UNK wrestling’s Eldredge ‘going off into the sunset’ after winning national championship

Austin Eldredge is the newest national champion in the 174-pound weight class at the NCAA Division II level.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 8:41 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 16, 2023 at 10:04 AM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - Austin Eldredge is the newest national champion in the 174-pound weight class at the NCAA Division II level. The UNK sixth-year senior defeated previously unbeaten Abner Romero of St. Could State in the title match Saturday.

“I genuinely felt happy,” Eldredge told Local4. “I was so happy to be able to do what I knew I could do, what I was capable of, put together a good performance mentally and physically on the mat, beat a really good opponent. And then just do it in front of a great crowd. All my friends and family were there. My coaches, they’ve put so much work into me and it just meant the world to me that I could finish my career in that sort of way.”

Eldredge had previously finished as a DII All-American twice before, each time finishing in fourth place. After getting upset as the No. 1 seed a year ago, he said he was able to wrestle “carefree” as the three-seed in this tournament.

“It was probably the least nervous I’ve ever felt for a match,” Eldredge said. “It was exciting to have one where I wasn’t supposed to win. I just wanted to give my best and I remember saying to our (assistant) coach (Andrew) Sorenson, ‘My best against his best. Let’s see who’s going to do it. Who’s going to win it?’”

Sure enough, Eldredge came out on top in a 12-4 victory to win his first national title.

“Walking into the finals, his coaches were sitting there saying, ‘This is one of the best pound-for-pound guys in Division II,’” Jensen said. “‘He’s a proven national champ.’ Knew it was going to be a tough matchup for Austin and to watch him go out and do it with a smile on his face and enjoy every minute of being out there -- and I said, ‘This is fun isn’t it, Austin?’ He had a big smile on his face and was ready to go for that third period and finish the last two minutes of his career.”

The Lopers’ lone national champion this year, Eldredge has the opportunity to exercise his free COVID year of eligibility and return to UNK for a seventh season. He says that isn’t the plan and he’s happy to go out on top.

“I think I’m retired,” Eldredge said. “It’s pretty hard to duplicate that. I’ve got the checklist of national championship, team championship. I feel pretty happy about going off into the sunset a little bit.”

“For someone to have that Cinderella finish, cap it off with a national title, is unbelievable,” Jensen said. “What better way to cap off your career? We’re just happy he’s been a part of this program. He’s been a great ambassador for UNK.”

It’s a moment Eldredge said is one of the best of his life.

“It was so special and it makes me emotional to even think about now,” he said. “It’s awesome. Greatest feeling I’ve probably ever had.”