CHADRON, Neb. — March 24, 2020 — Like the other winter sports that spilled over into mid-March, the Chadron State College wrestling season hadn’t been completed before it was ended by the Coronavirus pandemic. Thus, three Eagles were left in limbo, and will never know how they might have finished at the NCAA Division II Championships that were to take place at Sioux Falls, S.D., on March 13 and 14.
The three are seniors Chase Clasen of Moses Lake, Wash., and Wade French of Harriman, Utah, along with junior Tate Allison of Moorcroft, Wyo. They were just 18 or so hours away from taking the mat when the national showdown was cancelled by the NCAA as a precautionary measure along with nearly all the other athletic events that included high schools, colleges and the pros, including the National Basketball League and Major League Baseball.
The CSC trio earned the right to compete at nationals by placing among the top three in their weight classes at the Super Region 6 Tournament in Kearney on Feb. 29. French was first, Clasen second and Allison third. It would have been the second national competition for Clasen and French and the first for Allison.
All three had done their best to prepare for their “big event.” They’d each lost weight through what Coach Brett Hunter called the team’s “weight management plan,” that includes never over-indulging at the dinner table, running extra and wrestling more teammates during practice sessions to burn up excess calories they may have been ingested.
Particularly for French, controlling his weight had been a four-year process. He was a 220-pound state champion at Herriman High School as a senior in 2016. That weight class is not available on the college level, and if he was going to continue wrestling it was either go up to at least 250 and then take on behemoths who may weigh 285, the heavyweight limit, or shed something like 30 to 35 pounds from what was normal and become a 197-pounder.
French chose the latter. It worked out well from him, even though he admits to being hungry a lot since making that decision and often had to really count the calories and work out extra hard in order to be ready for the new season.
He was the 197-pound junior college national tournament champion while competing for Western Wyoming College at Rock Springs in 2018, then transferred to Chadron State. He could have switched to a Division I program, but said he didn’t want to be anyone’s backup and not be the team’s No. 1 guy. When he learned that the Eagles didn’t have any other 197 pounders on the roster, he accepted Coach Hunter’s offer.
He finished with a 19-9 record a year ago and was 23-3 this season. Best of all, he won the Super 6 Regional Tournament titles twice and advanced to the national tournament both times.
Two of French’s losses this year came early when he was still striving to cut weight and had to do it the hard way, something former wrestlers understand.
The first setback came in the season-opener when the Eagles tangled with the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. His opponent was Eric Schultz, who finished the season with a 23-4 record and placed second in the Big 10 Conference Tournament. Schultz’s stats also include a whopping 73-5 margin in takedowns in dual matches, where he had a 13-1 win-loss record.
French also dropped a 5-0 decision to Donnie Negus of Colorado Mesa in mid-November, but later avenged that loss by scores of 9-3 and 4-1 while winning the championships at the Nebraska-Kearney Open and the Super Region 6 Tourney.
French was on a 13-match winning streak heading to the National Tourney. He also chalked up a 32-1 margin in nearfalls during the season.
Clasen won the Super 6 Region 149-pound championship a year ago, but competed up a weight at 157 this year before losing the pounds to put him back at 149 near the end of the season and finished his senior season with a 17-7 record. His only loss at his new weight was by a 2-0 score in the Region 6 finals to Sam Turner, a newcomer on the Kearney team after qualifying for the DI nationals the last two seasons while competing at the University of Wyoming.
When Clasen chose to lose weight and return to 149, Allison followed suit and dropped from 165 to 157. He lost his opening match at the Super Regional to nationally ranked Max Schneider of San Francisco State, but claimed victory in his next four bouts, including a 10-2 major decision in the one that decided third place.
Like French, both Clasen and Allison were difficult to put on their backs. Clasen finished with a 14-3 margin and Allison at 11-4 in near falls during the season.
Several other Eagles had excellent seasons besides the three national qualifiers.
Senior Brandon Kile of Hasting, competing at 133 pounds, one of Division II’s toughest this season, finished 16-10 and was among the 10 grapplers named to the RMAC All-Academic First-Team by the league’s sports information directors.
Two redshirt freshmen also gave the Eagles clout at heavyweight this winter. Mason Watt of Broomfield, Colo., filled the varsity slot and went 20-9 while primarily battling upperclassmen. In addition, Eli Hinojosa of Imperial compiled an 18-5 record while competing at open tournaments. He was the heavyweight winner at both the Doane and Rocky Mountain Open Tournaments during the second half of the season.
At the other end of the spectrum, Hunter may have found someone who can fill the 125-pound weight class well. His freshmen recruits this year included Todd Stoddard, who was a Class 2A state champion all four years at Glenrock, High School, but never while weighing in at more than 113 pounds.
Stoddard still doesn’t tip the scales at 125 pounds while eating all he wants. Therefore, he was overpowered by some of his opponents this season, but finished with an 11-20 record and pinned seven of his foes. Hunter believes that if Stoddard keeps maturing and gaining a few pounds, he’ll eventually become at least a regional contender, maybe more.
The coach also believes several other freshmen who redshirted this season also have bright futures. They include Kobe Lepe of San Fernando, Calif., Harrison Gocke of York and Evan Waddington of Wood River, Neb.
Hunter added that others may be pleasant surprises. It depends on how determined they are and how hard they work. Allison fell into that category after going 7-14 a year ago.