Chase Wetenkamp has a lot of weight on his shoulders, in addition to his 275-pound frame.
The mental pressure on heavy-weights can be immense. Like a football kicker called in for a winning field goal, heavyweights are often the last to wrestle, and a match can be won or lost based on their performance.
Less than nine months after Wetenkamp won a Wisconsin state championship at Manitowoc-Lincoln High School, Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith plugged him into the starting heavyweight slot for the 12th-ranked, 13-3 Tigers.
Wetenkamp struggled in two of the Tiger losses. In the Jan. 11 meet against then No. 6 Lehigh, MU needed a Wetenkamp victory to remain undefeated. He lost, though, falling to 197-pound Paul Weibel, who secured a 22-17 Lehigh victory.
He struggled again during the Jan. 14 match against Tennessee-Chattanooga. With the match tied at 16, Wetenkamp was unable to bring home the win for MU, falling to the Mocs’ 197-pound Wes Taylor 4-2.
Wetenkamp said a lot of his struggles came from self-expectations.
“I started putting pressure on myself,” Wetenkamp said. “Then coach Smith and all the coaches kept telling me to just calm down and wrestle the hardest I can and that it was only one match.”
Smith said adjusting to the fast-paced matches against smaller, more agile wrestlers has required a lot of work from Wetenkamp.
“In high school he could just go out and pull people down,” Smith said. “Now if he tries to do that, they’re after his legs.”
Smith did not redshirt Wetenkamp like he did most of his freshmen this season. He knew the four-time high school All-American would be up to the challenge of making the transition to college.
“Coach asked me if I was ready to take the step to start during my recruiting visit and told me it would probably be the case if I came to Missouri, so I was prepared for it,” Wetenkamp said.
To adjust, Wetenkamp has been stepping up his conditioning.
“I’ve been running a lot and I wrestle a lot with the smaller heavyweights on our team so I get used to wrestling smaller heavy weights,” he said.
Wetenkamp is no stranger to overcoming adversity on and off the mat.
Wetenkamp’s mother, Jann, died during his junior year of high school, but he demonstrated the emotional and physical strength to keep wrestling and make the state championship match.
“He showed just how strong of a person he is,” Dennis Kosloski, Wetenkamp’s high school coach, said.
Wetenkamp said his mother had much to do with his decision to keep wrestling.
“My mother was a real inspiration to me,” Wetenkamp said. “She helped me get to where I am today and I didn’t want to let her down.”
While his 22-12 record is impressive, it is Wetenkamp’s improvement that has Smith excited.
“Of all the freshman on the team, he has progressed the most of any,” Smith said. “From where he was in the first tournament this season where he didn’t even place to now he’s beating some of the better guys in the country and battling with everybody, I think he’s going to be a threat by the end of the season.”
Wetenkamp’s progress this season is showed in a major 11-0 decision against Cal State Bakersfield and a fall in 1:22 against Rider on Jan. 14 in the Virginia Duals.
Smith said Wetenkamp’s ability to learn from his mistakes is what makes him an excellent wrestler.
“He’s one of those kids that says ‘I made that mistake once and I won’t make it again,’” he said.
Wetenkamp said seeing the success of teammates like Ben Askren, who is 26-0 on the season, has pushed him to succeed.
“It’s not really competition,” Wetenkamp said. “But I want to be on that pedestal and get to that point.”
Kosloski said he isn’t surprised at the freshman’s success. He said Wetenkamp is one of the best wrestlers he has coached during his 35-year tenure.
“Chase obviously has tremendous physical strength and size,” Kosloski said. “He basically holds every individual school record imaginable, from pins, to matches won to takedowns. But what really stands out is his determination and his heart.”
Before coming to Missouri, Wetenkamp received scholarship offers to play football on the offensive line at Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But he decided to wrestle.
“Football to me was fun,” Wetenkamp said. “I love team sports but I enjoy the individual aspect of wresting a lot. I like being driven individually and being able to set goals for myself.”