KEARNEY, Neb. — Former Mount Vernon High School wrestling regional champion Michael Lybarger can add another title to his name — NCAA champion.
Lybarger, now a junior at the University of Findlay, won a pair of matches in heart-stopping fashion to win the 165-pound national title at the NCAA Division II wrestling championships at the University of Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday night.
“I’m excited,” Lybarger told the News in a telephone interview after the match. “It was quite an experience. It really felt good to win, after having been runner-up twice at state.”
Lybarger qualified for the state meet all four years he was at Mount Vernon High School. He was runner-up twice, in 2006 (125 pounds) and 2007 (140 pounds). Lybarger and Travis Popham are the only Yellow Jackets to accomplish both feats.
But earning a national college title is breaking new ground.
Going into the match, Lybarger had to stay focused to keep the nerves from overwhelming him.
“I was nervous, especially going into overtime,” Lybarger said. “I tried to stay calm. Don’t get too hyped. Just go out there and wrestle like it’s just another match.”
Lybarger was locked in a 1-1 deadlock with Gannon University’s Zack McKendree after regulation.
Late in the one-minute overtime period, McKendree shot in on a single-leg takedown against Lybarger.
The UF standout hipped in and used a whizzer counter to take McKendree to his back for a takedown and two-point nearfall to earn a 3-1 win.
After the match, Lybarger, who finished the season with a 39-4 record and 22 straight victories, said, “Winning it all is always your goal at the beginning of the season. But I really handled some ranked kids and then for the rest of the season things just kind of clicked.”
Lybarger’s championship is Findlay’s seventh NCAA Division II individual national title for head coach Shawn Nelson.
McKendree (36-11) played it conservative for most of the match. His only real scoring threat came in overtime when Lybarger countered for the only takedown of the bout.
Lybarger, meanwhile, just missed out on a couple of scoring opportunities. He used a fireman’s carry to take McKendree to the mat as time expired in the first period.
And as time was running out in regulation, Lybarger nearly pinned McKendree as the two were tied up on the mat while neither wrestler had the advantage.
“I thought he was done,” said Lybarger on his near pin of McKendree at the end of the third period.
“I was doing everything I could to bury him. I was waiting for the referee to slap the mat and time just ran out.”
It took a third-period burst for Lybarger to even reach the final.
Lybarger (38-4) gave up a pair of first-period takedowns to Augustana’s Gavin Nelson and trailed 5-3 heading into the third period. Lybarger opened the final frame with an escape and scored a takedown late in the match and rode Nelson out the rest of the way for a 6-5 win.