Never giving up helped Mesa’s Nelson qualify for wrestling nationals
Mesa State College wrestler Tyler Nelson didn’t upset anyone nationally ranked or win a tournament title this season.
However, Nelson showed up every match and made his opponent earn a win.
His consistent effort paid off with a spot in the NCAA Division II Championships this weekend in Kearney, Neb. The tournament begins Friday morning and concludes with the finals Saturday evening.
“For Tyler to make it, he’s really worked hard,” Mesa State coach Chuck Pipher said. “He got with a nutritionist last year and this fall. He’s paid his dues.”
The 133-pound sophomore is one of three wrestlers who qualified for nationals, a first since the program was reinstated five years ago. Dylan Granard and Shane Miller also qualified.
Two-time defending champion Nebraska-Omaha qualified all 10 of its wrestlers, the only team to do so.
Central Oklahoma, Grand Canyon (Ariz.), Newberry (S.C.) and St. Cloud State (Minn.) each qualified eight wrestlers to the tournament at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
Nelson (15-17) drew No. 2-ranked Austin Williams (24-5) of Kutztown (Pa.) University in the first round, but Nelson is up for the challenge. Williams defeated Nelson 5-3 in the Grand Canyon Duals on New Year’s Day in Phoenix.
“Going into the RMAC was the same situation, no one expected me to qualify,” Nelson said. “I had to make the best of it. That’s what I’m going to do, have fun. Nobody’s looking at me to do anything. I’m going in really relaxed just like I did in the RMAC. There’s no pressure on me.”
Of Nelson’s 17 losses, only one was by pin and one by a major decision. Both of those came to Western State’s Jesse Cruz, who took second in the region and is on the other half of the bracket. Nelson has wrestled No. 1-ranked Todd Wilcox of Grand Canyon twice, losing 4-1 and 6-1. Wilcox (32-3) is in the same half of the bracket as Nelson.
“All year, everything was close,” Nelson said. “The only kid that beat me bad was the Western State 33-pounder. Other than that, every match has been decided by a couple points. The coaches told me to not get my head down.
“When regionals came, everything was coming together. I started wrestling better in practice. It was believing all year is what it came down to. I never stopped believing I could qualify. I didn’t quit.”
Nelson said he was a little discouraged shortly after going 0-3 in the Grand Canyon Duals, but worked through it.
“(Assistant coach Chris) Freije said, make it fun again,” Nelson said. “I was being too harsh on myself. I lost my last four duals of the season, but they were all really close matches. I wasn’t too concerned about it. I kept my head up and knew I could do it.”
Granard (28-13) drew fifth-ranked Matt Gillie (31-10) of Wisconsin-Parkside in the first round at 165 pounds. Four of the top five ranked wrestlers are in the same half of the bracket, making Granard’s road especially difficult. Granard, though, has upset more than one ranked wrestler this season.
“Chester’s had a great year,” Pipher said. “He’s had a good year as a freshman.”
Granard has placed in every tournament he’s wrestled this season. He was seeded sixth in the region and placed second.
Miller (20-14) faces second-ranked Tyler Copsey (20-0) of Augustana (S.D.) College in the first round at 197 pounds. Top-ranked Donovan McMahill (28-0), a defending national champion from Western State College, is in the same half of the bracket. Also wrestling at 197 are fifth-ranked Eli Arismendez of Grand Canyon and Adams State’s Luke McPeek, ranked sixth.
“Shane is finally healthy and has worked hard,” Pipher said. “He came out of one of the tougher weight classes in the region.
“That’s where we need to be at. He needs to believe he can beat those guys. He’s wrestled some of the top guys in the nation every weekend.”