Puyallup: Sports

Conder switches focus to Nationals after disappointing World Championships

Puyallup High grad Whitney Conder of the United States reacts with her county’s flag after defeating Mexico’s Alma Valencia in the Women’s freestyle 53kg gold medal wrestling match during the Pan Am Games in Toronto on July 16. But Conder missed out on a chance to punch a ticket to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games at the World Championships Sept. 7 in Las Vegas.
Puyallup High grad Whitney Conder of the United States reacts with her county’s flag after defeating Mexico’s Alma Valencia in the Women’s freestyle 53kg gold medal wrestling match during the Pan Am Games in Toronto on July 16. But Conder missed out on a chance to punch a ticket to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games at the World Championships Sept. 7 in Las Vegas. AP file

Whitney Conder isn’t where she wants to be right now after a disappointing showing Sept. 7 at the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas.

Conder, a Puyallup High grad, came into the World Championships as the top-ranked wrestler in the world in the 53 kilogram (116.5 pound) weight class. A tournament win in Vegas would punch her ticket to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games.

But slip-ups happened in the second round, and Conder couldn’t get past China’s Xuechun Zhong, who earned 6-2 decision over the U.S. wrestler.

The loss is personal with the No. 11-ranked Conder.

“I didn’t go into the tournament as focused as I should have,” she admitted. “I need to better prepare myself to be more focused when I go into my matches … I lost my focus in that match.”

After picking up a pin in 2 minutes, 21 seconds over Senegal’s Isabelle Sambou in the first round, it looked as if Conder was her normal tournament-ready self.

Yet even at your best, any mistake can cost any wrestler a match, and ultimately, a chance to stand up at the podium in the end.

“The higher up you go in wrestling, the smaller the room is for mistakes,” USA wrestling coach Shon Lewis said. “Whitney’s experience(ed) that, because that’s what your competition is always looking for — any opportunity to take advantage of you and win the match.”

Lewis is Conder’s USA wrestling coach under head women’s coach Terry Steiner, who oversees all of USA women’s wrestling.

Last month, Lewis saw Conder’s weakness play out in her second-round loss. Early in the match, Conder stiffened up her legs and hips as she pulled Xuechun Zhong into her body. The rigidness of her hips allowed for a counter and a quick point for her opponent.

“When I pulled her in, I was too stiff and she grabbed a quick point on me,” Conder said. “Something I have to work on is my agility.”

Trailing by a quick point took Conder off her game as she now had to go on the attack, a position she hasn’t been comfortable with in the past.

“It’s not her style to attack and chase after points,” Lewis said. “She’s someone who likes to be in control of her match and dictate the pace of her match.”

“But you don’t always get those opportunities from here on out,” Lewis added. “Every wrestler is looking for one point or one weakness from an opponent, and sometimes that’s all it takes. Right now it’s about getting her to be more aggressive and go after those points early on.”

For Conder to get to Rio and the Olympics now she’ll be on the long and arduous path.

Her first stop is back to Las Vegas for the 2015 Senior Nationals and Trials Qualifiers from Dec. 17-19. If she can claim the top spot there, then it’s on Iowa City, Iowa, in April.

But first things first: It’s all about December.

“Right now I’m just focusing on my next tournament in December, and just working hard to take first there,” Conder said. “I’m just trying to take it one match at a time.”

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