PARK CITY, Kan. – It didn’t take long for junior Mario Ybarra to knock off the rust after having gone nearly two-and-a-half months without wrestling an official match. The 133-pounder from Scottsbluff, Neb., refused to fall short like he did one year ago. He has clinched his first career All-America award while supplying the first big moment of the weekend for a trio of Concordia University Wrestling national qualifiers.
For third-year Head Coach Levi Calhoun, there were emotional highs and lows on Friday (March 5) at Hartman Arena in Park City, Kan., site of the 2021 NAIA Wrestling National Championships. Calhoun watched senior Gabe Crawford (165) and Jacob Telles (285) have their seasons come to an end prior to Ybarra’s breakthrough victory.
“Jacob and Gabe fought hard. I’m proud of what they did,” Calhoun said. “Gabe has had a great career and Jacob being a true freshman had a good year. Obviously the highlight was Mario coming back from injury and earning All-American status. It’s a great feeling when you can give a guy a big hug when he walks off the mat as an All-American. There’s nothing like it. I’m super proud of him and excited for him to wrestle tomorrow and see how far we can go.”
Seeded sixth in the NAIA at 133, Ybarra (14-2) made it a mission to reach the podium after suffering a loss in the blood round in 2020. Ybarra had literally been bloodied back in January with an injury that caused him to miss the GPAC tournament. While donning extra protective head gear, he opened the day with a 7-2 decision over 11th-seeded CJ Shadinger of Reinhardt University (Ga.). A 2-1 tiebreaker loss at the hands of Indiana Tech’s No. 3 Conner Grimson in the quarterfinals put Ybarra’s season on the line.
In the consolation bracket, Ybarra edged Reinhardt’s Michael Land, 3-2, to set off a mini celebration. Ybarra has a shot at finishing as high as third place if things break right on Saturday.
Said Ybarra, “Honestly, it still hasn’t settled in yet. I’ve still got some business to do tomorrow, but for the time being it feels pretty good. I’m sure after this tournament’s done and I’m up there on the podium it will kind of settle in a little more … It’s been a crazy year but I was truly blessed to have another opportunity to come compete at nationals. It was my fifth week coming out of nose surgery so there was a lot of pressure.”
A two-time national qualifier and a 2020 GPAC champion, Crawford drew a significant challenge out of the gates in facing third-ranked Elias Vaoifi of Missouri Valley College. Crawford (Virginia Beach, Va.) fell by major decision. He was then eliminated in another major decision that followed in the consolation bracket.
Telles (33-13) also faced a top five foe to begin the tournament in the heavyweight bracket. The native of Albuquerque, N.M., dropped a 7-4 decision to No. 5 Maleek Caton of Williams Baptist University. The 12th seed Telles was then bounced from the tournament, 4-2, by Midway College (Ky.)’s Byron Pierce. Telles looks to have a bright future after having won a GPAC title and led the team in wins and pins in 2020-21.
Wrestling at the national tournament will resume at 10 a.m. CT on Saturday. Ybarra is slated to face Wayland Baptist University (Texas)’s Alex Pena in bout 384. No matter what happens on day two, Ybarra has extended the program’s streak of consecutive years with an All-American to eight.
Said Calhoun, “I just get nervous for those kids because I know how hard they work. I’m super happy for Mario. He works so hard, he’s such a good kid and such a great leader for our team. He’s a great example of what we look for in a student-athlete.”
Concordia results – NAIA Wrestling National Championships
133 – 6 Mario Ybarra has scored 5.5 team points.
165 – Gabriel Crawford
285 – 12 Jacob Telles