Mike Kirk, Part-Time Assistant for Media Relations
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A fast start led to another dominating finish and carried Central Oklahoma’s Eli Hale to the 125-pound NCAA Division II national championship Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Center.
Hale swooped in for a takedown just seven seconds into his finals bout with Upper Iowa’s Maleek Williams, added three near-falls to take a 14-0 lead after the opening period and ended the match 49 seconds into the second stanza with another takedown to complete a 17-2 technical fall.
It was the 18th bonus-point win for the top-ranked Hale, who finished off a perfect 24-0 senior campaign in his only season with the Bronchos. He became the 44th individual national champion in UCO’s rich wrestling history.
“One of the things I’ve always tried to do is to be intense and ready to go at the start of every practice and I wanted to start the match that way,” Hale said. “I was so ready to go. I’ve thought about this moment for a long time. Everything that has played out this week has been so incredible.”
Hale’s title along with a fifth-place finish by heavyweight Caleb Cotter enabled UCO’s two-man contingent to finish ninth in the team standings with 35.5 points. St. Cloud State won the team crown for the second straight year.
“I’m so proud of Eli and Caleb for coming up here and competing like they did,” head coach Todd Steidley said. “Eli was just amazing tonight and showed everybody what kind of wrestler he is. And Caleb did a great job coming back and getting fifth after losing in the first round.”
Hale had his closest match of the season in Saturday afternoon’s semifinals, using a riding time point to clip Lindenwood’s Carlos Jacquez 4-3.
The finals was a different story.
Hale nearly ended the match in the opening stanza, following his quick takedown with a trio of four-point near-falls and nearly pinning Williams in the final seconds of the first period in going ahead 14-0.
Williams choose neutral to start the second and got an early takedown, but it didn’t take long for Hale to escape and he secured the match-ending takedown 20 seconds later to reach the 15-point technical fall threshold in just 3:49.
Cotter went 2-1 in the long third session to come in fifth and earn All-America honors for the second straight year.
The senior heavyweight had a pair of near-falls and two takedowns in a 14-2 major decision, then got taken down with 13 seconds left in dropping a 4-3 decision to Colorado State-Pueblo’s Cody Johnson in the consolation semifinals.
Cotter bounced back from that loss to end his career with another dominating win, cruising to an 11-3 major decision of Minot State’s Mitchell Eull. Cotter had three takedowns in that win and finished the season with a 34-5 record.