Winning a national championship was the goal. John Mears noted that was the only reason he made the trip to Virginia Beach, Va. over the weekend.
The Belgrade junior came up a little shy, however, placing fourth on Saturday at the 2019 NHSCA High School Nationals in the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
Mears, a three-time state champion for the Panthers, reached the semifinals at 138 pounds en route posting a 5-2 record. He won his first five matches at the three-day event before losing in the semifinals.
“It’s definitely not settled in yet,” Mears said of placing fourth. “I think I’ll be happy with it in the coming days.”
It was the first tournament since February for Mears, who won Montana’s Class A championship at 152 pounds. He dropped 11 pounds to compete in the 138 pound weight class (there was a 3-pound allowance) and felt fresh following a sluggish start to the weekend.
“I was feeling pretty good. I was feeling a little faster,” said Mears. “When I wrestled with the high school coach (Belgrade’s Sean Dellwo) he said I looked a little better than I did even in the high school season with a little more quickness down there.”
Mears began the tournament by beating Oregon’s Travis Sherman by major decision, 11-2, and then winning by technical fall against New York’s Nate Bruno, 17-2.
“I’d say the first match I was a little rusty maybe, a little out of shape. But that’s just kind of how first matches go,” said Mears. “A little tired from weight cutting and everything, but I think after that I felt pretty good.”
Things got much tougher from there as Mears posted a third round victory against New Jersey’s Jacob Gonzalez, 9-5, and then held off Colorado’s Aaden Valdez, 11-9. That set up a quarterfinal match against William Mcdougald, which Mears won 3-1.
In the semifinals, Mears suffered his first loss to Florida’s Ethan Basile, 10-5. Basile went on to win the championship.
“That semifinal guy that went on to win it, he’s definitely the real deal,” said Mears. “He kind of dominated me really. It was 10-5, but he definitely controlled the whole match.”
In the consolation match, Mears lost to Georgia’s Nicholas Stonecheck 7-4.
It was Mears’ first experience competing in the tournament, and he noted it took some time to adjust to higher level of competition as well as the different style of East Coast wrestling.
“It’s a lot more like scrambling and stuff,” said Mears. “You get in on a shot and that’s where the action begins. You’re flipping all over the place.”
While not satisfied with placing fourth, Mears was happy to have had the opportunity to compete in the tournament.
“I placed and it was a 128-man bracket, so that’s good,” he said. “I kind of liked how they set it up too. There’s no stands. Everybody’s just on the floor watching and then the quarterfinals and semifinals I got to wrestle on an elevated mat in other room. That was pretty cool.”