When freshman Grigol Khochiashvili arrived at Temple University last August, he had no intentions of joining the club wrestling team. It wasn’t until the day before the team’s first group practice that Khochiasvili met with head coach Kurt Paroly and realized that he had a special opportunity at Temple.
“I was still wrestling outside of school through my club,” Khochiashvili said. “At first I was in doubt because it was only a club team but I started to envision a path for myself that so few people have and to wrestle in college any way is still a great opportunity.”
After placing first at the NCWA Mid-East Conference tournament, Khochiashvili qualified for the national tournament in his first season while finishing the regular season with a 13-0 record.
“The moment I qualified for nationals, I don’t think that I have ever felt that much emotion on the wrestling mat,” Khochiashvili said. “It was so crazy and I just couldn’t stop thinking about how far we had all come from the beginning of the season.”
Khochiashvili quickly ran through the 174-pound bracket at the national tournament on March 10. He advanced past the first four rounds and defeated Julian Kennedy of Ottawa University at Arizona in the semi-final round to advance to the national championship match.
Going into the final, Khochiashvili was calm and collected and wasn’t nervous at all, he said.
“Every single time I get on the wrestling mat I put everything else aside and I think to myself about how I have one task to get done,” Khochiashvili added. “Really the main thing that I was thinking about was how far I had come in my first year and just making sure I absorbed it all.”
Khochiashvili matched up with second-seeded Luke Lardarello of Penn State Mont Alto, who he had beaten 5-2 in the Mid-East Conference Championships earlier in the season.
After a scoreless first period, Khochiashvili opened up the second period with a quick escape to take a 1-0 lead. Lardarello scored an escape of his own in the third period to tie it up at one and force the match into a sudden overtime.
Neither wrestler could register a point in the first overtime period, sending the match to an ultimate tiebreaker period, where Lardarello scored on an escape with 19 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Despite the tough loss, Khochiashvili was proud of how far the team had come after being underestimated early in the season, he said.
“When I first joined the team a lot of people doubted us,” Khochiashvili added. “I heard a lot of negative stuff from so many people whether it be about the coaches or the fact that we were only a club team, so for us to get this far and for me to get the chance to represent Temple in that way, it was the best feeling in the world.”
Khochiashvili put together an impressive resume at Central High School in North Philadelphia, which included a first place finish at the 2019 Annual Wetzel Classic Tournament. He quickly gained interest from multiple NCAA programs, including a full-ride scholarship offer from Northern Michigan University, home of the Greco-Roman Olympic national training site. Despite the NCAA attention, Khochiashvili wasn’t convinced that he wanted to wrestle after high school, he said.
“I turned down a lot of the offers,” Khochiahsvili added. “I wanted to stay focused on school at the time and a lot of people may not have done what I did, but I think I made the right decision for myself by coming to Temple.”
After joining the Owls’ club wrestling team, Khochiashvili immediately made his mark on the program not only on the mat, but off of it as well.
He is a leader in the practice room, whom teammates gravitate toward, said club president and wrestler Katelyn Rogers.
“As soon as you walk in the room he is the first one getting ready,” Rogers added. “During practice, people will always go up to him and ask questions and he just has such an impact on everyone because he motivates us and really cares about the entire team.”
Khochiashvili finished his first collegiate season with an 18-1 record, while establishing himself as a team captain and one of the best wrestlers in the Mid-East Conference.
“He wasn’t a state medalist or some nationally ranked guy coming in,” Paroly said. “He has really shown our wrestlers what type of work they have to put in if they want to see the results.”