Five Mesa wrestlers ready for national tournament experience
Daniel Salazar may or may not be wrestling his final tournament for Colorado Mesa University.
The uncertainty stems from the fourth-year wrestler’s freshman year, when he missed the second half of the season with a knee injury. He is seeking a medical redshirt from the NCAA, which won’t rule on the request until after the season.
But Salazar is sure of one thing as he enters the NCAA Division II Championships this weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If he doesn’t get the redshirt year, he wants to end his career with a national title. If he does get the redshirt, he wants to win two national titles.
Salazar thinks he will get the redshirt season, but he can’t bank on it. So, he will approach Friday and Saturday as if this is it for him as a Maverick. It’s the approach he’s taken all season.
“Where I’ve been keeping my head at all year is this is going to be it,” said Salazar, who is 30-4 and ranked No. 3 at 141 pounds. “And if it is, I don’t want to have any regrets going out of here.”
James Martinez became the first CMU wrestler to win a Division II championship last year, and Salazar wants to become the second.
“It’s been my goal since Day 1 coming to college,” Salazar said of the national title.
Like Martinez, Salazar didn’t win a state title in high school, but he came close, finishing runner-up twice at Palisade High School. As a result, he said, “I kind of have that chip on my shoulder.”
Salazar wrestled at nationals a year ago and finished 1-2. He lost his first-round match 2-1, won a consolation match 7-3, then bowed out of the tournament with an 8-6 loss.
He believes he could have won those close matches.
“I made little mistakes,” Salazar said. “I feel like I lost the matches rather than got beat.”
But the experience was valuable, and he believes it will benefit him the second time around. Salazar also has more confidence because he knows this: “I’m a much better wrestler than I was a year ago. I better be with the work I put in.”
Salazar is one of five Mavs competing at the national tournament Friday and Saturday. He is joined by seniors Drew Schuman (149), Zak Slotten (184) and Marcus Haughian (197) and junior Nick Swanson (165).
READY FOR LAST CHANCE
While Salazar may get another year, Schumann will not. He already had a redshirt season, so his fifth year at Mesa is definitely the end, and the Montrose High School alum is driven by that.
He believes he has the ability to be the national champ, and he has some wins this year to back up that thinking. He beat the second-ranked wrestler during the regular season along with several other returning national qualifiers.
He also has the benefit of previous experience at nationals, although last year’s showing was disappointing.
“I got a little shell-shocked last year,” said Schumann, who was 0-2 at nationals as a junior. “I went into the arena, saw all the people, saw all the mats. ... That moment was just overwhelming.”
He’s positive the surroundings won’t get to him this year.
“I know I belong there, and I know what I need to do,” said Schumann, who is 21-6 and unranked, but he had been ranked No. 4 late in the season.
He placed third in Region IV to qualify for nationals, but that finish doesn’t faze him.
“Getting (to nationals) was the main goal (at the regional),” Schumann said. “Getting there and being national champion, that’s what I want to be more than a regional champion.”
GOT WHAT THEY CAME FOR
Haughian and Slotten also are wrestling their final tournament for Mesa, and each wants to at the very least be an All-American if not a national champion.
Slotten (11-5) returned to the wrestling team this season after two years away with the mission of qualifying for nationals.
Haughian transferred from Division I Grand Canyon University in the offseason, knowing he would get only one year with CMU, but it was going to give him an opportunity he couldn’t get at Grand Canyon.
The Antelopes, who wrestled in the RMAC when they were in Division II, moved to Division I two seasons ago, and they’re still in a probationary period that prohibits them from participating in the postseason.
Haughian said he was a three-year starter for Grand Canyon, but with no postseason reward to pursue, he chose to transfer.
“I came here to see if I could get one shot at a national tournament,” said Haughian, who is 16-8. “Postseason to me is more important (than being in Division I). I want to be an All-American.”
SEIZED HIS OPPORTUNITY
The only national qualifier who knows for sure he has another year at Mesa is Swanson, who became a starter midseason after Jessie Hoffschneider was sidelined with an injury.
Swanson (23-9) made the most of his opportunity.
“It definitely was a long road to get to this point,” he said. “No one expected this.”
Swanson wants to make his trip to nationals memorable, and he can do that just by winning his first match.
Swanson, as a fourth-place regional finisher, must face a regional champ in the first round, and he gets St. Cloud State’s Clint Poster, who is undefeated and ranked No. 1. Poster also is the wrestler Martinez needed overtime to beat in the national semifinals last year.
Rather than lament the draw, Swanson said he relishes it.
“I’m really excited to go out there and see how I do against the No. 1 guy in the country,” he said. “I’ll be the underdog. No one expects anything from me. The pressure’s off. Just go wrestle, have fun, wrestle the best I have in my life.”
Swanson isn’t alone with a tough draw. Mesa coach Chuck Pipher said all of his wrestlers have a challenge of some sort in the first round.
Slotten will face the No. 2-ranked 184-pounder, Travis McKillop of Pitt Johnstown.
Haughian opens against a returning All-American who beat former Maverick Paco Retana at nationals last year.
Schumann faces a returning All-American who knocked him out of nationals last year.
And Salazar faces an All-American from three years ago.
“We need to have some good wins by guys,” said Pipher, adding he hopes CMU can place in the top 10 like it did last year.
Success at nationals, Pipher said, often comes down to “the guys who have the right mindset. ... It’s just a matter of getting ‘on’ at the right time. You see it happen every year.”