Last year, when Manhattan High sophomore-to-be Mason Wallace went to Fargo, N.D., for the Asics/Vaughan Cadet and Junior Nationals, he was one of the youngest competitors in his division.
When he returns to the summer’s final tournament next week, he’ll be seeking more than just a chance to get his feet wet against the nation’s top wrestlers. The five-day tournament, which begins July 19, will feature a bracket of at least 120 of the nation’s top wrestlers at the 126 weight class.
“Last year, I was just doing it to get the experience and know what it’s like,” Wallace said. “This year, I’m taking it a lot more seriously and training every day, doing about two workouts each day leading up to it.”
The trip to Fargo will be the final event in a loaded summer season for Wallace, who unlike many of his peers, competes year round in the sport and wrestles the Olympic styles — freestyle and Greco-Roman — in addition to the folkstyle wrestling preferred by U.S. high schools and the NCAA.
Wallace qualified for nationals by placing third in both Greco-Roman and freestyle at the Southern Plains Regional Championships in Dodge City in early June.
“Taking third there gave me a seed at Fargo,” Wallace said. “So that was a good tournament to place in.”
From there, Wallace trained in Kansas City for a few days before traveling to Daytona Beach, Fla., to compete in the Cadet National Duals, where he went 8-2, including an undefeated mark in Greco-Roman matches.
Since then, he’s been training vigorously — doing anything he can to sharpen his skills before the next week’s national championships.
While many wrestlers in the United States opt not to focus on Greco-Roman and freestyle skills, Wallace said wrestling with different rules and strategies makes him more well-rounded for the high school season.
“There’s different rules and different styles,” Wallace said. “Greco you can’t shoot on the legs, you can only use your upper body and get throws and turns. Freestyle is basically the same thing as folkstyle, because you can shoot on the legs, it’s just different scoring.
“Personally, I like Greco better, but I still like freestyle. Really, I just like throwing kids.”
As a freshman for Manhattan, Wallace finished third at state in the spring wrestling in the 120 weight class. He made a mistake and was pinned in a match he was leading comfortably before winning out the rest of the way. Wallace said he expects to wrestle at 132 next season for the Indians.
“There’s no more I could make 120,” he said. “I’ll just keep trying to grow and get stronger, then cut down to whatever the best weight is for me. I’ll wrestle at 126 this year at Fargo, and for folkstyle in the winter I’ll probably wrestle 132.”
Manhattan head coach Robert Gonzales said Wallace is a pleasure to coach.
“Mason is one of the youngsters that I love as a coach,” Gonzales said. “He’s focused and he’s well-rounded. He doesn’t get too excited, but at the same time, I do notice that when things aren’t going right and he is a little frustrated, he’ll look into the corner at either his dad or I or one of his coaches, and just remind him to stay on task or stay focused, but that doesn’t happen too often.”
Wallace said regardless of what happens next week at nationals, he will stay motivated to achieve his long-term wrestling goals.
“I’m still motivated to get better and achieve higher goals, so I’m still going,” he said. “I have new goals ahead of me. Instead of just placing at high school state, I want to go to college at D-I and win the NCAAs.”