CEDAR RAPIDS – Home sweet home.
Ryan Sheldon has wrestled in his hometown through his youth and prep career, remaining in the Metro for his college career.
The Coe junior and former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep will have the chance to wrestle in one of his biggest events in front of a familiar crowd and just minutes from where he has trained the majority of his life. Sheldon will make his debut at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships Friday at the U.S. Cellular. Action begins at 11 a.m.
Sheldon wrestled at the U.S. Cellular Center for an AAU state tournament in sixth grade, but has not stepped inside the renovated arena until now.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Sheldon said. “It’s nice I get to go out in front of my hometown and compete like this on a big stage.”
Sheldon is a good example of Coe Coach John Oostendorp’s vision, tapping deep area talent to continue the Kohawks’ success. Sheldon has fit in well to the Coe lineup.
“He’s a hometown guy and I want to build a program with local guys where people can continue to come on and follow him,” Oostendorp said. “There is such an advantage to being closer to your support group.”
Sheldon expects a decent crowd cheering him on this weekend, including family, friends, classmates and his former Cougars coaches and teammates. Sheldon (25-6) opens with Wabash’s top-seeded Riley Lefever (34-0) at 184, but is unaffected by any pressure or boost from familiar faces.
“Either way, I have to go out and wrestle,” said Sheldon, joining teammates Dimitri Boyer (157), Farai Sewera (165), Ethan Ball (174), Donnie Horner at 197 and heavyweight Cory Becker in the field. “It doesn’t matter if it’s on a big stage or just four people in a gym. I have to wrestle the way I know how.”
According to Oostendorp, Sheldon has wrestled better than ever this season. He is ranked ninth nationally, earning a regional runner-up finish behind Luther’s No. 8-ranked Jayden Devilbiss. He has improved in areas that left him a spot away from an NCAA berth last year.
“I think this was his breakout year,” said Oostendorp, noting Sheldon has avenged a handful of losses from a year ago. “You need to be sound in all areas when competing against those guys at a high level and I think he’s continued to develop. He’s wrestling with a lot of confidence, which you need going into the national tournament.”
Sheldon learned a vital lesson last year. Despite being seeded high enough to earn one of three berths, he didn’t achieve it. He said he didn’t take anything for granted during the qualifying, realizing you still have to earn your way to the national meet. He praised his coaches for the progress.
“They’ve been helping me work hard and motivating me,” Sheldon said. “Things are coming together. When you work hard like that, things are going to come together for you.”
Oostendorp has witnessed a tough, hard-nosed competitor emerge, being able to push his body beyond its physical breaking point. He said he is excited to see Sheldon transfer that to this weekend’s matches.
“There are times when he really believes in himself that he can be a dominating wrestler,” Oostendorp said. “We look to bring that every time he steps on the mat.
“It shows he has made strides and I think the sky is the limit where his wrestling can go.”
Sheldon has hopes of his wrestling leading to a medal and a step on the awards stand Saturday night. An All-American performance won’t be the only influence on his satisfaction after the event. He said many factors will contribute to being content, but he is ready for the whistle to blow.“I’m feeling pretty confident,” Sheldon said. “I’d be lying if I said there weren’t nerves, because it’s the national. Everyone has them. Once I get out there and I’ll settle in and we’ll see what happens.”