Gannon University redshirt freshman and 2010 Ridgway High School graduate Zack Zelcs is ready for the Division II National Wrestling Championships which will take place this Friday and Saturday in Pueblo, Colo. at the campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo.
Zelcs said the goal of making it to nationals was something he has always had.
“It’s pretty much the same as it’s always been,” Zelcs said. “I’ve always had my mind focused on being at nationals so that shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve been training for the same thing the entire season.”
Zelcs said he’s taking the experience one match at a time.
“Just wrestling the way I’ve been, hopefully hard,” Zelcs said. “Hopefully, to win it all but I look at it one match at a time.”
Zelcs advanced to nationals with a regional title last weekend in the 184-pound weight class. He opened with a 3-1 decision in the quarterfinal over No. 5 seed Shiheem Bryant of UNC-Pembroke and followed that by toppling Gary Lantz of Pitt-Johnstown in the semifinal with a 6-1 decision.
“I expected to win but it was nerve-wracking whether or not you’re going to make it to nationals,” Zelcs said. “After the semis match, all the pressure was released. It’s really stressful knowing that you can win and make it or have to fight your way back and possibly not. “
Zelcs rallied for a 4-3 decision in the championship match over Giovanni Ortiz of Kutztown to win the 184-pound NCAA Super Region I Tournament.
Zelcs enters with a 17-8 record this season after wrestling a limited schedule in his redshirt season last year.
“I feel the season’s been a big jump from where I’ve been before to now,” Zelcs said. “I’ve made a lot of progress with the coaches and other kids in the room. It seems like it’s a lot more intense when you’re actually in it. There’s less pressure when you’re a redshirt. Here, you’re actually in the lineup. Coaches expect more out of you. Everyone in the room pushes you a little harder.”
Zelcs has experience wrestling on big stages. Zelcs was a 2-time district champion as he won the 160-pound title in 2009 and the 171-pound title in 2010. Zelcs was second at the Northwest Regional Championships in 2010 and finished eighth at the PIAA championships the same year.
“The intensity is picked up a few notches,” Zelcs said. “Everyone that you wrestle with in college is just as good as you are. That’s the difficult part. Every kid in college is like a district champ, regional champ, state qualifier. Everyone's just as good as you.”
Zelcs also credits Gannon head wrestling coach Don Henry with his help with the entire team. Henry was named as the Regional Coach of the Year this season.
“He’s in there every day with us, multiple times a day,” Zelcs said. “He does whatever he can for us. We need something, he helps us out. He really takes what you can do and fills in the holes and makes you a complete wrestler.”
The opening session at the national championships starts at 11 a.m. Friday.