Five UWEC Wrestlers Grapple Their Way Into the NCAA Tournament

Blugold wrestling hits a team record of five wrestlers qualifying for Nationals

Kiara Jackson

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Photo by Leah Pflaum

Five wrestlers look forward to the NCAA Championship

With a team total of 143 points, the UW-Eau Claire wrestling team has broken a team record, sending five Blugold wrestlers to the Division three NCAA Division III National Tournament. 

Heading into the end of their season, the Blugold wrestlers will have fourth-years, Chase Schmidt and Jake Drexler, second-year, Tyler Fleetwood, and first-years, Zach Sato and Jared Stricker, represent UW-Eau Claire wrestling at the NCAA tournament this weekend. 

While having five national qualifiers is a new Blugold wrestling record, these five individuals did not do it alone according to fourth-year qualifier Chase Schmidt.

“Well, it’s not just us five… it took the whole team,” Schmidt said. “It took every single one of us to get these five to where we are at now, athletically, mentally, physically. You know? The relationship that we have with each other is what brought these guys, and all of us, to where we are at now.”

With their new record, all eyes are on UW-Eau Claire wrestling and what they will be able to do once their wrestling shoes hit the mat. According to Blugold wrestling assistant coach, Corey Meyer, expectations are running high for the wrestlers, the coaches and Blugold wrestling as a whole. 

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Meyer said. “Every single guy we have entered into the tournament can win a national title. Everyone has the skills to do it and there is nothing that these kids can’t go and do that they haven’t done before.”

First-year, and national qualifier, Zach Sato said he has vast expectations not only for himself but also for his fellow teammates. 

“I have very high expectations for us as a team,” Sato said. “I know that seating and rankings don’t really matter and they really shouldn’t, but I know that the rest of the country knows that we’re a threat now and I think we’re going to prove that when we get the chance.”

According to Fleetwood, the wrestlers have spent their whole year, including their off time, working and preparing for this moment. Fleetwood said he’s excited to be going to the NCAA tournament, being on the mat and representing his team. 

“It feels great,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this and the NCAA tournament is really just a dream come true, so I’m super excited and super blessed.”

“It’s quite an accomplishment, especially having four others there coming along with me. It kind of… made Blugold wrestling history,” Schmidt said. “There’s not that many other schools or programs that have much more guys going as we do. So, it’s really exciting, I’m looking forward to it.”

As they prepare for the tournament, one thing that each of these interviewed qualifiers agrees on is that this tournament will be just like any other; the guys will be putting in their best efforts either way. Sato said he couldn’t agree more with his fellow teammates.  

“If all goes right it won’t.” Sato said. “I really think that if we trust our preparation and trust the work we’ve put in, then it should be just the same as every other tournament and should have the same positive results.”

Jackson can be reached at [email protected].