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Emma Bruntil Q&A: Training at McKendree, international competition, goals and more

by Joe Wedra, USA Wrestling

Photo of Emma Bruntil by Tony Rotundo


This year, themat.com will interview one collegiate wrestling athlete each Thursday as a part of a new Q&A series for the 2021-22 college wrestling season. Stay tuned each Thursday for a new feature, spotlighting these student-athletes both on and off the mat.


This week, we talk with Emma Bruntil, who was a 2021 U23 World team member and is training at McKendree University.


Below, Bruntil talks about many topics, including takeaways from a busy year of competing, the benefits of wrestling internationally, training in a college room and more.

Q: As you’re wrapping up a very busy season of competition, where are you at in your current training situation?


A: Training wise, I would definitely say I’m in an in-between period. I was overseas for a lot, we had World Team Trials and a lot of things, so it’s kind of the end of going overseas a bunch. We have a camp over winter break in Ukraine, but I won’t be competing since it’s just a camp. So, really right now, I’m taking what I learned from Worlds and this domestic season, and I’ll be making the adjustments. I want to fix some things so that I can put them into use later in the year when we have college competitions, and then for when I get to go overseas and other events.

Q: What are some of the biggest things that you’ve taken away now that you’re wrapping up this phase of the schedule?


A: Yeah, for me, I think it’s learning to make the mid-match adjustments – it’s so big. Especially overseas, just the European style. It’s a lot different than what we see over here. At 62 kg over here, I’m definitely one of the taller and lankier girls. Over there, they’re all tall and long. So, making adjustments and being able to adjust on the fly is something I’m continuing to work on to be the best in my Senior-level career.


It’s super important once you get to those higher levels of wrestling. And then some positional things, tactical things that I want to get better at. When you’re gearing up for a tournament, it’s hard sometimes to get in the detailed work. I want to go back, take all of the things and then test it out on the college level.

Q: Can you explain the differences and benefits of competing internationally?


A: I think a big thing internationally is you always have to be prepared because there will always be challenges. For instance, on this last trip, me and Kayla [Marano] had to fly out later than the team and got there later because there was a mix-up on COVID tests. So, we had to come back, get re-tested, all of that stuff… There’s always, on every trip, things where you have to adjust on the fly and know it’s not an ideal situation but you have to roll with it.


Stylistically, people overseas tend to be a lot more patient. A lot of them are going to buy their time, they’re going to be really patient and hit you with one really good attack. Whereas here, you’re going to get peppered with a lot of attacks, but they aren’t going to all be great. So there, they really pick and choose their spots. They need just one instance to capitalize on. That’s their game plan a lot, so those are some big ones.


But really, getting used to traveling 15 hours, a full day of travel before you get there. And then even when you get there, you have to adjust to the time change because you’re going to be super jet lagged. So, it’s really wrestling and all of those things that are logistical too.

Q: Lately, there has been a lot of conversation about getting an edge in the mental side of the sport. How do you use those areas to try to improve and grow as an athlete?


A: That’s something I’m continuing to work on… Before a match, I just try to take advantage of the opportunity in front of me and really take one thing at a time. That mindset is how I’ve wrestled my best normally. So, that’s something I’m working on, trying to be more aware… I think mentally too, getting a chance to test things out and having experiences is a big deal. For Senior-level things, that’s the thing I didn’t have for a long time is just the experience at all. So being able to gain that domestically and overseas has been a big thing confidence-wise, just knowing that I’ve been there before.

Q: What does your training environment look like right now, and what are you most looking forward to heading into the next couple of months?


A: All summer, I was with my coach Andy out in Washington. He’s been my coach since I was about 15. I train with him in the summers and whenever I’m home, so that was great. Coming back, I’m in a college room again. So now, it will be a lot of team focus areas and looking at where we’re looking to get better as a team. We do have a really good team coming back this year, I think six national champions, so that’s exciting. It’s great because SFU is back, King has a great lineup, so we’ll really get some good reps of competition…


It’s cool to get to have a team focus again. Last year was so weird with everything being separate, so it’s cool to be together again, training and pushing each other.

Q: Can you talk about the benefits of having the environment of being in a college room and what you like about training at a place like McKendree?


A: I think first and foremost, I always wanted to get a college degree and that was always a big factor for me. I knew I wanted to get a degree and it obviously helps to be able to have it paid for with the skill you have. But also, from a wrestling perspective, it is nice to have a consistent training setup.


If you’re not going the college route, you always have to be thinking about the next step, what your plan is. College-wise, it’s nice because you can just say ‘okay, I’m just going in today to practice and I get to wrestle’. So, that gets taken off of your plate a bit, and it’s really nice when you’re busy like we are.


In terms of the social environment, it’s nice because it’s a team environment and everyone cares about that. You have a lot of people supporting you and no matter how things go at a tournament, you know you’re going to come back and your teammates are going to be there either way. So that’s a nice part that I didn’t really expect to get… It’s a cool thing to be a part of because everyone you’re with wants the same things.


Q: As you look ahead, how would you describe where you are at in your career and what your thoughts are as you move ahead?


A: This year, I did do some great things, making my first National team and making my first World team. Those things are important to me, but that’s just a stepping stone to where I want to be. I want to win World and Olympic medals, and that’s been the goal for a long time.


I have a lot of things I need to get better at, but for me, I love the process of wrestling. I love training. It’s what I spend my life doing and for me, that’s exciting. I know I have things I need to get better at… it’s a nice challenge and it fires me up. I’m so excited to keep progressing. I’m excited with some of the boxes that I’ve been able to check off this year, like going to my first Olympic Trials, just a lot of firsts. I’m happy I got to experience those and it makes me want more.