LINCOLN – Time marches on.
A fact Colton McCrystal has wrestled with all season long.
“I am out of time, I don’t have another year to try again, it is now or never,” said Nebraska’s senior 149-pound wrestler. “This is going to affect the rest of my life and just with that kind of pressure that I am putting on myself, I know I have to get it done.”
McCrystal finished fourth at the Big Ten Championships to qualify for the NCAA National Wrestling Championship for the second consecutive season. The former Sergeant Bluff-Luton two-time state champion made his national tournament debut last season in St. Louis and went 3-2, falling to Minnesota's Tommy Thorn 10-6 in the Round of 12, one win away from top-eight All-American status.
“Every match you have got to go out and try to make a statement early,” he said. “I think that is how I came up short last year. I took a backseat a little bit in my last match, and I know in order to All-American you have got to score early and score often.”
The Husker is reminded of what he almost had and what he is driven to accomplish in his final season every time he walks into the locker room. He has to pass pictures of all of Nebraska’s All-Americans knowing his face is not on that wall, calling it “a cloud over me all year and I am ready to get through that.”
McCrystal was understandably disappointed to come so close to one of his goals only to fall just short, but a week after the tournament wrapped, he got a reminder about other, more important, things in his life.
“I actually got engaged the week after nationals and so it kind of took my mind off of it which was good for me,” he said.
McCrystal enters the national tournament with a 21-5 record and ranked 10th in a deep and talented weight class. He lost twice to Ohio State’s Ke-Shawn Hayes at the Big Ten Tournament, but as McCrystal looks back on those losses it gives a glimpse to his mindset this week.
“I am fine with him having those wins under his belt, I hope he feels confident that he can beat me again and I hope I wrestle him in the quarterfinals,” he said. “Some round that is important, it will be a different result.”
McCrystal has worked his way into being able to wrestle in important matches as time has passed and it is something he takes pride in.
“I have had to work hard,” he said. “Even though I was a couple-time state champ I wasn’t a big blue-chip recruit or anything and I am not the best athlete in the room, but I don’t think I get outworked. I think I work hard in the wrestling room and our room is a hard-working room.
“I want to be an All-American and I haven’t set a specific goal for myself, but I want to finish the best I possibly can. I want to pull a couple of upsets, I want to be a storyline of the tournament, and just finish as high on the podium as possible.”
Part of McCrystal’s confidence comes from his comfort level at 149. He began his career at 133 and then spent most of his time at 141 before moving up to 149 this year. Weight management was something that was on his mind early in his career but that is not the case now for the senior.
“It has been a lot more fun to travel and not have to cut weight all the time, and I am to the point now where I hardly have to cut any weight at all,” he said. “It is like a different sport. Between Saturday and Sunday at conference instead of having to run and work out to get my weight back down I was able to eat a good amount, relax and get my body ready to go.
“Once the season is over and you have cut weight for six months you can really feel how much better you get because the weight cut is over and you are good to go. In the room you get to learn new positions and focus on the wrestling. That is what I have been able to do this whole year.”
This season has also brought him full circle from the young wrestler trying to get noticed as a freshman to now a leader for a Huskers squad that had to replace seven seniors in the starting lineup off of last year’s team.
“Losing those guys was huge … but this team has matured a lot and that is why I think this team will have more success at nationals,” McCrystal said. “I have had to try to set that example for some of the younger guys.”
McCrystal has gone from a young wrestler enjoying a high level of success in high school to becoming the standard other wrestlers from Sergeant Bluff-Luton and Siouxland are now aiming for. Current, SB-L freshman Jack Gaukel made the state finals this year and finished as a runner-up, but through his tournament run he noted how McCrystal has been an inspiration for him and what he wants to achieve in his career.
“It means everything to me because I am close to Jack and I couldn’t be happier for him,” McCrystal said. “Now I get to build with him and hopefully he doesn’t follow in my footsteps but exceeds them. When I see those younger guys have success it makes me really happy and proud of them.”
McCrystal, a psychology major who will graduate this spring, is looking to remain connected to the sport, but doesn’t know if he will continue competing or look to begin a coaching career.