Mesa’s Salazar wraps up wrestling career with 4th-place finish at nationals
From a guy who only got one college recruiting call to an All-American.
It was quite a finish for Colorado Mesa 141-pound senior Daniel Salazar, who placed fourth Saturday in the NCAA Division II national wrestling championships in Birmingham, Alabama.
“It’s definitely a little disappointing, but it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened,” Salazar said Saturday night after receiving his fourth-place trophy.
After losing 10-6 in a whirlwind semifinal match to 2016 national champion Darren Wynn of McKendree, Salazar scored a third-period nearfall in the consolation semifinals, coming oh-so close to pinning Joshua Ailey of Central Oklahoma in a 13-7 victory. Wynn lost in Saturday night’s championship match.
Salazar’s consolation semifinal victory put him into the match for third place against Nick Crume of the University of Indianapolis. Despite going up 2-0 in the first period, Salazar was outscored 6-0 in the second and lost 9-3.
He finished his season 30-11 and his stellar career 144-40 with three trips to the national tournament.
“He was such a hard worker, a great heart and character kid,” CMU coach Chuck Pipher said. “You couldn’t ask for better.
“Two weeks ago he placed fourth in regionals. From fourth in regionals to fourth in the nation, and three of the guys who beat him or were ahead of him (at regionals) all wound up behind him (at nationals). I’m really proud of Daniel. He worked so hard and came so far, from the years of injuries and all that.
“I’m really happy for him. He’ll be a student-athlete with a special place in my heart as far as how hard he worked. He gave us every ounce he had.”
In his semifinal match, Salazar was down 2-1 and started the second period on top. Three times Wynn got to his feet, but each time Salazar refused to give up control as they ran out of bounds. In the final seconds of the period, Salazar was trying to get Wynn turned, but got too far back and was reversed. He escaped Wynn and was down 4-2 entering the third period.
“The kid sat out on us and forced Daniel into an uncomfortable position, one Daniel doesn’t like,” Pipher said. “If we ride him out, that’s a different match going into the third period.”
Salazar escaped right away, but was taken down with 1:02 left in the match. With 47 seconds left he got a reversal to cut the deficit to 6-5, but only four seconds later, Wynn reversed him. Salazar had one last chance, scoring an escape with 31 seconds left, but on his final shot, Wynn covered him for a takedown with eight seconds remaining.
“The way I wrestle, I’m always pushing the pace, pushing forward and that opens you up to get scored on,” he said. “It’s the way I’ve always done it and I’m glad I stayed true to how I wrestle. I got out of position for a little bit. I got a little too antsy; I started smelling blood.”
Salazar had to quickly regroup for the consolation semifinals, and did, scoring an escape with one second left in the second period to lead 6-5, then gave up an escape early in the third. He took Ailey down at the edge of the mat and finally got him on his back in the final minute for a four-point nearfall.
“It’s hard to explain, no other sport is really like it,” Salazar said of having to turn around and wrestle again so quickly. “One minute you’re looking at going into the final and then you get those dreams and hopes crushed a little bit. You’ve got to get yourself put back together in about an hour, get your mind straight on wrestling again after such a big disappointment.”
Crume used a takedown and four-point nearfall in the second period to claim third place, but Salazar finished his career on the podium at the end of the night and with the title of All-American.
“I was talking to my dad after today. We’ve always known I’m there,” Salazar said. “It’s nice to finally get the hardware to prove it. I’ve always known I was right up with the top guys in the country and it’s nice to finally come home with something at the end of the season instead of disappointment.”
The Palisade High School product credited the national tournament experience the past two years with how he wrestled this past weekend.
“I was trying to almost wrestle too hard, you start thinking too much, outwrestling yourself,” he said. “This year I just focused on being nice and calm and collected out there and I wrestled a million times better than the last two.”
And now that his wrestling career, which started when he was four years old, is over?
“I never have to weigh in again in my life,” he said, laughing. “I’m already starting on that. A lot of ice cream.”