The final countdown
Trio of Mesa seniors hopes to qualify for nationals one last time
For three of Colorado Mesa University’s starting wrestlers, this is it — their final postseason, one last chance to make their college dreams come true.
Seniors Tyler Nelson (133 pounds), Jon Gappmaier (157) and Nick Petersen (184) will take the mat today and Saturday in Chadron, Neb., in their final Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament, which doubles as the NCAA Super Region 4 tourney. That means conference titles are at stake plus berths in the NCAA championships on March 8-9 in Birmingham, Ala.
The top four wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes advance to the national meet, something Nelson, Gappmaier and Petersen have done once before in their careers. Each hopes to make it twice and take one last crack at the ultimate goal, a national title. If they fall short, they’d like to at least collect All-American honors.
Although Gappmaier and Petersen qualified for nationals last year, Nelson did not. After qualifying as a sophomore, he missed the national cut by one place at the regional last year. He goes into this weekend bent on getting back to nationals, but he said he hasn’t been focused on it being his last opportunity.
“I try not to think about it too hard, because I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself that it’s my last chance,” he said. “I’m just going about it the same way as I always have and just try to make myself better every day.
“Yeah, it hurt pretty bad a year ago, but it’s not even in my head right now. All that’s in my head is I’m going to be an All-American, national champion.”
Mavericks’ coach Chuck Pipher said Nelson, who sports a 12-8 record, has his mind right at the right time.
“He knows what his end goal is,” Pipher said. “He’s super headstrong, just feels like he has nothing to lose right now. And when they get that, they can be dangerous.”
Gappmaier (13-5) was one period from joining Petersen as an All-American last year, and Pipher believes the four-year starter can take the next step in his final try.
“He knows what it’s all about and what needs to happen,” Pipher said, adding the same holds for Petersen.
Petersen (24-6) started the season strong, then had a midseason slump, but he believes he’s rounding back into form for the postseason.
He hadn’t given much thought to his career ending until a recurring question about the end drawing near arose.
“Everyone keeps asking me that same thing,” said Petersen, who was a junior college national champion in 2011 before transferring to Colorado Mesa. “It’s your senior year, you better go out with a bang, or whatever. ... I’m starting to realize it, now that it’s actually the end of the season, and it does affect you a little bit. This is your last chance, one more shot.”
The Mavericks have seven other wrestlers shooting to qualify for the national tournament: freshman Jon Stelling (22-11 at 125); sophomore Drew Schumann (19-11 at 141); sophomore James Martinez (14-3 at 149); junior Tyler Miles (13-9 at 165); junior Zak Slotten (16-3 at 174); Jordan Passehl (10-7 at 197); and Paco Retana (13-17 at 285).
Pipher wouldn’t rule out any of them from qualifying for nationals, but added, “Realistically, where we’re sitting, (qualifying) between four and six would be good with the injuries we’ve had. Any less than four, would be a disappointment. Anything over five and six would be a dang good year, getting those guys and then two or three All-Americans is what we’d be looking for.”
He’ll be without one of his returning national qualifiers, though. Junior 165-pounder Chester Granard has been out of the lineup since mid-January, unable to recover from ulcerative colitis in time for the postseason.
Pipher said Miles has filled in nicely for Granard, adding, “Tyler Miles doesn’t have the experience Chester does, but he’s worked hard and deserves to be our guy at 165.”