Senior Seth Ecker was calm as he approached the Blue and Gold mat in the center of the massive Glazer Arena in the Athletics and Events Center. He took his stance in the circle and looked casually at his opponent before pinning him with one wrap-around motion.
A few moves later, Ecker defeated his first opponent and was on his way to becoming the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the meet.
Victory has become the norm in Ecker’s career as a Bomber. From his freshman season when he won against an undefeated opponent in the Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference Championships to his first-place finish in the 133-pound weight class at last year’s NCAA Championships, he has shined on the biggest competitive stages in Division III wrestling.
Ecker’s brother Leif has attended most of Ecker’s tournaments since he started wrestling for the Blue and Gold. He said Ecker’s stoic demeanor before a match is sometimes mistaken for a lack of enthusiasm.
“A lot of wrestlers just go around and put the meanest face on that they possibly can to intimidate you, but he’s not like that,” Leif said. “He’s pretty even-keeled all the time, which caused people who don’t know him to underestimate him at first.”
Leif, who is five years older than Ecker, said the two of them were rough and competitive with each other when they were young. Leif is four inches taller than Ecker, standing at 6 feet tall to Ecker’s 5-foot-8 frame.
The only one of his four siblings to wrestle at the collegiate level, Ecker said he benefitted from being the smaller of the two when they wrestled. He said being smaller forced him to be more precise in his movements, which compensated for the weight difference between him and Leif.
“No matter what I did, I wanted to be the best at it, or at least be better than my brother,” he said. “I always had to focus more on technique because I couldn’t just muscle a move and erase a mistake.”
The Pottstown, Pa., native said he has always focused on the more subtle nuances of wrestling since he started competing in the sport at five years old. He wrestled all through middle school, practicing twice a day, before competing for an elite wrestling group called the Steel Mat Club, which prepared him to be recruited for college teams.
Kriss Bellanca, one of four coaches in the club, invited Ecker to compete with the club prior to his sophomore year of high school.
Ecker participated in strength and agility workouts during the summer with many wrestlers on the Steel Mat Club who also wrestle for the Bombers, such as David Priest ’11 and graduate student Nick Sanko.
Both Ecker and Sanko have matching tattoos of the Superman “S” on their back between their shoulder blades to signify their membership in the Steel Mat Club. Ecker said the tattoos symbolize the pride they took in their hard work with the club.
“For both of us, wrestling was one of the first things in our lives where the hard work we put in was directly related to our success, and that empowered us early in our
careers,” he said.
Ecker said his experience training with the Steel Mat Club has had a positive impact in all his collegiate matches, but the pinnacle of his career came March 12 when he won a national title in his weight class.
Ecker said the most intense part of the NCAA Championships was right before the 133-pound final match when he was feeling joy, nervousness and excitement.
In the final, Ecker squared off against then-senior Mike McInally from Rochester Institute of Technology, a wrestler from his weight class that he had defeated in the
“For me, I liked the pressure of the moment,” he said. “Being ranked third, I was on a mission to prove to everyone that my ranking was wrong, and I deserved the title just as much as the other guy.”
Ecker would take down McInally 6-2 in the second match of their careers to become the college’s first national champion since Tommy Hall ’02, who also wrestled at 133 pounds.
Senior Max Cohen said honesty is Ecker’s best quality.
“It’s great to have him as a friend and teammate because he’ll always put things into perspective and is willing to tell you things you may not want to hear,” Cohen said.
Senior Tom Heckman said Ecker downplayed earning District I All-Academic honors as a business administration major. He said Ecker is always motivated to perform better academically.
Though Ecker said he remembered being so overwhelmed by wrestling that he left the wrestling room in tears as a child, he said meeting other wrestlers helped him notice the mutual respect between opponents and motivated him to continue with the sport.
“When you meet another wrestler, whether he was a state medalist or a national champion, you have a common ground and a common respect for each other,” he said. “And that’s one of the things that has pushed me through the sport and always made it fun.”