Seniors fight for glory at NCAA Wrestling Championships
David Terao, John Boyle and Mitchell Wightman compete in NYC
Three senior AU wrestlers traveled to New York City to compete for a national title at the 2016 NCAA championships led by head coach Teague Moore. For some, the time spent on the mat at Madison Square Garden ended all too soon. For one wrestler, however, the ride lasted longer than anyone outside of AU’s wrestling program could have expected.
Senior captain David Terao, earning his NCAA spot with a wild-card selection, led the Eagles with a fourth-place finish, taking down four competitors over the course of the weekend to earn All-American honors.
“[The weekend] has been...the word I like to use is vindicating, just because, like, my whole career, I’ve gone to this tournament, and I think I performed well, but I could never hit that mark that I really wanted to,” Terao said. “This tournament, I surpassed other people’s expectations. Didn’t quite meet my own, but I still surpassed everything I’ve done in the past. It’s just been absolutely incredible.”
Athletic Director Billy Walker, a former collegiate wrestler himself, said he hopes Terao’s performance will demonstrate the level of commitment and ability of the student-athletes to the AU community.
“We can be competitive like this in everything. We’ve done it in other sports, and David’s obviously competing at the highest level here, and we’ve got a great staff with coaches around the board,” Walker said. “All our sports can do that, and we see that in some of our other sports right now, so this is going to be great for our whole department.”
Terao has represented the Eagles at four NCAA Championships in as many years. His work and determination have not gone unnoticed by his teammates, especially fellow senior captain John Boyle.
“He was a great representation of what wrestlers go through, all the hardships he’s had to go through these past three years and finally pushing through,” Boyle said. “It just shows that hard work pays off and David achieves that.”
Seeded 10th coming into the tournament, Boyle earned his 100th career win against Dylan Cottrell of West Virginia on Thursday. The following day, Boyle dropped into the consolation bracket after falling to Cody Pack of South Dakota State 5-3. Boyle recorded a 4-2 win in his wrestleback on Friday night, notching his 101st win before being knocked out of the tournament by No. 2 seed Thomas Gantt of North Carolina State.
“I’m very grateful for everything, [and] if there’s one venue to go out on, MSG is probably one of the best ones, being so close to home,” Boyle said. “I’m really grateful for everything that Teague and AU has done for me.”
Boyle earned the team MVP award last season in his first year as captain. This year, Boyle earned his second straight trip to the NCAA tournament after advancing to the finals at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships earlier this month.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” Boyle said. “I couldn’t be the type of leader I am without the guys behind me too, you know. They helped me as much as I helped them.”
Boyle’s teammate, Mitchell Wightman, finished out his five-year wrestling career in a different uniform than the one he started in as a freshman. After Boston University discontinued its wrestling program in 2014, Wightman came to AU as a graduate student in search of one more year as a collegiate athlete. Five months after his first match as an Eagle, Wightman ended his athletic journey with an appearance on one of the nation’s biggest stages as one of AU’s three NCAA qualifiers.
Wightman was defeated 8-4 Thursday morning by University of Northern Iowa’s Cooper Moore before being knocked out in the first round of wrestlebacks by Tyrel White of Columbia.
“I’ve been wrestling since first grade, and it’s been a long road, and just being able to renew my lease on wrestling has been amazing,” Wightman said. “I’m just grateful I have the opportunity to be at American with such a great team, great teammates.”
The trip acted as a homecoming of sorts for Wightman, who grew up an hour away from the Garden in Warwick, New York.
“Everyone in the wrestling community in New York is here so just walking around, I’m seeing people everywhere I go, like literally everywhere,” Wightman said. “I’ll be outside, and I’ll just see people that I’ve known for a long time in the wrestling community, and it’s great.”
Moore said he hoped the achievements of the three athletes would inspire current and future AU wrestlers to reach higher until they find themselves standing on the championship podium.
“You can’t replace David, you can’t replace John, you can’t replace Mitch, you can just look for the next generation that will grow from this,” Moore said. “All we can coach is that every young man who comes in the program can do the same thing. Maybe they can get on the stage for the national finals and bring home a national title. That’s the big piece.”
Shannon Scovel contributed heavily to this story.