The dichotomy that comes with stepping on the wrestling mat can be paralyzing.
It’s a solitary act, one that requires faith that all of the drilling and grinding in the practice room will pay dividends, to stand across from an opponent who is ready to take out the frustrations of starving himself and/or putting themselves through meat-grinding-type practices all week for this very moment.
And yet not everyone who straps on the colored ankle in the center of the mat does it alone.
There are outside influences that can wreak havoc with the confidence of young men that keeps them from competing at an optimum level.
Two Desert Vista wrestlers continue to show they are in the process of overcoming these mental infiltrators.
Seniors Tristan Ezell and Nico Campbell performed at a high level Saturday on Arizona’s brightest stage at the 48th annual Flowing Wells Invitational in Tucson.
Ezell has shown flashes of greatness, including getting to the semifinals at Flowing Wells the previous two years, only to follow it up with a misstep of some sort. He fully admits he lets certain moments become too big for him to handle.
“I can do whatever I put my mind to once I get over barriers and the demons inside my head,” he said. “Once I get past the negativity I know I should be on top of the podium every time. Only when I stop the negativity in my head.”
He was able to do that on Saturday when he stopped two negative trends when he got past the semifinals at Flowing Wells with a last-second, 9-4 win over top-seeded Travis Howard of Marana and then followed it up with a 9-5 win over Centennial third-seed Lewis Arendall, who won the previous two meetings including by pin at the Peoria Invite the week before, to win the 220-pound title.
“This is huge for him,” said Thunder coach David Gonzalez, whose team finished sixth with five placers as Alex Carrillo (second, 113), Jeremiah Imonode (fifth, 182) and Adam Ortega (fourth, HVY) also placed. “He has been up and down. He just has to believe in all of the technique and experience he has. This can take the monkey off his back.”
Ezell, who is 30-5 on the season, is ready to take that next step after winning the Caballero trophy as a Flowing Wells champion.
“The semifinals is what made the tournament for me honestly,” he said. “Winning this tournament means the world to me. I got to the semis and I lost (the previous two years). The semifinals are always such a hard match for me because all the negative voices are crawling back in my head, but I got it done. To be able to walk out with this Caballero (trophy) is just amazing.”
Campbell didn’t finish off his tournament with a title but still made strides as the rust seems to be completely removed after taking a year off from the sport.
“I’m putting it together this year after taking some time away,” Campbell said. “I needed to take a break. I was burned out and the year off really helped me enjoy the sport a lot more.”
He finished second at 138 pounds, losing 10-3 in the finals to Chandler’s Estevan Ulibarri, who is as physical as they come.
“I kept telling him as we get through the year it will keep coming back little by little,” Gonzalez said. “We identified some problems early on and he started wrestling really well in California and the confidence came with it.”
Campbell has been surrounded by accomplished wrestlers and trying to match that potential can be suffocating if you allow it.
When you work with Thunder three-time state champion Robbie Mathers, you have a personal coach who has a successful international Greco-Roman career and your dad, T.J., was a four-time Montana state champion, it can be hard to measure up.
It’s to the point where his dad helps him on the side but doesn’t see many of Campbell’s matches in person.
“He has been really supportive but it is hard to have him at my matches,” Campbell said. “It’s a subconscious thing having him watching over me. He stays away when I am wrestling.”
Campbell, however, is starting to forge his own career after getting to the finals of Flowing Wells and can now use it as a motivator moving forward.
He is starting to pull off some big-time throws and finding his way to the medal rounds after finishing second in California, fourth in Peoria and now second at Flowing Wells.
“The year off really helped me a lot and straighten some things out,” he said. “Now I am training harder and I want to win a lot more.”
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