In Kiewit Gymnasium where the Hastings College Bronco Wrestlers practice, a picture frame holds Brad Cusatis' old wrestling shoes and headgear. Each day, every wrestler sees the mementos of a teammate who died tragically in September 2012.
"He was obviously a really big part of our program," said Grant Harrill, a junior who was Cusatis' teammate for a year and a half. "He was essentially the heart of our team. I think this is a great idea, honoring him by naming the tournament after him."
On Saturday, January 11th, the Hastings College Bronco Wrestling team will host its second annual Cusatis Open at Lynn Farrell Arena. Wrestling starts at 9:00 am.
Like the shoes and headgear, the Hastings College Bronco Wrestling team chooses to use this meet as motivation to accomplish its goals as a team and also as individuals.
Connor Blanco, a redshirt Junior who competed with Cusatis for two years said, "Not only winning the tournament is a big deal, but knowing it is the Cusatis Open and he was a part of our family, winning it might push us or motivate us to do better."
Cusatis remains an inspiration to Harrill.
"Ever since he passed, I've kept him in my head as I am wrestling," Harrill said. "He has left a lasting impression on me, and he is always in my head."
Sophomore Blake Fruchtl described Cusatis as "a pit bull, mean, in your face kind of a wrestler."
"We all have a chance to compete and he doesn't. It just goes to show how lucky we all really are," said Fruchtl.
Throughout the last year, the Cusatis family and the Hastings College Wrestling team have stayed in contact.
Blanco hopes Cusatis' spirit lives on through this tournament, not just in the minds of Hastings College wrestlers but for others competing.
"Hopefully the champions of this tournament will realize what Brad did for our team, what contributions he could have provided by his senior year," Blanco said. "Hopefully they will realize that he was a really good guy."
Heading into the weekend, the Broncos have been working hard, trying to get back into shape after the long holiday break.
"We came back this last week and had two-a-days Wednesday all the way through Sunday," Fruchtl said. "I think a lot of us are excited to be competing."
"I know we've been hitting it hard, and we're still pretty sore, but I think Coach [Shawn] Kelly has gotten us to a mindset and a focus level to where we can do pretty good," he said.
Courtesy Hastings College Sports Information