“Pure joy,” were the words freshman Brett Velasquez used to describe the moment he won the national title at the NCAA Division II wrestling championship in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The wrestling team tasted victory for the second year in a row, with seven athletes competing on the mat’s national stage on March 11 through March 12 at the Sanford Center. All members of the team competed exceptionally well, but one victory in particular at the 125-pound championship match secured their title and trophy once again.
“To accomplish my goals that I’ve been working toward since I was 5 years old, strapping on the shoes for the first time … and for the team, being able to lock up our second national title was just a moment of pure joy and happiness,” Velasquez said. “Being able to see all my family and friends and come back under the tunnel and celebrate with six other guys there with me, then the rest of the team. It was just phenomenal.”
After a year of training with his team, the redshirt freshman showcased his hard work, finishing the year with a 25-2 record during the 2015-2016 season. To top it off, he earned academic honors and was named NWCA All-Academic First Team and won NSIC Rookie of the Year award.
Records and academic success are not new to Velasquez, as he set the school record at his high school in Bennington, Neb. with an overall record of 171-4 and was valedictorian of his graduating class in 2014.
After winning the national title, Velasquez did the first and only thing he could think of.
“I went up and hugged my mom,” he said. “That’s what I did after all my high school titles, I would find my mom and hug her.”
Velasquez’s brother Josh also attended and watched him pin down the victory, but it wasn’t too long ago that the roles were reversed. Several weeks before the national matchup, Velasquez made the trip to the state tournament in Nebraska to cheer Josh on as he competed in the championship match.
“He’s a senior and took second place in the finals, and I was right there,” Velasquez said. “It was rough, I gave him a big hug, he was bawling in my arms.”
The family support continued on to the national tournament, but this time, when Velasquez won, there were happy tears.
“When I got to do it, again he (Josh) was crying in my arms, but this time it was pure joy and him telling me how proud he was of me. I just love my family and my friends so much, it was really special,” Velasquez said.
Athletic Director Heather Weems watched the match and described “raw and real” emotion from the team.
Weems said, “As a team they are so well-connected and support one another, that at the end of the day you knew it was possible. They’ve had a target on their back all year so you knew that it could happen, but as Brett said, when he realized after his match at 125 that we clinched the national title, it just reminds you how special it is.”
Fellow husky supporter Marissa Kline was following the SCSU Snapchat story to learn Velasquez was competing in the final match.
“[When] I saw that Brett (Velasquez) was wrestling in the championship, I turned it on quick and I saw the last part of his match. After I saw him win, I was so happy, I had tears in my eyes. I was so happy for all of them, because I knew that Brett (Velasquez) winning secured them the championship as well,” Kline said.
Many wonder what Velasquez’s plans are for the future after snagging such a title during his first year. To that, he said he is living life in the present.
“I’m not going to look too far ahead, I know people are saying I could be a four time national champ, but I’m not worried about that right now,” he said. “I’m worried about getting ready and getting more prepared for next season, because there are a lot of areas I can improve on. I’m looking to take it one day at a time and get better each day.”
Velasquez says St. Cloud “feels like home,” and he plans to continue his education and athletic career here while pursuing a degree in biomedical science with plans to become a physical therapist down the road.