For Nick Velez, wrestling has been a lifelong endeavor.
The 165-pound junior received All-American honors last year at the NCAA National Championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is ranked third in the nation on InterMat Wrestling among all 165-pound Division III wrestlers.
His path here began in kindergarten, when his dad introduced him to the sport, and his improvement led him to pursue it further, he said.
“I started to get real good at it as a younger kid, and I liked it, and I kept going, and I just kept improving,” Velez said. “I kept going on that path and stuck with it.”
Coming into high school as a multisport athlete, Velez said, he had a choice to make. He said he wanted to focus on one sport to improve on, and he eventually chose wrestling.
“Up until eighth grade, I played, like, every sport,” Velez said. “I played baseball, lacrosse, soccer, football and wrestling. And then when I got to high school, I really thought about it, and I wanted to get good at one sport, so I just stuck with wrestling, and I committed to that one.”
While at Westfield High School in Westfield, New Jersey, Velez amassed 64 wins and just 15 losses.
Glen Kurz, a 1995 Ithaca College graduate who wrestled all four years for the Bombers, was Velez’s coach in high school. Velez said Kurz was just one of the reasons he chose to attend the college.
“I knew I’d fit right in with the program because I grew up doing the same technique that they do here, so I’d fit right in and it would be a smooth transition,” Velez said.
As a freshman, Velez led the team with 33 wins and was a runner–up in the Empire Collegiate Wrestling Championships and the Division III Northeast Regionals. He was also the only freshman on the team to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships.
As a sophomore, Velez posted an overall record of 37–8 and placed seventh at the Division III Championships, earning his first NCAA All-American honors.
Head coach Marty Nichols said that, as a junior, Velez has an advantage by having two years of experience under his belt.
“He’s really good on top, and he can score a lot of points,” Nichols added. “He’s working on his defense so he doesn’t get taken down or scored on. His conditioning has really come up a lot, so he’s going to be wearing these guys out, I think.”
Freshman wrestler Al Ciccitto said Velez is a constant source of motivation for the other team members.
“His hard work motivates others,” Ciccitto said. “He’s very technically sound, so a lot of other people try to watch him and learn how he effectively does his moves. He’s really good at turning kids. He’s very good on his feet as well. He’s a well-rounded wrestler; he’s good at every position.”
Nichols said he expects Velez to make some noise at nationals, which will be held March 10–11 in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, as long as he keeps improving and stays focused.
“Winning nationals, right, that’s always the expectation,” Nichols said. “If he keeps improving, he can be at the top of the podium by the end of the year — just have to keep training and keep focused.”
At this year’s Ithaca Invitational, Velez took first place in his weight class, helping the Bombers take home the team title. At his next two showings, Velez earned a third- and fourth- place finish.
As far as his plan for the rest of the season, Velez said he is already looking forward to the national championships in March.
“I’m thinking about nationals already, but I got to pace myself and stay focused on the rest of the season because it’s a long season,” Velez said. “So just taking it day by day, practice by practice, trying to get better every way I can.”