GRAND RAPIDS — A young Grand Rapids wrestler gained valuable mat experience and achieved a huge goal recently when he competed in the U.S. Marine Corps Junior and 16U National Championship at Fargo, N.D., in the Fargodome.
Wrestlers from 47 states participated in the tournament which drew more than 5,000 athletes. Competition was in Freestyle and Greco-Roman.
Connor Wakefield, 16, a sophomore-to-be at Grand Rapids High School, wrestled at 126 pounds in the tournament while grappling with the Minnesota National Storm team. He said it was a struggle to be able to qualify for the tournament but that he was finally able to do so.
He traveled to Ada, Ohio, to wrestle in a tournament that would qualify him for the national tournament. However, he was unable to qualify in the tournament so he attended a camp conducted by the Minnesota Storm at Augsburg University. He was then able to qualify for the tournament through participation in the camp.
“At the camp we had three practices a day and we stayed in a dorm,” Wakefield explained. “It was a lot of basic stuff and you can never get too good at basics.”
When he arrived at the camp, Wakefield – who won the section title at 113 pounds last season as a high school freshman – weighed 138 pounds, and that division was filled with a ton of good wrestlers. So he decided to cut weight and entered the 126 -pound division where there were just three other wrestlers which assured him a position in the national tournament. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to national action.
Wakefield said he called Mike Schauer, Grand Rapids High School head wrestling coach, and they mutually agreed that wrestling at 126 pounds would be a good decision if he wanted to make the Storm team.
“After that I started watching what I was eating which really sucked,” said Wakefield. “Dropping from 138 to 126 is quite a bit and it was really fast, too. I held my own against a few wrestlers at the camp and there were a few that were beyond me.”
Entering the tournament, Wakefield said he knew it was going to be big and that there would be many matches going on at one time. He added that his Minnesota Storm team eventually placed second in the national tournament.
“I didn’t know that it was going to be 25 mats and there were five matches going on at one time which was nuts,” he said. “That was way bigger than I thought it was going to be. But I didn’t get nervous because I can usually keep cool; I can keep ahold of my nerves pretty well so I wasn’t nervous at all. I was just amazed.
“It was awesome and it felt good to be a part of that. I have worked hard and here I am so it was kind of like I was getting paid back a little bit for all my hard work.”
Wakefield said he learned at the Minnesota state high school tournament that he has a lot of work to be able to compete with the best wrestlers in the state. He wrestled in the state tournament with the Grand Rapids team as an eighth grader and qualified individually for the first time last season.
“Wrestling at state alone was a lesson for me that there are kids in this state that can still beat me,” Wakefield said. “So I have a lot of work to. Then to go to nationals and see how amazing these kids are, that really makes me want to work a lot harder in the wrestling room this year.”
Wakefield said he returned from the national tournament knowing he needs major improvement in one specific area.
“I need to be better on my feet,” he explained. “I need to work myself on my feet more often.”
Wakefield was asked how important wrestling has been in his life and he said, “It is extremely important; I love it. One other thing that gets me like wrestling is dirt bikes.”
By wrestling in the national tournament, Wakefield said he has achieved one major goal. He said he has more in his final three years of high school wrestling.
“I can retire with this national tournament appearance and be proud,” he said. “I would like to wrestle in United World Wrestling in another country in a big tournament. The high school and national tournaments are going to be along the way – those are milestones – but the UWW wrestling is my ultimate goal.
“And, by the time I graduate from high school, I would like to win at least one or two high school state tournaments.”