Ryan Sheldon’s turnaround led to him taking down the competition.
Coe’s 184-pound sophomore dedicated more time during the holiday break to refine his technique, which resulted in an impressive second half of the season.
Sheldon is the Kohawks second-highest ranked wrestler, entering the NCAA Division III Central Regional wrestling tournament Saturday at Five Flags Center in Dubuque. The field consists of all Iowa Conference programs, Cornell College, Augustana (Ill.) College and Knox (Ill.) College with action beginning at 9 a.m. The top three individual finishers at each weight advance to the national tournament March 15-16 at Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Sheldon has put himself in position for an NCAA Championships berth due to the added work over the holidays.
“We went back and watched a lot of film,” said Sheldon, noting the coaching staff was one of the reasons he chose Coe after a solid prep career at Cedar Rapids Kennedy. “We evaluated what I needed to do and fix. It’s been working and we keep working on those things.”
Coe Coach John Oostendorp said he recognized the change in Sheldon’s performance. It was a matter of getting Sheldon to transfer his strength, athleticism and mental toughness from practice to competition.
“Ryan has natural toughness,” Oostendorp said. “Since Christmas, he has transitioned that to his matches. He can be very effective when he wrestles that way.”
The win that sparked Sheldon came before the break, beating 10th-ranked Logan Einerson of Dubuque in a dual Dec. 8. He started firing on all cylinders at the National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals on Jan. 12. Sheldon went 3-0 at the event, including two major decisions. He carried it over to Cornell’s Matman Invitational, earning Coe’s only title and beating Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s then eighth-ranked Matt Rieckhoff in the semifinals.
Sheldon recorded 12 straight victories and 13 of his last 14. He enters the regional qualifier with a 23-10 mark.
“I started wrestling better and then won a couple big matches,” Sheldon said. “That gives you more confidence. I won those big matches because the coaches helped me and then you trust the coaches more and you do what they ask of you. It works out.”
A strong group of workout partners have helped Sheldon make strides. He is quick to praise Coe assistant Tyler Burkle, 174-pounder Ethan Ball, 10th-ranked Donnie Horner at 197, backup heavyweight Corey Becker and freshman Casey Rohret. He is exposed to Burkle’s technical skill, finesse from Ball and physicality and hand-fighting from the bigger guys.
“They all have different styles,” Sheldon said. “Between those three elements, it helps me round out my wrestling.”
Oostendorp said Sheldon reverted to his old ways in his lone setback after the new year.
“I think his biggest gain is he’s putting more pressure on people,” Oostendorp said. “He’s dictating the pace of the match and by doing that it has allowed him to get to his offense. He’s a brute when he’s competing at the level he is capable.”
Sheldon is also fueled by a competitive nature. Not only does he hate surrendering points in matches and practice, he can’t stand to lose in video games and even simple softball and volleyball games with teammates get heated due to their attitudes toward winning. Sheldon’s dad, Mike, helped foster that mentality refusing to give in and let his son win games. He had to earn any triumphs, which developed the desire to be the best.
“The feeling after a hard loss, you just don’t want to experience it again,” Sheldon said. “It could be anything. I hate losing.”
He faces a tough challenge, despite his recent successes. The 184-pound bracket includes Buena Vista’s second-ranked Brian Broll, Wartburg’s Sam Upah and Einerson. Sheldon has lost to Broll and Upah and beat Einerson by two.
“He needs to continue to build on a good body of work this second semester,” Oostendorp said. “He’ll have good matches. It’s a tough regional bracket. He has to take advantage of every second of those seven-minute matches.”
The idea of competing at the national tournament in his hometown is attractive. His attention has to be solely on Saturday. Sheldon realizes he has to perform well to reach the NCAA field to get a shot to become an All-American.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Sheldon said. “You know your focus is on regional, because you have to make it there to do something.”
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