Two wrestlers from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Titans team have a chance at a national crown this weekend at the NCAA Division III Championships in Roanoke, Virginia.
Beau Yineman, a senior physical education major from Neenah, and Luc Valdez, a senior finance major from Tinley Park, Illinois, qualified for the national tournament by placing second in their weight class at the Upper Midwest Regionals in Mequon.
Now, under the guidance of first-year Titans head wrestling coach Aaron Konitzer ’13, Yineman and Valdez both have the opportunity to go out on top.
A long road to Roanoke
Both Yineman and Valdez are in their final season with the Titans and will graduate in May. They’re also reaching the end of what are essentially lifelong wrestling careers. Both have been wrestling since elementary school and now, after 15 or so years of hard work, have earned an opportunity to go out as a national champion.
While there’ll be plenty of time for reflecting after the weekend, both carry a lot of gratitude and appreciation for their years on the mat and everyone who helped them along the way—from the elementary-age wrestling clubs, through middle and high school and their years at UWO.
Yineman said there’s also excitement looking forward, as he moves from student-athlete likely to teacher and coach.
“I’m grateful for my teammates,” he said, “and grateful for God, for guiding me through the season and guiding me as a person—to shine the line to my future students or athletes that I coach, and to be a good person and be able to be wise and to teach.”
Valdez said after qualifying for nationals, he was moved by the outpouring of support from people who, because of wrestling, have passed through his life over the years.
“It just makes me feel very happy and warm inside knowing that through these 16 years I’ve been wrestling that I’ve met so many amazing people,” he said. “And that there are so many amazing coaches that still like me and still root for me even if I don’t see them every day.”
On the biggest stage
Yineman is 24-2 with seven pins on the season. He’s also getting his second crack at glory, having finished third at last year’s national tournament in Iowa. After that experience—on top of winning a state championship with an undefeated season as a high school senior—he said he’s unfazed by the big stage.
“That stuff doesn’t intimidate me,” he said. “It’s exciting. … I’m looking to go out there and have fun and relish the opportunity to be at nationals one last time.”
It’ll be the first trip to the NCAAs for Valdez, who wrestled to a 21-8 record with three pins on the year. He also won the Max Sparger Men’s Scholar-Athlete Award and won a conference crown for a first time. (Yineman, meanwhile, won his third straight WIAC title.) It’s not lost on Valdez that after so much energy and effort, he’s already finished his career strong, no matter what happens in Roanoke.
“It feels great to have all that work I’ve put in the past few years finally pay off,” he said. “Seeing my parents—they’ve come to almost every single wrestling meet I can remember since I was probably 6 years old—when I finally was able to make it to nationals and seeing them in the crowd was a feeling I’ll never forget.”
Between now and then
The championship tournament plays out Friday and Saturday, with the top 180 wrestlers in Division III convening at Roanoke’s Berglund Center. Yineman is one of 18 wrestlers in the 197-pound weight class, and Valdez is one of 18 in the group wrestling at 125.
Both Titans said the goal for the run up to the competition is to not change up what’s been working. They both said they want to treat nationals like any other tournament.
“I’m just going to go out, practice as hard as I can every single day,” Valdez said. “As our coach always says, the guys that succeed at the end are the guys that stay consistent.”
Same goes for when it’s go-time. Both wrestlers said they just have to stick to their games and avoid too many mistakes. They are both confident they have what it takes—it’s a matter of execution.
“Mentally I know I’m ready, even if (the tournament) was tomorrow,” Yineman said. “I just have to show up and do what I do.”