Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Baker Hopes to Bring Title to Maryville

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Baker Hopes to Bring Title to Maryville

Article excerpt

Nearly empty banners hang in the Monsanto Room of the Maryville University library building, which doubles as the gym for the two- year-old wrestling team.

Matt Baker wants to fill them. He knows how.

As an All-American at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, in 2011, he was a winner and has brought that attitude to the Saints nascent program. All thats left is providing lasting, tangible evidence: maybe a national title to proclaim on those banners.

God gave me only one gift: the ability to pick out the good ones, Maryville wrestling coach Mike Denney said. Hes special. He motivates and inspires me.

Baker, Denney, his assistants and a half-dozen other members of the UNO program became Saints after Nebraska-Omaha decided to eliminate wrestling and football two years ago in its move to Division I. The cruelest cut: The team got the news on the same day that it won its third consecutive Division II national championship.

Our guys showed up with the trophy, and they locked us out of the field house, Denney said. Thats honorable?

They prepared to fight to keep the program alive, but after a week the end was inevitable in Omaha. But about then, Maryvilles vice president for enrollment, Jeff Miller, contacted Denney, explained that Maryville had hoped to get a program started and asked if he would be interested in heading it up.

After touring the campus with his staff and members of the team, Denney decided to pack up the program and head to West St. Louis County, sort of like the Brady Bunch going on vacation. The banners that hung in the UNO gym, listing the programs seven national championships and dozens of all-Americans accumulated in Denneys 32 years with the program, were put in storage and left in Omaha.

Players always have been free to transfer after a program shutdown, and coaches switch jobs like they switch underwear, but the mass move of players and coaches from one school to another is a first at the NCAA level.

After 32 years, it was like starting over, like raising your grandkids, Denney said. It made a huge difference that I was able to bring some leaders. We werent starting from ground zero. It was like we already had a pillar in place. Matts loyalty has gone a long way in helping make this move easier.

Baker and Denney also credited the Maryville community, which provided academic support and gave the team its own gym, albeit in a refurbished reception room.

The transition has been awesome, said Baker, a senior from suburban Kansas City. Ive bonded with the professors, training staff, other athletes. We feel like we belong. They embraced us with open arms.

To raise awareness of the new program, Baker last year produced video blogs for ncaa.coms All-Access series. A biology and education major, he had no natural talent or interest in journalism or broadcasting. …

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