(Editor's note: Belgrade native and Iowa State wrestler Jarrett Degen was unavailable to comment on his shortened season)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's Parker Filius, the former Havre High four-time state wrestling champion, was excited for the opportunity to compete in his first NCAA Championships -- college wrestling's biggest stage. But following the cancellation of the tournament, Filius is already at work for next season.
The redshirt sophomore saw one of the greatest turnarounds from the year before, flipping a 9-20 campaign as a freshman in 2018-19 to a 19-10 record this winter, qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the 141-pound division. Filius was set to compete in the pigtail match -- a wrestle-in contest where the winner advances to the first round, while the loser drops to the consolation bracket.
One of the biggest improvements in @ncaawrestling this season, @ParkerFilius flipped a 9-20 freshman mark to 19-10 overall in 2019-20 and qualified for the NCAA Championships at 141 pounds. #BoilerUp #AlwaysAggressive pic.twitter.com/hLLs94zOwj
— Purdue Wrestling (@PurdueWrestling) March 21, 2020
The NCAA Championships were slated to begin Thursday, March 19 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where Filius and seven teammates would represent the Boilermakers -- a program record for individual qualifiers for the second consecutive year.
MTN Sports caught up with Filius this week to discuss the disappointing ending to his season, missing out on his first NCAA Championships appearance, but also the motivation to work hard during the unusual times with the goal of hitting 2020-21 on the right foot.
Parker Filius: There are a lot of positives you can pull from it. We wrestled 90 percent of our schedule, our team finished fifth in the Big 10, we had a good conference tournament, so you did get good feedback on how much you improved throughout the year. That stuff was good. Really, with sports, it’s more about the process of how you’re getting to where you’re going than the actual destination. Winning a national title is great, but more important than the title itself is all the work it took to get there and the traits that you had to pick up, what your coaches have instilled in you, your work ethic. All those things are still intact, and you can still live your life the same way with these restrictions as you would any other time — you can still go outside and run; you can still do pull-ups, push-ups; if you have a bike at your house you can bike; go outside and do your stance and motion stuff in the grass, which, people might look at you like you’re crazy, but you can do that.
MTN Sports: We’re all looking at each other like we’re crazy at this point in time, so to each their own. You don’t have to touch on everything, but what has this whirlwind been like? Here we are, I think you broke a record again with eight NCAA qualifiers, which broke the program record for the second year in a row, from that and the highs of that until the news is announced that there isn’t even going to be an NCAAs, how much did you guys have to grapple with everything that was happening as it was happening?
Filius: I think it was a tough time because you’re training for a national tournament as if it’s going to happen. I think they canceled it on Thursday, so Wednesday night you see an NBA basketball game get stopped in the middle of a game, then the NBA suspends their season, so you see that, but still have to go train the next day as if you’re going to have a national tournament. In the back of your mind there’s a little bit of doubt that they’re even going to have a tournament, so that was kind of tough to deal with. It didn’t really feel real until they officially told you, ‘Hey, you’re not going to be able to wrestle in the tournament and we don’t know if people are getting years back, they’re not going to postpone it, it’s just done.’ I would say that took four or five days for most guys to really understand the season is over and there is no national tournament. That was the weird part. Most guys went home, so you’re kind of thrown out of your routine and the process of getting back to a steady routine where you’re working out, building toward your goals, visualizing your goals, writing things down and working out, getting all your schooling done — that’s difficult to do right after that.
MTN Sports: Everybody is disappointed, obviously, but for you to get a chance to have your name called when they’re announcing brackets, you get the pigtail match — it’s a simple question, but the answer is a little different for everybody — how excited were you just for the opportunity, for the chance to be a competitor instead of watching it on TV or in live in the arena?
Filius: I was feeling good. I was happy with where my wrestling was going, I was definitely getting better as the year went on. I had some matches where I didn’t perform the way I wanted to, but overall my performances were getting better as the year went on and I was excited to build on that after training for a week-and-a-half between Big 10s and NCAAs. I was excited for an opportunity to see what was going to happen, to perform to the best of my ability and see where that took me. I had high goals and thought I was going to do really well, but what I think doesn’t really matter anymore, you know? I was excited for the opportunity.
MTN Sports: I know our Slim Kimmel came out and chatted with you over a month ago, and you talked a lot about growth, not just as a wrestler, but as a student and having fun with buddies on campus and stuff like that. How much, even from the short time since he’s chatted with you until now, have you continued to see that growth?
