For third-year Troy Carlson, becoming an All-American has been the ultimate goal since first stepping onto the mat at Chicago.
That goal could come to fruition this weekend, as Carlson makes the trip to Cedar Rapids, IA, for the NCAA Championships, his first national tournament. Carlson enters the 174-pound bracket as the seventh seed out of 17 competitors, meaning that wrestling to seed will grant Carlson All-American honors.
“It’s already making this year better having qualified,” Carlson said. “It’s just a stepping stone to becoming an All-American, so I’m glad I qualified this year, and hopefully after this weekend I’ll come back as an All-American and do the same next year.”
Carlson has been dominant this season, compiling a 22–3 record. Still, the Cary, IL native is no stranger to disappointment in the most important matches, and that could fuel his run this weekend.
“My sophomore through senior year of high school I was the team MVP but just never accomplished my goals throughout high school,” he said. “I didn’t seem to perform well when it came down to state tournament or things like that, so that’s why this weekend could be a nice source of redemption looking back at my high school stats, and it would be a nice accolade to be an All-American this year.”
A season ago, Carlson came one win shy of qualifying for Nationals before injury cut his trip short. Wrestling in the semifinals of the 165-pound weight class at last season’s Midwest Regional, Carlson separated his shoulder.
“I forfeited that match thinking I could salvage [the] rest of tournament and finish wrestling, and it just didn’t work out—I couldn’t wrestle any more,” Carlson said. “My coach said, ‘Forfeit this match and just worry about taking third and qualifying,’ but I couldn’t wrestle from that point on, so it was pretty disappointing.”
With NCAAs just out of his reach at the end of last season, Carlson knew his goals coming into this year: “Win more matches, lose less, and qualify for Nationals at the end of the season and be an All-American.”
After starting the year outside of the national rankings for the 174-pound weight class, Carlson made his case to be counted among the country’s best by rattling off nine consecutive wins. He swept his way through five matches at the Concordia Open on November 22, earning recognition as the Open’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Two weeks later, the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) rankings confirmed what Maroon faithful already knew: Carlson had arrived on the national scene.
After starting out in the sixth spot of December’s rankings, Carlson shortly moved up to fourth, a jump justified by his contributions to a Maroons squad facing one of the toughest schedules in team history.
Over the course of the season, Carlson accrued a 10–1 record in dual match competition, scoring six falls and 48 points for Chicago overall. The Maroons came to rely on Carlson not just for points but also for momentum-changing performances.
“I think I was just expected to win more, after having two seasons wrestling, starting for us,” Carlson said. “It was just kind of expected by my team, my coaches, as well as myself.”
Thus far, winning seems to have become a habit for Carlson, who earned accolades as UAA Athlete of the Week near the beginning of the season and captured a third-straight individual UAA Championship.
Now, he hopes to continue his winning ways on the biggest stage in D-III wrestling.
Seeded seventh after his regional championship loss two weeks ago, Carlson has the advantage of a first-round bye, meaning that his first match will take place against UW–LaCrosse’s Michael Schmitz, who has compiled a 22–8 record.
Beyond that, Carlson will likely take on the undefeated two seed, Rocky Mantella of Del Valley, in the third round. An upset in that match will probably mean a showdown against either third-ranked Kyle Vanderhyde from Olivet or sixth-ranked Zach Molitor of Augsburg—the only two wrestlers that have defeated Carlson this season.
Predictions aside, Carlson wants to keep his journey through the tournament in perspective.
“If I don’t wrestle well, I can get beat by anyone, and if I wrestle well I feel like I can beat any of the guys, regardless of seeds,” he said. “I just need the same mindset versus all of my opponents—I certainly can’t look past my first round match.”
Carlson also said that the focus of practice this week has been adjusting the areas of his approach on the mat that cost him two weeks ago in the regional championship. Since then, Carlson has focused on returning to the aggressiveness that brought him into the national rankings at the beginning of the year.
“In the finals…I wrestled out of my game, and the results weren’t satisfactory,” he said. “Throughout the week I feel like I’ve corrected what I needed to, and I feel like I’ll be ready to go for this weekend. I think I just lost sight of the things that helped me succeed throughout season…. I don’t want to say I was being lazy, just definitely not moving and keeping a high pace like I usually like to.”
To wrestle to seed and finish among his class’s eight All-Americans, Carlson will need to win three matches (the tournament format allows wrestlers to lose one or, in certain cases, two matches and keep competing). Winning it all would mean taking four matches without a single loss, but that entails taking down the first, second, and third seeds of the tournament in succession.
Competition begins this morning, and the championship match takes place tomorrow at 7 p.m.