‘Ice’ing on the cake

He knows everyone. Every name that I could possibly throw at him. High school wrestlers with whom I graduated, some I had known, some I had not. Coaches I had interviewed before. Coaches I had not even spoken to but knew were associated with my high school wrestling program. Past Jackson Jaguar athletes whose names I only recalled due to the fact that they were brazenly printed atop my high school gymnasium’s list of divisional, regional and state champions.

He knew them all and he knew more about them than I. He knew where my classmates were wrestling, what they were ranked nationally, where grapplers of old were coaching and how they were doing.

Humbled by the immense amount of knowledge that this man possesses, I sat in the award-laden office and listened while David Icenhower leaned back in his armchair and reflected on a career by which even he is taken aback. It became quite obvious to me that this legend, whose history in the sport has spanned more than twice my lifetime, has been the primary gear in the winning machine that is the College wrestling program for years.

After 33 years of coaching at the College, “Ice” has amassed five NCAA Division III national championships (’79, ’81, ’83, ’84, ’87), two NCAA Division III Coach of the Year awards (’79, ’87), 122 All-Americans, a Division I national champ (Tom Martucci, ’81), and is now on the cusp of possibly his greatest personal milestone. With a 54-0 win over University of Scranton last week, Icenhower is only one dual-meet win away from the nearly impossible achievement of 500 career wins – a feat only surpassed by three other coaches in Division III history.

This feat will have to wait until next season, however, as the Lions have completed their dual meet schedule and are looking ahead toward the Metropolitan Conference Championships on Feb. 22, a tournament where Ice and his blue and gold grapplers are two-time defending champions. They will then prepare for a trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to compete in the NCAA Division III National Championships on March 6.

“This year, we had a very strong dual-meet team,” Icenhower said, discussing his most recent squad of Lions wrestlers. “We don’t have a sure All-American, but we can have three or four, and that is our goal along with being a top-10 team.”

That feat is within reach as the Lions have finished in the top 25 in each of Icenhower’s seasons as coach and have finished in the top five 19 times. The College is currently ranked 17th nationally and finished the 2008-2009 season with a record of 16-1-1. The highlight of the season for the College’s finest was, ironically, another impressive milestone. With a 24-12 win over Roger Williams College on Jan. 31, Ice and his team won their 600th dual meet in program history.

“To be part of a team that has 600 career wins is amazing,” senior and former All-American Greg Osgoodby said. “To win 600 matches speaks volumes about the coaches and the student athletes (who) take pride in the continued from page 32

College’s wrestling tradition and it is a honor to be part of that tradition.”

Although matters at hand are on Icenhower’s mind at the moment, he discusses the significance of what will be his newest landmark achievement.

“It means you lasted which a lot of people didn’t do,” he said. “Obviously you had to have good teams and good success because there’s people that have coached as long as I have that haven’t come close to this. To me winning 500 right now isn’t that big of a deal. It’s something I’ll appreciate more when I retire.”

Beyond the mats, the 1971 Lehigh University graduate is conscious of how his athletes receive him as a coach and a person. “Hopefully they perceive me as pretty fair and pretty easy to listen to,” he said. “At the beginning of the year I explain to them you are not always going to like what I say or what I do but you are going to understand why I did it. They know that everything we do is to try to make them better.”

Icenhower describes his coaching style as fair, intense and competitive, and at least one wrestler tends to agree. “Ice creates a close team environment which makes it an enjoyable season,” freshman Scott Kelley said. “Besides various wrestling techniques, he has taught me to believe more in my own abilities. He cares about us more as people than just wrestlers.”

Sophomore Dan Hughes said, “Coach Ice has made me better by pushing me to new levels to succeed. Having him in my corner is a big confidence booster on the mat. The reason he’s a great coach,” he added, “is because he doesn’t just make us better wrestlers, he makes us better people. He really cares about us and that’s why we work so hard for him.”

Even though the thrill of winning is addicting, Icehower looks ahead several years to his retirement. “The College has been very good to me and very loyal to me,” he said. “Once I got into the service and coached, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I want to be remembered that I was fair to my colleagues and gave back to the school as much as it gave to me and that we created a legacy here and a program that stands for excellence.”

Wrestling has been in coach Ice’s blood since his high school years. This self-proclaimed “funk and junk” wrestler (he wrestled at 134 pounds for Lehigh) made it clear that the sport is intertwined with every aspect of his life.

“My financial planner wrestled for me, my car salesman wrestled with me, my insurance broker wrestled for me, even the guy that did the carpet in my house wrestled for me,” he said. “Wrestling is such an integral part of my life and my family’s life.”

Bobby Olivier can be reached at olivier6@tcnj.edu.