They say that good things come to those that wait, but Maciej Jochym wasn’t so sure.
As a freshman in 2008, he came tantalizingly close to an NCAA tournament appearance, losing in the fifth place match at EIWAs in overtime. The five grapplers that placed ahead of him were rewarded with bids to nationals.
With his 21-13 record as a rookie, Jochym seemed destined to compete at college wrestling’s biggest event multiple times.
But years later, on the morning of March 3 at the 2012 EIWA championships, Jochym took the mat knowing he needed two more victories to assure himself of his first trip to NCAAs. He took at 2-1 lead early in his first match of the day against Navy’s Daniel Miller but gave up a five-point move in the second period and dropped his consolation semifinal bout.
He rebounded to pin Penn’s Steven Graziano in the fifth place match, but with only three automatic qualifying slots at 285 pounds, Jochym knew his fate was completely out of his hands. And it would be several days until the announcement of the wildcard selections.
“It was very difficult to wait,” Jochym said. “I prepared for the worst. I thought I was finished. I really didn’t think it was possible.”
Early in the week, the Cornell coaches didn’t feel overly optimistic about Jochym’s chances, either. However, they did note that his 16-13 record came against a challenging schedule and featured some solid victories.
“I didn’t think it was a good bet,” said head coach Rob Koll. “His win-loss record wasn’t that great but I did know his RPI was pretty high and that could help him. I just wasn’t sure who else was out there. Had [Navy’s] Miller been an automatic qualifier, I would have felt good about it since they split this year, but I was preparing for bad news.”
At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the complete heavyweight field for St. Louis was published and for Jochym, the news was good.
“I think what made the difference was that I had three quality wins over guys going to the tournament,” he said. “When I found out, I was ecstatic to finally get the chance to go to nationals.”
The path he took to get his NCAA opportunity was not a typical one.
Jochym’s first season at Cornell was successful, with victories over Cameron Wade and Ryan Flores. But it wasn’t a completely smooth ride.
“At times, Maciej absolutely would not listen to what we said,” Koll said. “If I told him to shoot a single leg, he hit a headlock. When you’re a small heavyweight, you have to be careful not to get stuck underneath much bigger guys. But Maciej wanted to go, go, go and attack all the time, regardless of the opponent. Not shooting a lot wasn’t in his nature. He was impatient and it cost him at least a couple of matches.”
“I was young and maybe a little naïve,” Jochym said. “I was a little too aggressive in my style. I know the coaches felt I needed to wrestle smarter and take more calculated risks. But I came from 215 [pounds] in high school and it was a difficult switch to the heavyweight style.”
The following year, Jochym went 4-2 at the Binghamton Open but then withdrew from Cornell for personal reasons. When he returned to Ithaca as a sophomore, Jochym decided that wrestling was not going to be a part of his life.
“It came to a point where I felt the need to work to be able to better support myself,” he said. “I had to prioritize, and I felt I needed the extra money, so I focused on school and working.”
But early in the second semester, he started to miss the sport and felt that he had made strides financially. He asked to be accepted back onto the squad and rejoined the Big Red for the 2010-11 campaign.
“I realized I really wanted to return,” he said. “I realized how much wrestling meant to me. There were a lot of aspects that I missed – the team, the camaraderie. There also was something to be said about going out and working on my goals. I also knew the team was in the hunt for the national title and I wanted to help however I could.”
Returning All-American Cam Simaz was the starter at 197, and the 285 position was open for competition. However, Jochym chose the lighter class.
“Maciej decided to go to 197 even though he knew he was guaranteeing himself second string,” Koll said. “He wanted to be lean and didn’t like the pushing and shoving that goes on at heavyweight. He wanted to mix it up.”
“I didn’t like the heavyweight style of wrestling,” Jochym agreed. “I thought it was boring; a game of who could be the biggest. I felt that at around 220 pounds, it didn’t suit my style very well. I saw an opportunity to help the team by backing up Cam [Simaz].”
When Simaz was injured during the Southern Scuffle, having the Herricks High School standout in the wings paid dividends during the Big Red’s run to the National Duals title.
“I was at home with my family and I thought I would have a few weeks off,” he said. “I saw Cam was hurt while watching the finals of the Southern Scuffle. I got the call from [Koll] soon afterwards. I wasn’t prepared weight wise and I didn’t realize how tough the cut would be. I also wasn’t mentally prepared right away for something like National Duals. But I was happy in the end that I was able to help the team win.”
While Jochym went 1-3 at the competition, he saved key team points. In a close dual with Missouri, he held heavily favored Brett Haynes to a 4-2 decision. In the finals against Virginia Tech, Jochym finished strong, defeating Chris Penny.
“I am of course thankful for what Maciej did at National Duals,” Koll said. “He played an important role for us.”
He wanted to play an important role in his senior campaign as well. For Jochym, that meant a move back to 285.
“The decision was made early in the preseason,” he said. “I was doing well with the other heavyweights in practice. I was winning the live wrestling and I thought I would give it a try again.”
“I think Maciej realized you always look better with your hand raised,” Koll added. “He knew that was going to happen a lot more at heavyweight.”
There was an adjustment period as he got accustomed to wrestling at the highest weight class again. But he showed steady improvement throughout the campaign.
“Who knows where Maciej would be today if he had stayed the course from his freshman year, or if he had wrestled at heavyweight last year?” Koll asked. “It took him most of this season to effectively wrestle the heavyweight style. It’s basically a different sport. He has clearly gotten better and better as the year progressed. Now, we’re really excited to see what he can do this week.”
Jochym’s first opponent in St. Louis will be a familiar one — sort of. He has never faced Nebraska’s Tucker Lane, but he works out with his younger brother, teammate Stryker Lane, frequently.
“Stryker says he beats up on Tucker every time he goes home,” Koll said with a laugh. “So either Maciej will beat him by the transitive property or Stryker is a liar. We’ll find out in a few days.”
On a more serious note, Koll stated that it is a match he and the Big Red coaching staff feel Jochym is capable of winning.
“Tucker Lane is a very good heavyweight, but he isn’t a huge heavyweight,” he said. “There are no easy draws at this level but at 285, one mistake either way determines the match since there aren’t a lot of points scored. Maciej can do it. I feel funny about it because I know Tucker and his family. If Maciej were wrestling any of the other 31 guys in the weight class, I’d be cheering for Tucker. But in this case, the Lane family will have to forgive me for cheering against him.”
Koll believes that Jochym is worth cheering for, regardless of the number of points he scores this weekend.
“Maciej has really grown up,” Koll said. “He was typical of a lot of freshmen who think they know everything. But he has made an incredible transformation. Everyone loves him. He went through ups and downs and came out on top. I can’t say enough about him. You wouldn’t believe how hard he works. He wasn’t only rewarded with a trip to St. Louis but also with the respect and friendship of his teammates. He has turned into one of my favorites.”
Jochym’s journey as a grappler will come to an end this weekend, where he’s always wanted to be – the NCAA tournament.
“I came close to nationals as a freshman,” he said. “To get this NCAA berth means so much to me. It means I have a chance to help the team by scratching and clawing for any points I can get. It’s also a second chance to achieve my goal of being an All-American.”
For Maciej Jochym, the wait has been worth it.