In each of the last two years, star Liberty wrestler David Rios has come home from the Junior Nationals competition in Fargo, N.D. disappointed left standing emptyhanded at the cusp of earning the title of All-American.
However, the third time was the charm for Rios, who pushed across the threshold in spectacular fashion to qualify as an All-American in the 145-pound Junior Freestyle Division.
Liberty head coach Greg Chappel, who also works with Rios as part of the Delta Wrestling Club, has been there for each of Rios' trips to Junior Nationals, and was elated to see him come away from this year's competition with an ear-wide grin rather than a face long with disappointment.
I've seen the look on his face the last two years when he didn't win, when a loss meant that you're finished, and I don't know if he had tears in his eyes, but he was close. You could visibly tell that he was pretty crushed, said Chappel, pointing out the stark contrast to this year's celebration. Finally he got that All-American status! He jumped up off the mat with the biggest grin on his face, clapping it was really neat to see. He finally got that monkey off of his back.
Rios, a senior, came out of the gate on fire, breezing through his first four opponents before stumbling on his path to All-American status.
Rios entered the sixth match of the event knowing that he needed a win to advance, but found himself squaring off with the fifth-ranked 145-pound Junior in the country, and knew he had his hands full, as his opponent had simply annihilated each of his previous opponents.
Despite finding himself down 4-0 after a quick takedown and near fall, Rios battled back, shooting in aggressively, hoisting his opponent across his shoulders and slamming him down onto his back with a beautiful fireman's carry. Then, as his opponent attempted to bridge up off the mat, Rios astutely moved in and pounded his opponent's shoulders squarely onto the mat right in front of the ref, who wasted little time in calling the pin and announcing Rios the victor.
Another Lion, Ryan Smith, also opened some eyes at Fargo, earning a 5-2 record of his own in the Greco competition and narrowly missing out on joining Rios as an All-American in the 135-pound Junior Division.
Liberty junior Brittany David placed fifth in the 139-pound Cadet Girls Division, an accomplishment that impressed Chappel, who wishes that the three-sport athlete had more time to dedicate to her mat work.
Senior David Klingsheim, the reigning State Champion at 119 pounds, struggled at Junior Nationals this year after a strong performance in 2007. Klingsheim recently missed a significant amount of time recovering from a fractured hip, which prevented him from running and consequently led to him packing on a few hard-to-shed pounds.
Sophomore Nico Serano also made the trip, and impressed Chappel by posting a 3-2 record.