CLEVELAND – Wrestling at the NCAA level is all about breaking the opponent.
Anytime two competitors toe the line there isn’t much discrepancy in talent. The difference in most matches is the guy who is setting the pace, applying the constant pressure, along with executing moves, comes out on top sometimes after the will of the winner becomes too much.
It’s not giving up, by any means, but doubt sneaks in the mind. And when that happens.
Jason Tsirtsis showed up at Arizona State as a broken man.
“There was a lot of things going on in my head,” said Tsirtsis about where he was in life after transferring from Northwestern, where he was a national champion and two-time All-American.
“I’m sure there was doubt,” he said. “I can’t pinpoint a certain moment but whenever you are going through tough times and your life is going on a constant downward spiral of course there is going to be thought of doubt.”
It seemed like the distance past on Saturday when he earned All-American honors in his lone and final year at Arizona State at Quicken Loans Arena before 19,267 fans.
But not forgotten. How can it be?
His sister and lifelong best friend died about a month apart. It took its toll on him to the point where he ended up being dismissed after one class at Northwestern fell below an acceptable grade.
Tsirtsis, who was the 10th seed, came to Arizona State not knowing if the NCAA was going to grant a sixth year, but ruling went in his favor and he went to work in the room and eventually merged as the starter at 149 to become an All-America after beating Oklahoma State’s Boo Lewallen, 2-1, for seventh place.
“I’m on the verge of having an emotional breakdown because it is over, and it is hitting me,” said Tsirtsis, who finished with a 21-8 record. “I know college is a temporary thing, but it was good to come back and be an All-American.
“I was lucky to have the support I have and bounce back the way I did. This (seventh place) isn’t what I wanted but it was important to get here.”
Some of that support came from fellow All-American Josh Shields, who finished seventh at 157, and the rest of the team that didn’t completely know all that happened in Chicago that led him stepping into the Riches Complex.
“Didn’t know that much about his story,” Shields said. “When he first got here no one really knew him but it is kind of hard to slip under the radar as a national champion.
“The more that I got to know him and he opened up to became someone I can trust with anything, including my life. He is a great wrestler and a better person. He had some stuff happen his life. The way he has battled that he is more of a champion off the mat than he is on the mat.”
Shields, the fourth seed, fell short of his goal of being a champion after losing his second-round match 9-6 to South Dakota State’s Luke Zilverberg, the 13th seed.
Undeterred Shields (34-4) looked at the big picture to come back and finish seventh by winning four of the next five matches, including a 11-5 win over Zilverberg for seventh place.
“My training started for next year the minute I lost my first match (in Cleveland),” he said.
Next year just happens to be in his home state of Pennsylvania. He plans on climbing up the podium all the way to the top for the Sun Devils, who are in 11th place entering the finals when 174-pound sophomore Zahid Valencia (31-0) wrestles for his first title.
Jones said his redshirt sophomore has the ingredients.
“Josh is driven and passionate,” Jones said. “When you have that, along with being a super person who lives a great lifestyle that person can achieve monumental things. That’s where Josh is at. It’s not a given, but that’s a hard guy to beat.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to email@example.com.