The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team is set to add its 22nd member to the UTC Athletics Hall of Fame this week in 2005 All-American Michael Keefe. He is one of five Mocs being inducted at Friday’s banquet at the Chattanooga Country Club.
Keefe (2004-07) was a two-time Southern Conference Champion at 141 pounds and is UTC’s career wins leader with a 134-40 record. The four-time qualifier for the NCAA Championships was also a three-time All-SoCon performer and graduated with the most wins in league history.
Keefe earned All-American honors as a sophomore in 2005 finishing fifth at the NCAA Championships at 141 pounds. He led the Mocs to three consecutive league titles from 2005-07.
Keefe tallied 36 wins as a junior in 2006 and 35 as a sophomore in 2005. Those rank No. 4 and 5 on UTC’s single-season wins list, respectively. His .814 winning percentage in 2005 is ninth all-time at Chattanooga.
“I was kind of surprised,” said Keefe when he heard about his induction. “I thought you had to be a pretty big deal.”
Well, being an All-American, especially in wrestling, is a pretty big deal.
All-American status in collegiate wrestling is solely based on performance at the NCAA Championships. It is not voted on by the media or coaches. Instead, it is earned with a top eight finish in any of the 10 weight classes at the tournament.
The field at the NCAAs consists of the top 33 wrestlers at each weight and each is capable of making a run to the podium.
“It was a tough weight class that year,” commented Keefe on the 141 bracket in 2005. “In the second round, I wrestled the runner-up from a year before. In the quarterfinals, I wrestled the number three or four seed.”
After opening with a 13-5 major decision over Minnesota’s Tommy Owen, Keefe ran up against Nebraska’s Matt Murray. Murray was the runner-up in 2004 and the No. 6 seed in 2005.
“I was behind for most of the match, and in the third period I was down,” recalled Keefe. “I was on the bottom and I’d given up over a minute of riding time. It felt like I couldn’t get off the bottom, but when there was about 20 seconds left I got an escape. There was probably 16 seconds left before the end of the match when I got the takedown for the win. It was probably one of the hardest matches I ever wrestled.”
Keefe was able to advance behind his 8-6 decision over Murray, setting up a semifinal match against Michigan’s John Churella. Churella was another tough opponent and seeded third in the tournament.
“That was also a tough match,” added Keefe. “He was real solid. It was hard to score on him and it was one of those things that it came down to giving up riding time. I had to score a takedown just to win the match because I was down by a riding time point. I took him down in the same situation. With about 15 seconds left I scored a takedown and that put me up by one, and I had to ride him out to win the match.”
His run ended with a loss to eventual national champion Teyon Ware of Oklahoma, but his appearance in the quarters had already secured his All-American status.
“I really believed that I was going to win the national tournament. I had been praying a lot that year and focusing on having peace in my mind and just getting rid of all the doubts,” said Keefe about his mental approach to the tournament.
“I think as a wrestler you always face doubt going into main competition. I think my biggest thing was just praying, just that entire year just keeping my mind positive and my mind focused on winning. I think that was the biggest difference for me going in and knowing I was going to win...believing I was going to win.”
Successful wrestlers are known for having a tremendous amount of self-discipline. From eating, to working out and training, the good ones are regimented in every thing they do. One thing that Keefe credits as a big help was to not look ahead or see what the possible matchups were in the Championship. He knew everyone was good, and just waited until it was time to hit the mat to see who he was going up against.
“You know it’s funny, but I didn’t look at the brackets,” said Keefe. “At a certain point, I used to look at brackets and stress over it. My coaches said ‘Why even look at it?’ The last couple of years I wrestled at UTC I didn’t see them. Brackets would come out early, and I would never look. I wouldn’t know who I wrestled until they called my name at the tournament.”
Keefe went on to get his degree in Sociology in 2007 and has since earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Valdosta State. He is currently the head wrestling coach at Dalton High School in nearby Dalton, Ga.
The Class of 2014 inductees into the UTC Athletics Hall of Fame will be honored at the Hall of Fame Banquet on Friday, March 28 at the Chattanooga Country Club. The event is open to the public and starts with a VIP reception at 6:00 p.m. Seats are $30 per person and include dinner that begins at 7:00 p.m. Contact the UTC Alumni Office (423-425-4785 – www.mocsconnect.com) for more details, or to reserve a seat.