Mavs' Stelling resolute in commitment to make nationals
For Jonathon Stelling, one thing was horribly wrong with Colorado Mesa University qualifying a school-record seven wrestlers to the NCAA Division II Championships a year ago.
He was not one of the seven. Or, he didn’t do what he needed to do to make it eight.
Instead, Stelling said, “I was one of the three,” as in the three Mavericks who did not place in the top four at the Super Region IV tournament to earn a berth at the national meet.
“It was very heart-wrenching because you look back and see the things you could’ve done differently,” said Stelling, who did not place at the regional at 133 pounds. “I feel I could’ve given more.”
Stelling decided he wasn’t going to feel that way again. Knowing he had one season left at Mesa, he committed to doing everything possible to ensure his senior season would end with no regrets. And it would end in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the national tournament.
That started with a decision in the summer, when his weight was about 150 pounds, to cut down to 125 pounds for his final season.
“I have a lot more energy. I can tell I’m stronger than most (125-pounders),” Stelling said. “I’m definitely one of the bigger 25-pounders. Actually, I know I’m the biggest (in the region). . .. Wrestling smaller kids makes things a lot easier.”
In addition to the new weight class, Stelling committed to working harder than he ever has.
Standing in CMU’s wrestling room Wednesday afternoon, Stelling again emphasized his determination to end this season with no regrets.
“This year I feel I’ve done everything I can in practice and matches,” he said. “I wrestle every match in here like it’s a nationals match.”
That brings Stelling to today in Gunnison at Western State Colorado’s Mountaineer Field House, where he and nine of his teammates will compete in the two-day Region IV Championships, trying to qualify for nationals.
Stelling will step on the mat with a 20-4 record and confidence that has grown throughout the season. It helped him claim the 125-pound title at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championships a month ago, and he did not hesitate when he said of the regional, “I’m going to win it.”
The nine RMAC schools plus another seven teams form Region IV, and Stelling said, “There’s only one kid out of that entire group that I’ve lost to, and that was in overtime.”
He will take the mat with an approach that also is new this season.
“I don’t want to say I don’t care,” Stelling said, pausing to choose the right words, then adding, “I’m not stressed out.”
He said caring too much put unnecessary, self-imposed stress on him in past seasons. This season, being relaxed has him wrestling better, and he wishes he’d figured that out earlier in his career, but it’s better late than never.
“I’m going to enter the tournament like it’s just another tournament, and I just don’t really want to lose a match,” he said.
Stelling has company in the last-chance-to-reach-nationals department. Mesa senior Zak Slotten returned to the team after two years away and with one year of eligibility remaining, and the 184-pounder intends to get that trip to nationals that has eluded him.
Mavericks coach Chuck Pipher said Slotten finished one place away from reaching nationals in each of his three previous regionals.
“My ultimate goal is to be an All-American,” Slotten said after Mesa’s 30-10 win over Chadron State in an RMAC dual on Feb. 12. “I’m going to get ready these next two weeks and show up ready to go and get after it.”
It’s also the final regional for Mesa senior Drew Schumann, who reached nationals a year ago and went 0-2. He takes a 17-5 record at 149 and a No. 4 national ranking to Gunnison, but he knows past performance and national rankings don’t guarantee return trips to nationals.
“To have people believe I’m one of the top wrestlers in the country is an honor, but anything can happen on any given day,” said Schumann, who joined Stelling as an RMAC champ. “I’m trying to keep my head level and not get too nervous and try to do my thing.”
Redshirt freshman Jason Buhr, who earlier this week was honored as the freshman of the year in the RMAC, has eyes on a nationals berth at 157.
“I’m excited just to have a chance to compete in that kind of environment,” Buhr said of the regional. “I’m excited to prove I’m one of the best.”
For his ultimate goal this postseason, Buhr said, “All-American this year, for sure. After that, national championship.”
The rest of the Mavs’ regional lineup will be Madison Gambrell, 4-7 at 133; Daniel Salazar, 27-4 and seeded No. 1 at 141; Nick Swanson, 20-7 at 165; Randy Boerner, 6-5 at 174; Marcus Haughian, 13-6 at 197; and Colter Bentley, 3-9 at 285.
Salazar and Boerner are returning national qualifiers, and Boerner placed in the top eight, making him one of Mesa’s three All-Americans last season.
Pipher thinks the Mavericks can duplicate last year’s success at the regional, saying, “On paper we can. On the mat we’ll see. On paper, I think we can get eight (national qualifiers). Any less than six would be a disappointment. Seven or eight would be good.”
Colorado Mesa is ranked No. 11 in the nation as a team, and Pipher said the Mavs are working hard, attitudes are good, and they’re wrestling well.
And they’re one other thing that matters greatly come the postseason.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been all year,” Pipher said.