chance the Bulls have of claiming another MAC champion. He has aspirations of becoming just the second UB wrestler to reach Division I All-America status. Kyle Cerminara accomplished the feat in 2004.
This year, he is ranked 14th nationally. His 27-4 record includes three losses to higher-ranked wrestlers -- all in December at the Las Vegas Invitational, where he finished sixth.
"He's our best guy," coach Jim Beichner said of Budd. "He's our hardest worker. He's our most intense, most focused and disciplined guy. . . . Sometimes you need to have a little bit of a setback to make you work a bit harder. Budd is already a hard worker, but this will push him even more."
While Budd's season has, for the most part, been right on track, it's been an interesting and somewhat frustrating season for the rest of the team.
The Bulls have five redshirt freshmen in their starting lineup. That was never the plan.
Injuries and illness have hampered the Bulls, sidelining juniors Dana Gingerich (lyme disease) at 149 pounds and Steven Muldrow (disk problem) at 157. That forced the acceleration of some redshirt freshmen -- including Andrew Stella (Sweet Home) at 141 pounds, Jason Hilliard at 149, Justin Hunt at 157, Ricky Scott at 197 and Dan Bishop at 125.
The youth and inexperience of the Bulls came to the fore in their MAC opener against Northern Illinois -- a meet in which the Huskies dominated for a 30-6 win, ending Buffalo's dual meet win streak at five.
"We didn't expect to be this young from the get-go," Beichner said. "I don't usually even like to bring it up because it sounds like an excuse but it is what it is. It's a team that's kind of riddled with injury and illness and we're wrestling with a lot of youth. Those guys have managed to win the last couple of weeks and they ran into a tough team [in Northern Illinois] and the young team wasn't able to pull it together."
Despite the lineup and the MAC setback, the Bulls are 7-3 overall in dual meets in large part due to the success of younger wrestlers and the program's commitment to hard work.
In fact, it was Hilliard who came through with the only individual title for the Bulls at the state intercollegiates, taking the title at 149.
"Jason wasn't expected to be a starter but about a quarter of the way through the season, he was working hard and winning matches," Beichner said.