Walking into the U.S. Cellular Center on March 14 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, six members of the wrestling team hoped to leave as individual national champions. Two came out with All-American honors, and the other four returned defeated but optimistic for next season.
Junior captain Alex Gomez earned All-America honors and finished second in the 133-pound weight class at the NCAA Division III Championships. Gomez finished his season with a 32–4 record and was ranked No. 1 nationally in the 133-pound weight class by the National Wrestling College Association throughout the year.
The 2014 National Championship was Gomez’s second trip to the big stage, but this year, Gomez said, he was more motivated because he decided this past season would be his last for now.
“As of now, I don’t think I’m going to be competing next year, but maybe my graduate year,” he said. “I just want to focus more on my academics for now. [Fall semester of senior year] is going to be a hard semester.”
Gomez earned All-America honors, finished his season with a 32–4 record and was ranked No. 1 nationally in the 133-pound weight class by the National Wrestling College Association throughout the year. Gomez finished the first day of competition with two wins. Because of the immense crowd, he said he could feel the excitement, even as early as the 9 a.m. weigh-ins.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “We had the first round and quarterfinals the first day, and the crowd was amazing — there was just screaming everywhere. I can’t even describe it. It was just fun being there and everyone watching you.”
On the second day of matches, Gomez went into the championship match against the No. 1 seed and defending national champion, senior Kenny Anderson of Wartburg College.
During the match, Gomez scored the first two points in the second period, but Anderson countered with two points of his own in the third period. The match went to overtime where Gomez said he left himself vulnerable for attack by being too open in his stance. He said he accounts his second-place finish to that error.
“It was just one mistake,” he said. “I was so confident and ready to go. I had done everything that I needed.”
Anderson also acknowledged the equal skill level between himself and Gomez and said the intangible skills would decide the outcome of the match.
“In overtime, you can throw skill out the window, conditioning, because it’s all heart,” Anderson said in a press conference after the match. “As the match went on, I just kept my cool and knew I was still in good shape. I knew I was gonna be there eventually.”
Though Gomez didn’t reach his goal of being a national champion, he said he isn’t disappointed by this season.
“My goal was to win it, but I’m happy,” he said. “I improved a lot. I did everything I needed to do right. I definitely improved from last year. I can’t be down on myself for taking second.”
Fellow junior Kris Schimek also earned All-America honors and placed fourth in the 165-pound weight class. He also said his one mistake caused his elimination from the tournament.
“I was nervous because you don’t want to make a mistake at Nationals,” he said. “I was tied going into the third period, and I made the mistake of choosing bottom over top. Coach told me to go wherever I wanted, so it’s my own fault. It happens.”
Freshmen Jimmy Kaishian and Carlos Toribio made their first trip to Nationals in the 125-pound and 174-pound weight classes, respectively.
Kaishian defeated SUNY Cortland senior Sean Kempf in his first match. In the quarterfinals of the first day of matches, the No. 2–seeded Gilberto Camacho of Wartburg defeated Kaishian. In the consolation bracket, Kaishian was defeated in the first 40 seconds of the overtime period. He finished his season with a 24–13 record.
Toribio lost in the first round to No. 5–ranked junior Conner Lefever of Wabash College, whom Toribio had previously defeated in the regular season. In the consolation bracket, Toribio defeated sophomore Jamie Jakes of Alma College but was then defeated by junior Nicholas Allen of Olivet College to end his time at Nationals. He finished the season with 25 wins.
Both wrestlers said they are coming out of the experience more motivated.
“It’s not as intimidating as I built it up in my mind to be,” Kaishian said. “You make little goals that are attainable, and you set goals that maybe seem unattainable. I trained to be a national champion this year. Obviously, I didn’t get there, but I got somewhere.”
Toribio said he needs to be more prepared for Nationals next season.
“My conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be,” he said. “I think that if I get in better shape, I will be ready to go. I don’t think that the other kids were better than me. I just think they were in better shape.”
Junior Kevin Collins and senior Dom Giacolone both ended their championship runs on the first day. Collins faced No. 2–seeded Dimitri Boyer of Coe College in the first round. He finished his season at 24–15, his most career wins in a season.
The Bombers finished 11th in the overall team standings with 30.5 points. Kaishian said the team now needs to focus on going into next season.
“It’s really important to stay focused and set goals in the off-season that are maybe a little different,” he said. “Being consistent in the off-season is important.”