Works In Progress: Slicing Up the Competition
by Jim Amidon '87
To watch Dan Emerson attack his opponent on the wrestling mat is a thing of brutal beauty. With bent knees and curled shoulders, he circles his opponent, focuses on the mid-section, circles more, and with a flash, shoots for a single leg takedown. The 177-pound Wabash senior draws the opponent's leg up to his chest, pulls in tightly, and swiftly kicks the man's standing leg out from under him. The entire move, setup and all, takes less than four seconds, and more than 350 pounds hit the mat with a raw ruthlessness that can only be described as ancient.
The takedown complete, Emerson moves quickly to turn his man. Always on the offensive and always sharpening his skills, he sets his sights high-on the mat, in the classroom, and in his working life-and he usually achieves his goals.
When the college wrestling season opens late this fall, Emerson will captain Wabash's team for an unprecedented fourth straight year. He's already qualified for nationals twice and has twice been selected to the All-Academic Team, but Emerson hopes for even more this year. He hopes to become a national champion.
"I chose Wabash because I knew that I wanted to go to medical school," said Emerson in a recent chat at the Scarlet Inn. "I'm a very competitive person and this place is, too. Everywhere I go, from the fraternity house all over campus, people compete to become better. I love to learn and most of the people who come to Wabash really want to learn. I thought that would push me and it has."
A classics major from Evansville, Ind., Emerson enters his senior year with a win-loss record in wrestling that proves exactly how competitive he is-62 wins and just 17 losses. "At first, I had decided not to wrestle at Wabash. My parents have always preached school first, and I thought if I was planning to go to med school, I wouldn't have time for wrestling," says the three-time Wabash MVP.
That's when he met Max Servies '58. Servies' long-time philosophy of school first, wrestling second is well known by all who have wrestled for him in the last 37 years. "Coach Servies is so laid back, he leaves it up to us-the wrestlers-to determine how far we want to go, how much we want to put into it," says Emerson. "He'll coach us and help us reach our goals, but he leaves it up to us to set those goals.
"I knew I'd have to study hard to succeed here and I figured I could go through the motions and just be an average wrestler. But once I got here, I realized that if you don't put in the time, that you're going to lose, in wrestling and in class, and well, I hate to lose. Being at Wabash has helped me deal with the challenges of studying late at night for a test, taking the test the next day, then being prepared to wrestle later that night."
Emerson has managed the difficult juggling act of balancing academic work while training to become a nationally-ranked wrestler. His last two Wabash seasons have been a remarkable example of time management skills. As a sophomore, Emerson went 19-6 and qualified for the national championships while maintaining a 3.85 grade point average in the classroom. Over the summer before his junior year, Emerson decided to try a business venture. He joined the sales team of Cutco, a cutlery manufacturer that uses college students as its sales force. Emerson attacked the knife business with the same ferocity that he steals a takedown from an opponent.
Like his assault on Wabash's wrestling record books, Emerson broke every Cutco national sales record that summer and won Cutco's biggest scholarship. "I didn't care how much I made, I just wanted to be number one," says Emerson. He ended up number one out of more than 20,000 students nationwide.
The demands of a pre-med curriculum almost kept Emerson in the lab during his junior year. But John Fischer and the Classics Department convinced him to consider study abroad. "I talked to a lot of people, and it seemed to me that medical schools were looking for well-rounded people who have a variety of interests. So, I became a classics major and I'm double minoring in biology and chemistry, which allowed me to study in Rome during the first semester of my junior year."
Emerson missed the first half of wrestling season, but returned to campus in January. In his first tournament back in the States, he won the Wheaton College Invitational, beating the defending national champion in the 177-pound weight class. He went on to post a 23-4 record, won his third Indiana Collegiate Athletic Conference title, and qualified for the national championships.
Yet Emerson did not finish number one at the NCAA's. "Losing at nationals last year was hard," he explains. "I went in to the tournament seeded number two in the nation, which is a bit overwhelming, really. I didn't really wrestle like myself, maybe because it was such a big meet. I lost to a guy I was beating the entire match, but who came back to beat me in a heartbreaking loss in double overtime."
After a quick start at Cutco this past summer, Emerson packed up his knives to prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test. He and FIJI brother Brian Woebkenberg '98 spent endless hours coaching one another for the biggest test of their lives. Once the MCAT was finished, Emerson went back to Cutco for a couple of weeks, and returned to campus "stronger than I've ever been.
"Everybody at Wabash knows me as the WRESTLER on campus, but this year we have a whole bunch of talented wrestlers coming back," concludes Emerson. "If all of the freshmen take it seriously-and that's hard here at Wabash-then we'll have an excellent team. This is MY year. Coach Servies knows that and I think the other teams we'll face know that. I'm stronger and I'm ready for the best year of my life."