“The COVID year” robbed many wrestlers of their dreams of NCAA gold, but it was 2021 that may have seen the worst robbery in National Championship history.
No. 20 seed Josh Heil of Campbell University pushed No. 4 seed Boo Lewallen of Oklahoma State to a second OT in the second round of the tournament. After escaping a very close call on an Oklahoma State challenge, Heil found himself restarting in the center of the mat with seven seconds left on the clock. The clock started and the two mysteriously found themselves wrestling for close to seven seconds with no horn or whistle to be heard.
Referees went to the sidelines, put on the headsets and saw the error and had no real recourse. The two reset for the same seven seconds they already wrestled and Lewallen had just enough time to complete a takedown and win the match, putting an end to Heil’s run.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Heil said. “I’m one of those guys that’s just going to wrestle. I’m not really going to worry about what the refs are saying or what’s being said outside. I’m not concerned about what’s going on. I just want to get on the mat, do my thing and get off, so I had no idea what the heck was going on.”
The more the reality of the situation hit him, the more he was grasping that he lost because of a lapse in focus from officials. While most athletes could hold their head high knowing fault fell elsewhere, all Heil could do was blame himself.
Even with the built-in reality that it wasn’t his fault, Heil wouldn’t let himself off the hook.
“If I’m in a situation that doesn’t go my way, it’s my fault.,” Heil explained. “When that happened, instantly I was like, ‘What could I have done more?’ Instantly, I put it on me. Yes, the ref didn’t do his job and the refs came out and said they didn’t do their job. They came out with a rule saying something or another. I’m just thinking, ‘Well, if I don’t let him take me down with half a second left, nothing happens.’”
Whether it was the fact that his run had come to an end, the fact that he let himself down or the fact that a serious loophole led to the mistake being made to begin with, Heil wasn’t able to sleep that night.
With a banged up body that needed time to recover, Heil found that the inactivity was great for his body but not his mind. The loss weighed on him every second that he didn’t have wrestling to distract himself with. He went to every length to avoid even thinking about it, but it was just too devastating of a loss.
“That specific instance, we’ve kind of stayed away from it,” Heil said. “We didn’t go back and watch video of it, we didn’t review the match, which I normally do. Normally, when I lose a match, I go review it and see what I do wrong and I get back out there and fix those things. That match, I didn’t review it.”
Going into his senior season, Heil explains that the second he hit the mat, the frustration and anger were gone.
He’s got one more run at NCAA gold and a refreshing, yet grim, outlook on the situation has him mentally and physically in better shape than he’s ever been as he stares down the barrel of his final collegiate matches.
“This is my last event,” Heil said. “I’m going to go out there, I’m going to wrestle and give it my hardest and I’m going to move on with my life. Nothing worse can happen to me that’s already happened to me. I’ve lost at the NCAA tournament many times, that incident happened, nothing worse can happen.”
Win or lose, Heil’s run is over in a few days and it’ll be on to the next chapter. Luckily for everybody in combat sports, Heil’s first priority is recovery, after that, he just may wander into an MMA cage or two.
“I’ve always had MMA in the back of my mind, but I’ve got some time,” Heil said. “I’ve got some healing to do. My body’s pretty jacked up, so before I would go that route I’ve got to heal up first.”
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