By Erik Cumley
Concordia University’s Wrestling program ended on a high note qualifying three wrestlers for the National Association Intercollegiate Athletics Tournament. Of those three athletes, junior Mario Ybarra was the solo place finisher and All-American qualifier.
Ybarra finished his junior season with an overall record of 15-3. Ybarra would end with seventh place in the NAIA National Tournament as well as All-American honors. This year was a change of scenery for Ybarra as in the past he would wrestle at 125 pounds, however this year he would move up to 133.
Ybarra’s All-American honors continue Concordia’s streak of consecutive years with at least one All-American to eight years. He also becomes the twelfth Bulldog to place at the national tournament.
Ybarra had broken his nose, sidelining him all of January and February and could only hope to try and return for the national tournament.
“Mentally I was ready to go, but physically I wasn’t. I had to take time off, there was a lot of discussion on the future,” Ybarra said. “I took it day by day, I took each day with what I was given, we tried not to stress about the situation until our conference tournament.”
Ybarra could not wrestle in the GPAC tournament due to his injury, he was able to make the national tournament by being placed as an at-large qualifier, which is when all of the coaches vote for six wrestlers that couldn’t compete in the tournament to go to the national tournament.
“God blessed me to be at the tournament again. They were in the meeting for two hours, that was the longest two hours of my life,” Ybarra said. “It was no guarantee that they would send me, so for that I am truly thankful and blessed that the whole conference that I could still go and make the best of it.”
Last season, Ybarra qualified for the national tournament by winning the Great Plains Athletic Conference. Last season, while at the national tournament, Ybarra was one match away from placing and taking home All-American honors, in that last match Ybarra would lose with 4 seconds left. This year Ybarra won his seventh-place match in overtime with a last second takedown.
Ybarra had to wait an entire year with the thought of a hard last second lost in his head.
“Before the match you’re trying to get mentally prepped and ready for a big match, but those thoughts come in. I’m super blessed to have the coaches in my corner because they help me stay calm,” Ybarra said.
At the beginning of the season, six freshmen were in the starting lineup, and throughout the season that didn’t change too much. After his injury, Ybarra tried to be a good mentor and give advice to the younger wrestlers especially before the GPAC tournament.
“The biggest thing that I tell them is it’s easy to get lost in the bigger tournaments, but at the end of the day we wrestle. I let them know don’t get caught up in that and wrestle your match,” Ybarra said.