Morgan Smith, the Clan’s 197lb starter, will compete at the NCAA Division II National Championships on March 11 and 12 after taking third place in the West Super Regional this past weekend. This makes Smith just the fifth Clan wrestler to book a ticket to the nationals since joining the NCAA in the 2012–13 season.
Smith took third in his division at the regional tournament. To get that far, he had to battle through a grueling bracket where a single loss could risk ending his season. After just falling short of qualifying for the national tournament last year, Smith was determined to compete in Alabama this time around.
“This year, I focused on making sure I felt great the day before we left. For me that means making sure I’m not overly stressed and that I don’t overdo my training. I love to train, so it’s been a challenge for me to hold back in order to peak at the right time,” Smith said, regarding his preparation for the regional tournament this year.
That preparation finally paid off for the native of Lynnwood, Washington, who has the talent to compete at the national level. Head coach Justin Abdou said that the tournament was “a great result from [Smith], who had the top three wrestlers in the country in his weight class. He has been constantly improving and this is his best result in our regional tournament after three tries. He beat a very capable opponent in his bronze medal match and it was a good win that he can build on.”
The opponent that Smith took down in his final match was Central Oklahoma’s Greg Wilson, who is ranked second in the entire NCAA Division II at 197lbs and has Division I experience. The match came down to the wire, with the Smith edging out his opponent 3–2. This result is a massive boost going into the nationals, and proves that Smith can compete with anybody in the nation.
“I’m all about momentum […] Winning [that match] was great, and I plan on building upon my performance at the nationals in Alabama,” Smith said about his performance in his final match.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Clan did not fare as well in the regional tournament. The Clan had no other wrestlers qualify for the nationals, despite having two returning members of the team who qualified last year in Reid Watkins (165lbs) and Sean Molle (heavyweight), and promising competitors across their lineup.
“A disappointing end of the season for Velasquez [133lbs] and Molle who both had very good years,” said Abdou. “Velasquez had arguably the deepest weight class [in the tournament] with 10 nationally ranked wrestlers in the field. He did beat one of the qualifiers, but was unable to win the close ones. Molle lost to eventual third- and fourth-place finishers.”
Molle was able to beat one of his opponents just 10 days ago, but failed to repeat that performance this weekend.
Thus, Smith will make the trip to Alabama on his own, confident that he can become just the second all-American in the NCAA era for the Clan. When asked what his goals are going into the tournament, he replied, “My goal is to wrestle through every position, to focus on each match, to stay aggressive, and to give my full effort in every match. With that in my mind, I can beat anyone in the country, regardless of NCAA Division I, II, or III.”
Confidence is one of the most important things that an athlete can possess, and Smith certainly is confident. If he can build on that, there is a good chance that he will earn all-American status in Alabama next month.