Always the optimist, Brookville’s Brock Zacherl won’t be making his fourth trip to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships that were scheduled for this weekend in Minneapolis.
Even before the move came, the signs were there with the fast-moving story that claimed the seasons of just about every sport. The Coronavirus may have ended Zacherl’s wrestling career at Clarion University.
But, guess what? Zacherl’s engaged now. Hopewell native Stephanie Lias said yes on Sunday and the couple plans a June of 2021 wedding.
While that’s etched now in, er, a ring so to speak, Zacherl’s collegiate wrestling career may or may not be over. The extension of another year of eligibility that was offered to spring sports athletes in Division I, that hasn’t come for any athlete from the winter season, in particular those wrestlers who qualified for nationals.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of speculation and essentially zero answers to anything, so it’s just impossible to predict what’s about the happen these next few weeks,” Zacherl said last Friday.
Other than getting engaged,
“I’m really excited for us,” he texted Monday while confirming the big news that he tweeted after the initial wrestling talk last Friday.
But as far as moving on with life vs. any extra opportunity to wrestle in a CUP singlet again, Zacherl was keeping his options open, at this point. He and his fiance recently purchased a house in the Clarion area.
“We signed all the paperwork and we’re supposed to move in the beginning of next month, so just in a couple of weeks,” said Zacherl, who finishes his Masters Degree in Business Administration this spring. He graduated with a degree in Economics with a minor in Finance in 2018. “So, that’s what’s that puts me in a tough spot to where financially, is the seventh year even possible for me and I think the answer is yes, that there’s a way to figure this whole thing out. But it’s definitely going to be hard for me and it’s going to be a hard decision to make, even if I do get blessed with that seventh year.”
Zacherl was given a sixth year of eligibility, called a medical redshirt season, going into this past season after he suffered an elbow injury that wiped out most of his 2018-19, in what was supposed to be his final season of eligibility.
“It’s sad but the one thing that I kind of find comfort with that is the world’s not perfect and all you can ever do is do the most right thing at a given opportunity and right now the right thing is to give those guys the option to come back another year, every one of them who qualified for the NCAAs,” Golden Eagles head coach and Brookville native Keith Ferraro said. “Those people all deserve that opportunity, whether they decide that it’s a higher priority than moving on to their professional life or whatever, that allows them to make that judgment, but put them in a position where they can do what they. I feel very strongly that we need to do that for all athletes not just these 330 wrestlers but all of (college athletes denied a season).”
ZACHERL finished second at the Mid-American Championships at Northern Illinois. In the 149-pound final, the second-seeded Golden Eagle dropped a 5-2 decision to Missouri’s top-seeded Brock Mauller.
Getting to the final basically punched Zacherl’s fourth ticket to nationals. Going into the MACs, he was ranked No. 11 in the nation by intermatwrestle.com while Mauller was No. 5. So, obviously, Zacherl’s hopes were high.
But as news of how other organizations and leagues were handling the growing health crisis, Zacherl eventually realized nationals were in peril as last week went on.
“There was chatter about it for awhile,” Zacherl said. “But even then, it didn’t cross my mind that anything had a remote chance of happening. Especially in the postseason, I just get so unbelievably focused and what I’m about to do. I lose sight of everything else, so I was just thinking solely about that I didn’t really mind it or really see the big picture, but (continued talk) should have been a huge red flag that something bad was about to happen.”
Then reality hit Thursday.
“We had a morning workout at about 9. We went through and everything was fine and I was wrestling great and didn’t even think this was a possibility and then about lunch time, you just started seeing the newsfeed blowing up and when the major sports leagues and the basketball tournament started getting canceled, that’s when I ultimately had a pretty good idea what my fate was.
“And then right before we were starting practice, I knew it was basically a done deal. But I still had hope, and I started practice with tears running down my face and I kept telling myself that there was always something else to work for, like there’s the next goal to chase and that’s how I got through that workout and then basically almost immediately, we get done with the workout, I went downstairs and checked my phone. That’s when the news hit that it was canceled and then I went back upstairs. I took it pretty hard.”
Ferraro was watching the swift moving news as well.
“Keep in mind the writing on the wall was 24 hours old,” Ferraro said. “People are being so critical of every aspect of this whole situation and I have to remind everybody the first domino to fall was Ohio State kicking their kids off campus and that happened like less than two days before the NCAAs were totally canceled. People don’t have time, 24 hours is not enough time for you to absorb the emotional impact of your career and it’s just not enough.”
“When people walk off the mat after they get upset in the NCAA Tournament or there’s a kid who thinks he’s gonna win a district tournament high school and gets beat walks off the mat totally crushed, because they have to accept years of effort that they put into it. All that failure is bottled up in a matter of a couple seconds and you just can’t absorb it that quick.”
But Zacherl is moving on while keeping that chapter of his successful career at CUP partly open pending any extended eligibility.
“I’m definitely have years of wrestling left in me that’s the one thing I don’t feel burnout at all at all,” Zacherl said. “I know a lot of people do at my age, but my body is unbelievably healthy. I have no injuries, the elbows healed up 100 percent and it’s never been an issue. So I have years of wrestling left in me and I think no matter what I decide to do that I will chase a world title dream next year. This year doesn’t look like it’s going be a possibility with everything that’s going on, and I have really no way to qualify for the trials.
“But as far as the career and stuff, I would love to get into coaching. It’s no secret with everybody who knows me knows and what I want to do with the rest of my life and if an opportunity in the coaching field presents itself, then I am very ready to take it. The way things ended, it just leaves me hungry, and it’s something that I think really helped me a lot. I always tell everyone that I think I’m the best wrestler in the world. But that being said, I think I’m going to be an even better coach, so I am excited to start that journey. And if now is the time to start that journey, I’m more than ready. But I don’t want to hang up the wrestling shoes yet I got a lot of good years left in me.”
COACH FERRARO was a big proponent of the NCAA using a huge venue like the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium. Next year it heads to St. Louis to a more traditional arena setup and in 2022, it’ll be in another arena in Detroit.
“I’m a fan of growing wrestling and again with that comes some expense. That meant people might be sitting farther away from the mat, but think one of the most impressive things we could do as a sport is to fill a football stadium. But you know that there were going to be some challenges with the event. Now, it’ll be really interesting because the next time we try to do it, it’ll carry this stigma like it was almost like we jinxed ourselves by trying to go to a big stadium.’
Ferraro had three wrestlers scheduled to head to nationals with 197-pound MAC champion Greg Bulsak and heavyweight Ty Bagoly, who earned an at-large bid. Bulsak, a junior, was ranked No. 14 nationally while the red-shirt Bagoly was unranked.
“It was devastating, not just for Brock but the other two as well,” Ferraro said. “It’s hard to get to the national tournament and very few people can say they’ve done it and in Bulsak’s case, he was in a great spot in the bracket to place.”
So for now, Zacherl stands at 114 career wins at Clarion, ranking 14th in program history, two behind Olympian Kurt Angle’s 116.
“The one notable thing right out of the gate is that he was loyal enough and trusted in us enough that he came to a university that was not good shape,” Ferraro said. “We weren’t good and he had enough faith to put the program on his back and be a leader that helped transform the way we do things here. I know for sure we could not have made the improvements we made without him and that he was much bigger than just one spot in the lineup.”