Rolla's Nate Pulliam has gotten off to an excellent start to his high school wrestling career.
After finishing his freshman season with a staggering 49-1 record and a second place finish at State, Pulliam has been working this summer to show of his talents on the mat outside of the state of Missouri. He had the chance to do just that when he traveled to Fargo, ND for the USMC/USAW Cadet and Junior Freestyle National Championships on Friday and Saturday, July 13-14. The soon-to-be-sophomore made quite an impact, placing in the top 25 in the 126 pound weight class.
This tournament was the biggest Pulliam has ever wrestled in, but he said the butterflies went away as soon as he was able to hit the mat for the first time.
"It was crazy because I look to my left and I have kid from California and I look to my right and there's a kid from New York. The competition was crazy and the actual arena was huge," said Pulliam. "It was a little bit to take in, but once I started wrestling, I felt like it was (okay). I actually had a friend ask me if I had stage fright when I got on the mat and I didn't really. Once I was on the mat, it was like every other time I've wrestled."
The Rolla wrestler also had to make some big adjustments on the fly right off the bat. The tournament was centered around freestyle wrestling, which is different than the folkstyle wrestling that's seen during the high school season. Pulliam spent time preparing for freestyle, only to have his first competitor use a mix of both styles. The young Bulldog was able to adjust and pull out a 10-8 win over Minnesota's Kyle Boeke.
"It made me have to adjust a lot, because he's be throwing freestyle and folkstyle at different moments, so I'd have to know when to hit a certain shot one way or throw a dump or a throw another way," said Pulliam. "I just had to adjust and make sure I did throughout the match."
Rolla head coach Marty Hauck had the chance to go with Pulliam up to the national tournament and was proud to see him adjust to some curveballs right out of the gate.
"His first match, he gave them a couple of points. The kid scored four points on Nate wrestling folkstyle, which is what we do during high school," said coach Hauck. "Nate was able to adjust during the match and pick up a couple of points freestyle-wise on the other kid."
After winning his first match, Pulliam looked dominant in his second. The Rolla wrestler crushed Indiana's Quinton Chapman 10-0 and was feeling confident as he moved into the round of 16.
"After my second match especially, I was feeling good. In my first one, I wrestled kinda sloppy," said the Bulldog wrestler. "In my second one, I felt good, so I was ready to go. I was pumped up and I wanted to win."
Unfortunately, Pulliam's path in the tournament got a lot harder in the round of 16. He wrestled against Michael Burnett from Ohio in that round and took his first loss of the tournament 10-0. While it was a tough loss to take, he lost to a worthy opponent, as Burnett went on to finish in second place. Pulliam then went into the consolation bracket, where he took another 10-0 loss to Illinois' Cameron Johnson, who finished in seventh place. Pulliam was able to find solace in the fact that his two losses were both two top seven finishers.
"I realized that they were the real deal, so it's not like I loss to someone who's worse than me on a differ day. They were actually really good," said the Rolla wrestler. "That makes me know where I need to be at next year, so if I do want to place or if I want to be on like the Junior World Team, I know what kind of level I need to be at."
The soon-to-be-sophomore said the two losses were a wakeup call for him, but an important wakeup call.
"Going into the tournament, honestly, I felt like 'hey, I can do this' and it's good that I did lose, because I learned that I'm not at that level yet," said Pulliam. "But that's a good thing, because now I have something to train for."
Pulliam now has even more drive to make sure he can do even better when he competes next summer. This time around, he wasn't sure if he wanted to wrestle at 126 and 120 and he ended up wrestling at 126, because it was the easier weight to hit. In retrospect, he wishes he had put more thought into his weight class.
"It shows me that next year when I'm training for this, I need to take it a little more seriously," said the Bulldog wrestler. "Not that I didn't take it seriously, but I didn't train enough. I trained for about a month, which is still good training, but for these tournaments, you need to be training three months in advance.
"Also weight-wise, for these tournaments you have to cut the weight and you have to do it properly. I was originally going to go 120, but I decided to go 126," continued Pulliam. "They were big and very solid and you could definitely feel that they know what they're doing. They're there to win, obviously, because they're cutting that weight. They're all solid."
While Pulliam wishes he had the chance to finish with a little higher and have a chance to place, coach Hauck is extremely proud of his performance and knows that this is just the first step in Pulliam reaching his goals.
"Failure brings success. You can't succeed without failure very many times. These failures aren't exactly failures, they're stepping stones and learning moments for him," said Hauck. "He knows that he's good here in the state, but to be humbled on the national stage, which is where he really wants to shine, it's a great learning moment for him and a great chance for him to continue to grow in the sport and realize that there's so much more to learn. He's young, he's coming into his sophomore year and we've got three more years to see this kid blossom."
Pulliam's attention will now shift back to the high school season, where he'll look to eliminate the one loss he had last season. Outside of his goals for the season, the Bulldog will continue to set high goals as he prepares to step back onto the national stage.
"Some goals for next year, for sure it will be placing at Fargo. I'm also going to go to Ohio and try to compete for the Junior World Team," said Pulliam. "The thing about the Ohio one, is those kids in that bracket, it's even higher than Fargo there, because those kids are trying to make the World Team. You'll have like 10 Fargo champs in your bracket, so that's where it really happens. Once I can do that, then I'll look at maybe eventually making the Olympic Team or the Men's World Team and going on from there."