In case anyone was curious, successfully defending an NCAA wrestling championship is more difficult than winning one.
“The second one is tougher,” said Delanson’s Nick Gwiazdowski after beating Michigan’s Adam Coon, 7-6, Saturday night for his second straight 285-pound championship. “Last year, I was the one chasing. This year, I was the one being chased, The one with a target on my back.”
The North Carolina State redshirt junior — who won two states titles and placed third in another state tournament while at Duanesburg — expected, and got, every opponent’s best effort all season.
“The whole season, every time it was kill or be killed, in the rankings and everything else,” he said. “To me, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is this.”
“Any time you are defending the title, there is a lot of pressure and he kept his composure and confidence through it all,” tweeted North Carolina State head coach Pat Popolizio, a Niskayuna native who was also Gwiazdowski’s coach when he placed eighth as a true freshman at Binghamton in 2012.
“This was an amazing accomplishment for Nick. Defending his national title shows his dedication and desire to be the best.”
Gwiazdowski completed a 35-0 season, and with defending 197 champ J’Den Cox of Missouri losing in the semis, he now owns the longest winning streak in Division I at 55 matches.
Gwiazdowski is 107-11 for his career, 77-2 at N.C. State.
After winning his first three matches by a total of 33-6 this weekend, Gwiazdowski beat fifth-seeded Connor Medbery of Wisconsin, 6-3, in Friday night’s semifinal.
Coon fought second-seeded Mike McMullan of Northwestern through overtime before earning a 3-1 win in the sudden-victory stage in his semi.
“I knew it going to be a war. It was not going to be easy,” said Gwiazdowski, the first two-time national champ Wolfpack history. “I looked at all of his matches, he doesn’t stop.”
Gwiazdowski was confident in his ability to put up points in the final.
And he did, getting a pair of takedowns and a reversal. But all that work only resulted in a 6-6 tie when Coon got a takedown with less than 30 seconds remaining.
“I had one little letdown where I probably should have stayed and wrestled that big attack of his, but I decided to try and run, and he grabbed my ankle,” said Gwiazdowski.
“I scored two takedowns and a reversal, and it’s still a one-point match at the end. Here, I’ve done all this stuff against him to score, and he got one takedown and it was a one-point match.”
Coon’s first four points had all come on escapes, one to start the second period, three after Gwiazdowski had scored, and then offered minimum resistance, preferring to be on his feet.
With time running down, it was Gwiazdowski who needed to get back to the neutral position. And he was sure he could do it.
“I knew how easy I got out the first time,” he said, referring to his reversal at the start of the third period that gave him a 6-3 lead.
Gwiazdowski credited his attacking style as the key to his second title.
“I think if you look at all his [Coon’s] other matches, they were low-scoring, and what did I put up, seven points on him? I think that says something about the way I wrestle, my coaches and what I do in the weight room, too,” said Gwiazdowski, who took Coon to the mat with a blast double-leg take down for a 4-2 lead in the second period.
“By no means did I chase a certain shot. But all of a sudden it was, ‘Boom. boom.’ I’ll take it. It was there.”
His style caught some opponents off guard last year. So Gwiazdowski worked hard in the offseason to improve.
“I think I’m a lot better wrestler this year,” said the three-time All-American.
And more appreciative.
“This one I’m going to enjoy a lot more,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy saying I’m a two-time champ.”