(Neb)-Tough Open Matches For CSC Duo At DII Wrestling National Meet
Kaleb Center CSC Sports Information Director
CHADRON, Neb. -- A pair of Chadron State College wrestlers pulled off something extra special on Saturday, Feb. 23 when they won their weight classes at the Super Region 6 Championships at Kearney.
Chase Clasen won the 149-pound title and Wade French was the 197-pound winner. Both are juniors who are now focused on having more success this weekend at the NCAA Division II National Championships in Cleveland.
It had been 11 years since Chadron State had a regional champion and 13 years since two Eagles won regional titles the same year.
"Their wins were something our program needed and it has given all of us, both the coaches and the wrestlers, a boost," said CSC Head Coach Brett Hunter. "Now we've got two guys going to nationals for the first time since 2014. (When the Eagles had three qualifiers.) We're hoping this is the start of something positive that we'll be keeping tabs on--like how many regional champions and national qualifiers we've had in recent years."
Hunter is already on the "good lists." He's the Eagles only two-time national champion, winning those titles in 2007 and 2009. And, in 2006 and '07 he and Californian Mark Pfeifer were the last CSC duo to win regional crowns the same year.
The coach was elated with the success Clasen and French had at the regional showdown. All season when he was asked about the Eagles' chances of having at least one national qualifier and extending that string to 51 years in a row, their names were generally the first he mentioned.
"I saw how hard they worked, knew their technique was excellent and felt all along they should qualify for nationals," Hunter related. "I can't say that when the season started I expected both of them to be regional champions, but neither am I surprised that it happened. They're really good wrestlers and really good people."
Both transferred to Chadron State after beginning their post-prep wrestling careers at community colleges.
A native of Moses Lake, Washington, which has a population of about 22,000 and is located in the middle of the state, Clasen was a four-time Class 4A (the largest) state high school tournament qualifier who placed seventh, third and sixth, in that order, his final three years.
He had even more success at the Tri-State Wrestling Finals that matches the top placewinners from the Washington, Oregon and Idaho State Tournaments, finishing fourth as a junior and second as a senior.
He has a wrestling heritage. His father, Colby, was a member of the all-star team that represented the U.S. on a two-week trip to New Zealand and Australia in 1990. The team members were the winners of 32-man brackets in each weight class of free-style and Greco wrestling.
Clasen said coming out of high school it was his goal to wrestle at a Division I school and he had lots of contact with the University of Minnesota and Arizona State, in particular. But the deals were never sealed and he wound up at Iowa Western in Council Bluffs his freshman year in 2016-17.
He filled that school's 149-pound weight class that season and qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association's National Tournament, but didn't place.
Also a strong student, Clasen wants to become a high school social sciences teacher and decided to transfer to a four-year college after spending one year at Iowa Western. He and Hunter made contact and he enrolled at CSC in the fall of 2017.
Clasen was in and out of the CSC varsity lineup a year ago, went 1-2 at the regional tourney and finished with an 11-7 record.
This year, Clasen filled the 149-pound weight class all year and has a 17-5 record heading to nationals. He was 6-1 against RMAC competition, losing only to Josiah Williams of Colorado State-Pueblo. The loss, he said, inspired him to "bear down" at the regional tourney, where he won all three of his matches by decisions.
French is from Herriman, Utah, a community of about 20,000 in the Salt Lake City area. He spent two years at Western Wyoming College in Rock Springs before transferring to CSC last fall.
He was the 220-pound state champion at the Utah High School Tournament his junior year and finished second his senior year, although the referees later confessed they had made a scoring mistake during the championship match and he actually should have been the winner.
Since there's no 220-pound weight class in college wrestling, French was Western Wyoming's heavyweight as a freshman. That wasn't fun, he admits.
"Having to wrestle guys who weighed up to 285 pounds while I weighed only 207 at the end of the season wasn't a good thing," he said.
The experience prompted French to drop another 10 pounds and become a 197-pounder his sophomore year. He won more than 20 matches for the Mustangs 2017-18 and went to the national tournament seeded "seventh or eighth," in his words.
However, he did much better than that, defeating three of the grapplers who were seeded ahead of him, including the No. 1 ranked entry in the finals to win the national championship.
Naturally, his national title prompted much interest from four-year programs.
"I talked to a bunch of Division I coaches, but I didn't want to be a backup and not get to wrestle much," French said. "So when Coach Hunter contacted me and told me Chadron State hadn't had a 197-pounder last year, I was really interested. I visited the college, liked what I saw and came here. It's been fun, a big blast."
French will go to Cleveland with an 18-7 record. Four of his losses were in November before he had dropped enough pounds and had to wrestle heavyweight. Since weighing in at 197, he's lost just three times.
A criminal justice major who hopes to become a homicide detective, French has a key to his success.
"I try to be in better condition than anyone else," he said. "That means I do lots of running. I never have liked lifting weights and don't do much of that. But I don't mind running, so I do that both in the off-season to maintain my base and during the season. Because I'm in good shape, I've come from behind to win quite a few matches in the third period."
Like Clasen, French also won all three of his regional matches by decisions.
Both Clasen and French are expected to have their hands full in the early rounds of the national tourney.
Clasen's first foe on Friday will be James Pleski, a senior for defending national champion St. Cloud State in Minnesota. It could be a doozy.
Pleski was the 149-pound silver medalist at last year's national tournament. He finally lost to Dax Gordon of Cal Baptist in overtime in the finals a year ago. Pleski enters this year's tourney with a 25-1 record. The loss was to (pay attention here) Clasen by a 2-1 decision when the Eagles visited St. Cloud for a dual on Nov. 15 as the season was opening.
Even though he's one of the 12 members of the seeding committee that did its work via the internet last week, Hunter can't figure out how in the world Clasen and Pleski were matched to meet in the opening round.
Another stalwart in the 149 bracket is expected to be Chris Eddins of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, last year's 141-pound national champion. He's 19-0 at his new weight this year. Neither Clasen nor Pleski will have to worry about him Eddins right away because he's on the top side of the bracket and they're on the bottom.
French's first opponent will be Nick Baumler of Upper Iowa, who has a 21-7 record after losing 2-1 to St. Cloud standout Vince Dietz at the their regional finals on Feb. 23.
Who's Dietz? He's last year's 184-pound national runner-up and the possessor of a 28-0 record this year at 197. The winner of the French-Baumler match will face either Dietz or Khalil Gipson of Adams State in the second round. French defeated Gipson 7-3 in the finals of the Super Region 6 Tourney two weeks ago.
French did not tangle with Dietz when the Eagles visited the Minnesotans in November. The Eagles' 197-pounder was on NCAA preseason weight loss protocol and therefore, he competed as a heavyweight for the first few weeks of the season.
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