Martinez becomes first national champion for Mesa with dramatic victory
Colorado Mesa University became an NCAA Division II program in the fall of 1992.
It took 22½ years, but when Maverick senior wrestler James Martinez scored a buzzer-beating takedown in the 157-pound final at the NCAA Division II Championships on March 14, he became the first Mesa athlete to win a Division II national title.
Not just wrestling. It was the Mavericks’ first national championship in any sport.
The accomplishment cemented Martinez’s place in Colorado Mesa’s history book, and it was voted the top local sports story of 2015 by Daily Sentinel staff members.
A dramatic finish made the championship that much more memorable for Martinez and the other six Mavericks who qualified for the national meet in St. Louis, Missouri.
He trailed 7-6 when his match against Anderson University’s Sean Turner restarted with the wrestlers in the neutral position with 18 seconds left.
Martinez went for a shot that Anderson blocked. Then, Martinez shot again and got in for a double-leg with eight seconds left. Anderson desperately sought to get out of bounds, but Martinez finished the takedown on the edge of the mat and was awarded the two points for an 8-7 win as the buzzer sounded.
Before he could celebrate, though, Martinez had to wait as officials reviewed video to ensure the takedown occurred before the buzzer.
The wait was torture for Martinez as he said of that moment: “I was between being elated that I’m the national champion to: ‘Did I just lose this match in the last second because I didn’t take the shot a second sooner?’ ”
When the takedown was upheld, Martinez had his hand raised in victory, and the celebrating began for Mesa’s first national champ.
His father was on hand to watch the match and celebrate with Martinez after the win.
“My dad, I cried with him,” Martinez said, “because he’s been with me through it all. He’s been my coach my entire life.”
About an hour after the match, when Martinez did a phone interview with The Daily Sentinel, he said, “I’m just overwhelmed, a little overwhelmed.”
It was a fitting finish for a young man who concluded his career as the most decorated wrestler in Colorado Mesa history. The Rifle High School alum was a four-time national qualifier and three-time All-American. He placed fifth and sixth at nationals in previous seasons, and he set the Mavericks’ record for wins in a season with 39 and wins in a career with 105.
Reaching the final required an equally dramatic effort from Martinez, who needed three overtimes to triumph 4-3 over top-ranked and previously unbeaten Clint Poster of St. Cloud State.
Martinez scored the winning point on an escape in the second overtime. Then, he had to ride out Poster in the third overtime. Martinez said that victory was a matter of wanting it more.
“To put it in words, I wouldn’t be doing it justice,” he said. “The entire time, when I was shooting, when I was grabbing, everything was full-hearted, and ... everything I had, every bit of energy, everything, I was not going to leave anything on the mat, and I believe I didn’t.”
In the final, just before the match was restarted with 18 seconds left, Martinez’s desire to be a champion welled up again as Mesa coach Chuck Pipher directed Martinez.
“Chuck (Pipher) looks at me and he tells me, ‘Fifteen seconds for the rest of your life,’ ” Martinez said, “and it was in my head ... That’s all I could think about, ‘Fifteen seconds for the rest of your life.’ “
That was enough time for Martinez to win a Division II national title, one that forever will be distinguished as the first ever by a Colorado Mesa athlete.