“If you look up the word ‘character’ in the dictionary, Chandler’s face will show up,” UCF wrestling head coach J.D. Robbins said.
And if you look him up on the UCF wrestling roster, you’ll notice freshman Chandler Dobler also holds the spot on the team with the most wins with 34. The next highest is 25. His most recent victory came in the 2016 NCWA Dual Meet Championship, where the team took its first dual meet championship title Jan. 23 in Dalton, Georgia.
It was the missing puzzle piece to the club’s hypothetical trophy case, as the team has racked up three national titles over the past 15 years and is aiming for a fourth coming this March.
Thanks to the combined efforts of No. 1 ranked wrestler for the 184-pound weight class, Dobler, and Team USA olympic hopeful and No. 1 ranked wrestler for the 165-pound weight class, Geordan Speiller, UCF was able to rally from behind two times to eventually take home the victory after defeating Grand Valley State.
The UCF wrestling program belongs to a specific class of schools and programs that receive little funding from outside sources and aren’t Division I, II or III NCAA programs.
In fact, UCF wrestling, like many collegiate wrestling teams, isn’t in the NCAA. It instead lives in the NCWA, or National Collegiate Wrestling Association.
“We compete mostly against NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA programs,” former UCF wrestler and current assistant coach Jason Balma said. “We are competing against guys who are scholarship athletes, fully funded programs, fully paid staffs. We are volunteers. None of these [UCF wrestlers] are on scholarship, and we are beating them.”
Since the program’s start in 2001, UCF has never been ranked in the NCWA outside of the top eight and was outside the top five two times.
“Ferrum College is a ranked Division II team, and we beat them in a dual meet,” Balma said. “I told the guys that is our program’s biggest win because we have wrestled big competition before, but we’ve never beaten a division two ranked program. In the wrestling world, we aren’t Division I, II or III. We are outside of the NCAA. If I had to rank our team right now, I would say we are probably somewhere in the top 75 out of all divisions in the US.”
In addition to being the top-ranked wrestler of the 184-pound weight class as a freshman, Dobler also spent four years right after high school in the United States Marine Corps, where he was deployed into Afghanistan in 2011 and then into Japan for the final years of his service in 2014.
After serving his country, he came back to the sport he loved, with a newfound sense of pain, reality, leadership skills and brotherhood to help lead his team to UCF wrestling’s first-ever dual championship title in program history.
“We have an immense respect for Chandler because that’s what he did,” Robbins said. “What he has done to develop his character, he has become a great leader and incredible role model for younger UCF wrestlers.”
The same can be said for his influence on teammate Nick Anthony, a senior.
“I think he has been a leader and brings positive energy into the room and can bring someone up,” Anthony said. “He is very good about maintaining an attitude that discourages weakness. [Dobler] encourages feeling strong, and even if you aren’t feeling your best that day, he pushes you to fight and get through it.”
However, Dobler isn’t the only one with a story to tell. The undefeated Geordan Speiller overcame a childhood filled with change, moving from Romania to America at the age of 5.
“Using the sport of wrestling and school, both of which are very important to him, he’s managed to straighten up and become very successful,” Robbins said. “He wasn’t a bad person. He was a very tough individual.
“I would compare him to a thoroughbred race horse that just has to get out and run. The sport of wrestling allows him to go out and compete and be tough and fight.”
Speiller, the U.S. National Greco Roman wrestling style champion for the 165-pound weight class, looks to the future as he goes from Orlando-based tournaments to foreign lands to take on wrestlers claiming to be each region’s best.
But, like Dobler, he is still chasing after greatness by doing what they both love. With the victory at the dual championship, UCF will now enter the national championship in March as the No. 1 team.
“It’s rewarding that we get to do what we do without an incentive,” Dobler said. “We do it for the satisfaction of winning. You can’t waste your time thinking about the disadvantages. Yeah, it would be nice to have everything that the football team has, but at the end of the day, you just have to do the work and go compete. It helps mentally. I’ve been in the ultimate competition, you could say: Life or death situations. When I lose, it helps me to see other things, so that it’s not end all be all and it takes a lot of pressure off. I’ve done other things worse than wrestling, and it helps mentally get me ready to wrestle.”
And wherever there’s a good player, a good coach usually isn’t far behind. That’s where Robbins stands.
“I was offered the chance to go over with the team to train them as they go from Hungary to Ukraine, but I turned that down so I can be here with UCF. But obviously Geordan had to go,” Robbins said.
A three-time USA National Coach of the Year award winner and the founder of both the California Jets and Florida Jets, Robbins still has his eyes set on one final goal before his long and successful career as a role model and coach comes to an end. And if Speiller becomes part of the USA Olympic wrestling team, that goal will be that much closer to completion.
“Geordon is a gift because he trains with coach Robbins, lives with coach Robbins, and his goal is to make the Olympic team. So the two complement each other, and without [Robbins], we probably wouldn’t have been gifted [Speiller],” Balma said.
After volunteering as an assistant to Team USA’s Olympic wrestling teams in 1996 and 2000, and volunteering in the 1998 Goodwill games, Robbins hopes to finally be chosen and given the honor of coaching his protégé and the other rising stars of the show in the upcoming Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
During his time with his company, the California Jets, Robbins helped earn 14 senior national championship titles. And since his departure, and now the arrival of his newer foundation, the Florida Jets, he has helped train local kids who are now just starting to realize their passion for the sport.
He also trains local high school students looking to become the best they can be from around the Orlando area.
With little funding from UCF and SGA coming to about a third of what the club needs, the wrestling club has had to get past the issues of financing by fundraising so that it can attend tournaments in other areas of the country to better itself and its club members’ skills.
The lack of funding combined with the fact that not one kid in the club is participating on an athletic scholarship, makes it that much more important they do well at tournaments.
As Balma said, they are here for the love of the game. And a shining example of what Balma describes is Speillers’ dedication to Robbins and the team.
Speiller will participate in his final Olympic wrestle off in Ceder Falls, Iowa, in the second weekend of April. If he wins there, he will be a member of the 2016 USA Olympic team heading for Rio de Janeiro.
“He’s training for the Grand Prix over in Hungary,” Robbins said. “The Europeans and Russians are very tough. Their main sport for men is wrestling. He is going to a camp prior to the tournament, and from there he will wrestle some of the best guys in the world, and from there he will shoot across to the Ukraine, where there is another tough tournament, where he will compete in that. From there, he’ll hustle back to the US to participate for the conference tournament held at UCF. He’s doing both, and he’s doing both very well.”
The NCWA National Championship hosted this year by UCF will take place at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee from March 10 to March 12.
Evan Abramson is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Abramson or email him at EvanA@centralfloridafuture.com