PITTSBURGH, Pa.: Becoming an All-American wrestler isn’t just about physical stature and talent. You need a good mental game.
Lock Haven’s Kyle Shoop wasn’t ready in his first two appearance in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Now that he is here a third time, he looks like the complete package as a competitor and appears ready to take the next step.
That showed in Thursday’s opening rounds at the PPG Paints Arena. Shoop topped Utah Valley’s Matt Findlay by an 8-7 count and backed it up by a dominating 19-10 major over No. 4 seed Josh Alber, of Northern Iowa, in the Round of 16.
“The first year, you are just happy to make it,” Shoop said. “The second year, again, it’s cool to be there and win one match.
“This year, it’s all about coming here, making noise, and becoming an All-American. I just have to keep going on the path and believing in myself. It really helps being in Pennsylvania with a lot of fans. It feels good.”
Believing in himself was the missing component for Shoop, who wrestled for Pennsylvania Class 2A standout Boiling Springs in high school.
Shoop always had the ability. He just had to know deep down that he could compete against the best in the college ranks. That confidence was building throughout the season, and it was unleashed in the win over Alber.
The Northern Iowa wrestler scored a major and tech fall over Shoop a year ago. The two didn’t wrestle this season, but Shoop pushed Oklahoma stud Dominick Demas in a 5-2 loss that showed he was heading in teh right direction.
“I kind of wanted that one bad,” Shoop, the No. 13 seed, said. “It was just believing in myself, believing I belong where I belong, and just going out there and making it happen.
“He teched me last year, and it’s just a turning point in myself and believing I belong with the best people and scoring points.”
Shoop scored in droves, and he didn’t stop until the final whistle in a victory that got the PPG Paints Arena buzzing.
Alber got off to a quick start with a takedown, but Shoop reversed and scored four near-fall point to make a 6-2 first-period statement.
Shoop has always been a beast on top. He took the position to start the second and scored another tilt with just under a minute left to bump his lead to 10-2 by the end of the second period.
“The college four-point near-fall is nicer than high school,” Shoop said. “Just getting those two tilts, building a lead, just staying smart, and again, knowing it’s going to be hard to come back.
“You get up by eight points, and it’s 2-1 with getting takedowns. You need like 16 takedowns, and I’m not getting turned on bottom like I used to.”
Alber was forced to play the takedown-escape game. He scored the first one a mere eight seconds into the third after taking neutral, but Shoop escaped 15 seconds later to remain seven points ahead on the scoring pylon.
The process took place three more times. Then, Shoop put this one away with a takedown and added two near-fall points for good measure to earn the major in front of friends and family who made the trip.
“It feels good,” Shoop said. “I have my family here, my girlfriend, and a lot of friends are coming tomorrow. Just knowing I have that support system is huge.
“You look over and see a crowd of Lock Haven people, and it feels good. I just have to keep going and feeding off that momentum. When you are beating one of the higher seeded guys, the crowd is going nuts, and you feed off it.”
The victory moved Shoop into Friday’s quarterfinal round, which takes place at 11 a.m. His opponent, No. 8-seeded Jaydin Eierman, of Missouri.
“I have to keep doing what I’m doing,” Shoop said. “There is no reason to really change the game plan.
“I just know he is historically good with the cradle, so I need to keep my head away from my knee, keep going, and believing in myself.”