After it seemed improbable that he would even be able to compete at the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Wrestling Tournament the last weekend in February, Chadron State College’s Brock Thumm will be mixing it up with the nation’s best at the National Tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this weekend.
Thumm is a junior from Watervliet, Mich., and will be the Eagles’ only representative at the national tournament. He’s one of 16 grapplers in the 141-pound bracket.
Thumm has a 20-8 record and will be tangling with Isaiah Royal of Newberry College in South Carolina in the opening round on Friday. One rating service has Thumm fifth in the weight class entering nationals. Royal is 22-13.
Since his hometown is only about four hours from Cedar Rapids, Thumm said something like 40 relatives and friends are expected to show up to watch him compete. He was a two-time Michigan State Wrestling Tournament champion, also won the 200 meters at the state track meet his senior year, was the senior class president and also was an honor student
He’s continued to do well academically at CSC, compiling a 3.44 GPA.
This season has been a mixed bag for Thumm and included a serious medical situation just a couple of weeks ago that threatened to sideline him for the season.
He lost is his first two matches of the season, both to entries from the U.S. Air Force Academy, during the Cowboy Open Tournament at the University of Wyoming in November.
Thumm also was nipped 4-3 in the first match at the University of Nebraska-Kearney Open Tourney the following weekend. But he won his other four matches that day, including a 9-8 verdict over the wrestler who defeated him in the opening match, and finished third in the weight class.
In mid-December, Thumm won all five of his matches at the Doane College Open Tournament to win the 141-pound title. One of his victims was Nate Hanson of Simpson College in Iowa, the defending NCAA Division III national champion. The score was 9-6.
Thumm then went 3-0 to win his second championship of the season at the Warrior-Viking Tournament hosted by Midland University at Fremont on Dec. 30. Those wins boosted his record to 13-4 entering the New Year.
He also won his first three matches at the Midwest Dual in mid-January before losing 8-4 to Brandon Ball, an All-American from Fort Hays State in Kansas.
But during the remainder of January, Thumm wasn’t much concerned about his next match. Somewhere along the way, he had contracted an infection and needed medical attention. The ailment did not respond to treatment initially, his kidneys shut down and Thumm spent four days and three nights in the Chadron Community Hospital before he improved and began to recover.
He missed the Eagles’ home duals with New Mexico Highlands and Adams State in late January, but insisted on going to the RMAC Tournament on Feb. 3, even though he was definitely not up to par.
Coach Brett Hunter reluctantly agreed to let him try.
The results were not good. He lost both matches. The first 5-4 in overtime and the next to Andrew Schulte of Cal Baptist, one of the conference’s best wrestlers. That score was ugly. Schulte won 18-3. Thumm admitted afterwards that he felt weak and realized early that he was in trouble.
While some of the Eagles entered the Rocky Mountain Tournament on Feb. 11, Thumm stayed on campus, continued to work on his conditioning and set his sights on getting ready for the regional tournament.
Thumm received a forfeit in the opening round at regionals, then edged fourth-seeded Austin Solari of San Francisco State 3-2 in the second tiebreaker session. Thumm got the point he needed to win by escaping with eight seconds left in the first 30-second overtime and then rode out Solari in the second session.
His semifinals opponent was Fort Hays State’s Ball, the 2017 regional champion at 141 pounds and an 8-4 winner when he met Thumm in mid-January. This time Thumm prevailed 2-1
Cal Baptist’s Schulte was the opponent again for the 141 championship match. He bested Thumm 8-4, but the score was much closer than the 18-3 technical fall when the pair tangled two weeks earlier at the RMAC Tourney.
Hunter said he doubted Thumm would be able to wrestle again this season when he had to be hospitalized.
“He had every right to hang it up for the season. But he’s a gritty kid. I’m happy for him in particular because he recovered and also because he qualified for the national tournament,” the coach said.
The latter remark is almost an understatement when the whole story is revealed. The Eagles had sent at least one wrestler to the national tournament for 49 consecutive years and Thumm made it 50 straight.
“It’s a really remarkable string, and Brock kept it alive for us,” said Hunter, who was a two-time national champion for the Eagles during his career that ended in 2009 with a Chadron State-best 133 victories.
Speaking from experience, Hunter noted it’s almost impossible to predict how things will turn out at nationals. His senior year, Hunter had lost three times, including twice in the previous three weeks, to Marty Usman of Nebraska-Kearney, but Hunter won 3-2 in the championship match at the National Tournament.
Eleven of this year’s 16 national finalists have at least 20 wins, led by Ball, who is on the opposite side of the bracket, with 34. Cal Baptist’s Schulte, who has a 19-3 record, is also on the bottom side and Hunter said after watching him twice, he’s anticipating that Schulte will make the finals.
Lurking on the top side where Thumm is located is Darren Wynn of McKendree College in Illinois. Wynn was the 141-pound national champion in 2016 and the runner-up at that weight last year, losing 6-5 in the finals.
With the way the bracket is set up, Thumm and Wynn can’t meet until the semifinals. Hunter points out the semifinals are a good place to be, even if you don’t win. That’s because a wrestler who wins his first two matches and reaches the semis is guaranteed a national placing.