There was never a doubt Sam Colbray would one day punch his ticket to the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
One of the most successful and dominant high school wrestlers in Oregon history, Colbray qualified for the NCAAs on Sunday by finishing second at 184 pounds at the Big 12 Championships in Tulsa, Okla.
“It’s exciting,” said Colbray, who is ranked 10th heading into the NCAAs. “It was a goal. Coming out of high school, I was a top-ranked recruit. Our coaching staff has brought out the best in me.”
The Cyclones were second in the team standings at the Big 12 tournament with 114.5 points. Oklahoma State won the title with 158 points.
Iowa State will send nine men to the NCAA Championships on March 21-23 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Tournament brackets were released Wednesday, and Colbray, 21, finds himself against a familiar foe in Fresno State’s Jackson Hemauer. Colbray beat Hemauer 8-7 in a dual on Jan. 13.
Colbray and fellow 2016 Hermiston High grad Bob Coleman, who is at Oregon State, are on opposite sides of the bracket. In fact, Coleman will wrestle the pigtail match against Chris Kober of Campbell to get into the 32-man bracket.
Should Coleman win, he would face top-ranked Myles Martin of Ohio State.
The top eight in each weight class at the end of the tournament will be honored as All-Americans.
A redshirt sophomore, Colbray opened the Big 12 Championships with a 7-1 win over Jake Thompson of Air Force. He followed with an 11-5 decision over Kayne MacCallum of Oklahoma, then beat Tate Samuelson of Wyoming 5-2 in the semifinals.
Colbray, the top-ranked man at 184, fell to No. 2 Drew Foster of Northern Iowa, 4-1 in the finals.
Foster had an escape, a takedown and 2 minutes of riding time in the match.
Colbray had previously beaten Foster 8-5 in a Big 12 dual Feb. 21.
“I knew he was tough on top,” Colbray said of Foster. “I needed to make a small adjustment. It came back to bite me.”
Colbray has twice gone to the NCAAs as a spectator, and says he doesn’t expect any jitters when it comes time to step on the mat.
“It’s not much different than Fargo,” he said. “It’s just you and the other guy. I don’t really think about my opponent, I just focus on myself. There is no pressure.”
Colbray’s parents, Delta and Leroy, were at the Big 12 Tournament, and already have their reservations for the NCAAs.
“They are my biggest supporters,” Colbray said.
College wrestling is a whole other beast
Colbray had an impressive portfolio as he headed to Iowa State.
He was a four-time Oregon state champion at 195 pounds. He had a 72-1 combined record his junior and senior years of high school. He also was a five-time Fargo champion, and eight-time Fargo Junior and Cadet All-American, and a four-time Tri-State champ.
He redshirted his first year at ISU, but had a 4-4 record wrestling as an independent at tournaments.
Last season, he was 15-13 at 197 pounds.
Dropping to 184 this season, Colbray has had a lot of success.
He is 26-6 overall this year. He was 13-1 in dual matches, and has won 13 of his past 16 matches.
“It’s all part of the process,” said Colbray, who is a pre-med student. “I had seen people go through it before. You have to invest the time and you wait for a payoff. The start of my collegiate career wasn’t what I wanted, but it built me to who I am. It’s just a matter of when.”