Don’t start calling him Captain America just quite yet.
But becoming an All-American is off Colin Merkley’s bucket list.
The 2009 Fallon grad became the Greenwave’s first collegiate All-American since Dan Shaw as the 149-pound wrestler took seventh at the 57th annual NAIA Wrestling National Championship at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., last weekend. Shaw placed in the top six for Montana State-Northern last decade.
“It feels like a lot of pressure is lifted off my shoulders but at the same time, I expected to wrestle a lot better and place higher,” said Merkley, a junior from Embry-Riddle wrestling in his first national tournament. “But I did not have the tournament I wanted.”
Grand View won the NAIA championship with 193 points while Great Falls took second with 84.5. Embry Riddle finished tied for 10th with 41.5 points.
“Colin has had this goal since he stepped on campus,” Embry-Riddle coach K.C. Rock said “I’m proud of him and all the work he has put in this year. I know he is a little disappointed in his finish and he feels he could have finished higher, but he now knows how to do it and has the confidence to do it. I’m certain he will spend the offseason raising the bar in order to be a national champion next year.”
Merkley earned at least an eighth-place finish after going 2-1 on the first day, cementing his name in the Embry-Riddle record books as an All-American. With a chance to finish as high as third, Merkley dropped a 6-2 decision on Saturday to Southern Oregon’s Tyler Cowger, who he pinned in last month’s national-qualifying tournament. Merkley pinned Baker’s Nick Haugen in the seventh-place match.
Cowger finished the tournament in fifth while Great Falls’ Ryan Martin, who defeated Merkley to win the qualifier, settled for third.
“He came out a lot stronger and wrestled a smarter match,” Merkley said of the rematch with Cowger. “I ended up losing because I didn’t wrestle how I should have.”
While Merkley’s pleased to have the All-American honor, he can’t wait to get back onto the mat and win the whole thing next season.
“It was good enough to get the All-American but I’m not ecstatic about my performance,” Merkley said. “I am very happy, appreciative and very humble about placing and getting the All-American. It feels really good and I’m very glad I could get it done and get it off my chest.”
Merkley’s coaches, from youth wrestling to college, were a major contributor to his motivation over the weekend. With the news surrounding the uncertain future of his former high school coach, Mitch Overlie, Merkley wanted to win for Coach O and everyone else who helped him get this far.
“I felt good that I could do it for my coaches, too,” Merkley said.
He opened on Friday with a 7-2 win over Oklahoma City’s Ricky McCarty in overtime to advance to the quarterfinal. Merkley, though, lost a close 4-2 battle to Morningside’s Tyler Lashbrook.
“I got the takedown in OT and I was glad I got that one out of the way, but I did not wrestle a very good match at all,” Merkley said about his first match. “The next match was even worse. I started out good but hesitated in the last period and gave up a takedown and lost. I felt really tired and disappointed after that one. The kid was very beatable. On any other day, I would have worked him but that’s just how it goes sometimes.”
The ex-Greenwave state champ rebounded with a 7-1 win over Northwestern’s John Lynch in the consolation’s fourth round. Merkley finished the season with a 22-11 record and was not pinned but now that he’s tasted the national tournament, Merkley wants to win it all in 2015.
“I’m really motivated to come back and get into the national finals match and have a shot at taking a title next year,” said Merkley, who’s thankful for his family and friends for the support since putting on his first singlet. “It’ll be another long road and season, but it will be my last one and I’m excited about it.”