Filius: Quite a bit. I would say at that time I was just starting to get a little bit of consistency in my performances. That weekend I think I went 0-2 in duals, but I think as the year went on, my results were getting better. You could see, not just from the results of the matches, but I was wrestling at a much higher level than I had been, and it was becoming more consistent. I think that was reflected in my schooling, as well, and relationships with coaches. I think trust between me and my coaches was at an all-time high and I was just excited with where everything was going. None of that really changes, it’s just a different course now.
MTN Sports: You can blame Slim for the weekend results, he’s just bad luck overall. He went to Kentucky’s senior night, they were up by like 17 and ended up losing, so we don’t send him anywhere anymore.
Filius: (laughs) That’s funny.
MTN Sports: There’s disappointment on the one hand, but there has to be, and you kind of talked about it, but there has to be motivation — nobody’s goals are going anywhere, in fact, they may be heightened and increased because everyone is going to have a chip on their shoulder once you guys are allowed to resume in the weight room, training room, on the mats, whatever it may be. Everyone has that chip on their shoulder now it seems like.
Filius: It’s a really interesting time when you’re thinking about guys improving from now until next March, because we’re going to have a break that’s most likely at least a month, and who knows how long it will really be, so you’ve got one-twelfth of a year where guys are training on their own, so you really get to see who is all in and who is going to live the right lifestyle all the time when people aren’t on top of them, and who isn’t. This is a great time to gain some ground on people. It will be interesting to see what happens between now and next March, and I think this period is super important for everybody.
MTN Sports: What are those things you would like to improve on between now and then, no matter what this hiatus is, we don’t know, but there have to be things you’re already thinking about that can make you a better wrestler?
Filius: There are some technical things I would like to work on and we’ll get back on those when I get in the room, but with what we have right now, I’m going to get stronger. There were a couple matches where I didn't’ think I was the strongest guy out there, so I’ll be doing a lot of pull-ups. Keeping in good shape and improving on my shape. I thought last year I was in much better shape than I was the previous year, and that’s something I’m really looking to build on. I’ll be putting a lot of miles on my running shoes, hitting the bike and getting some sprint work in. But bigger than any of that is just working on my mind, writing my goals down, visualizing what it’s going to be like to reach my goals next March, what it takes to get there so nothing really shocks you when you see it.
MTN Sports: Is it hard to believe it’s been three years since we saw you throw up four fingers at Metra?
Filius: Yes, it went quick.
MTN Sports: Do you keep tabs on what’s happening back here during Montana’s wrestling season? You’re busy, obviously, but when you get a chance do you see who won four, who has a couple in a row, see what the Havre Blue Ponies are up to now that dad is sitting in the stands instead of on the mats?
Filius: I’ve got a little bit of an idea. I’ll keep tabs on some guys, and if a guy is doing really well I’ll ask my dad if we need to be on him at Purdue to try to get him out here. I have a good idea of who the best guys in the state are. Guys back home at Havre, I usually know what they’re doing. Some of those guys I still wrestled with when I was a senior, so I have a good idea of what’s going on there. I still keep in touch with all the coaches I had in high school — Beau LaSalle and those guys.
MTN Sports: We don’t know what’s going to happen, but what’s your schooling looking like? I imagine that’s changing every day as you guys try to get set to close out the semester and head into summer break?
Filius: I’m still not quite sure. We’re on spring break right now and the professors said that they would send an email to let us know exactly what it’s going to be, but it’s looking some WebX meetings for smaller classes, if you have a class of 10 people you might have a WebX meeting for however long. Some professors are throwing all the coursework online, some of our final projects had to get modified because we don’t have access to the computer labs at Purdue. It’s kind of a fiasco, but we’ll see what happens.
MTN Sports: What’s your summer going to look like? If we throw all this stuff aside and it’s a normal summer, what are those quote-unquote months off going to look like?
Filius: Normal summer? You’ve got a run or lift in the morning, then a practice in the afternoon five days a week. That’s about 10-12 workouts per week, a day off in there somewhere, but 10-12 workouts per week, and this summer I’m going to be an intern for Shiel Sexton — they’re a big general contractor out of Indianapolis. I’ll be working on the Purdue Union Hotel renovations, so I’ll be putting my degree to work a little bit.
MTN Sports: Nice. It’s kind of nice to do that early, right?
Filius: Yeah, it’s nice to get some experience and see what it’s going to be like to get out and be an adult, have a real job for a little bit. It should be fun.