Former Southern Wrestler Wilhelm Places Seventh in NCAA Division IIINext Year Goal: Win National Title
Zach Wilhelm learned a lesson or two during his first wrestling match of the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament, and in doing so he was able to rebound from what could have ended in disaster and instead ended up seventh in the country.
“I wasn’t as physical in my first match,” said the former Southern Regional standout and Stevens Institute of Technology junior, who placed seventh after beating Waynesburg University’s Shaun Wilson on March 11, a day after losing to Wilson. “With me, I have to bring a high level of physicality to a match to be successful, and I just didn’t do that in the first match against him. And I also brought a non-stop pace in the second match, and I don’t think he was expecting that.”
Going into the tournament as the No. 8 seed, Wilhelm was caught off guard by Wilson in their first bout, losing a 9-3 decision, and it immediately sent him to the wrestleback rounds. At that point, the highest he could have finished was third.
“We had two tough practices during the days leading up to the tournament,” said Wilhelm, a biomedical engineering major. “So, I don’t know if that was a factor, or if I just wasn’t mentally ready for it. But whatever it was, I didn’t perform like I had been the previous four weeks.”
But Wilhelm caught fire in his next bout against University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Trevor Harsch and pinned his way to the next round in 1:02. In his next bout, Wilhelm squared off against No. 7 seed Collin Saunders of Ferrum College and won a grueling, 6-5 contest.
“Once you lose that first match, you have to try to get the next-best thing, which is third,” Wilhelm said. “You have to turn it around and keep fighting your way back.”
Unfortunately, Wilhelm’s winning streak ended in the wrestleback semifinals, where he dropped a 6-5 decision to Ithaca’s Sam Schneider, the tourney’s No. 3 seed, and ended up in the seventh-place bout in a rematch with Wilson. Wilhelm won, 5-3.
“If you’re lucky enough to face the same guy later in the tournament, there’s a revenge factor that helps you get mentally prepared for that next match,” he said. “I’m satisfied that I finished as an All-American. But I went into the tournament looking to win it all. And a guy I had beaten earlier in the season was in the final, so I know I’m right up there and that I can do it. Now it’s a matter of somehow being more prepared to do it next time.”
With one more season left to his college career, Wilhelm expects to keep rising with the Ducks’ program, which at the national level has become more prominent during the past couple of seasons.
“Obviously, the goals remain the same – to be a conference, regional and national champion,” he said. “But also, behind the scenes, I want to be a captain who leads the team to another undefeated season. We’re still going up on the national scene, and it’s great to be a part of something like that.”
— David Biggy