Wrestling can be a brutally tough sport. It’s especially tough at the college level. Many very successful high school wrestlers struggled mightily making the transition from high school to college wrestling.
The skill level is vastly different, and the competition is much faster and stronger. For many freshmen wrestlers, it takes awhile to get acclimated to the level of skill at the college level.
Mitch Voelker, a 2009 graduate of Schuylkill Valley High School, is one of those wrestlers. He freely admits that he was in over his head when he joined the Kutztown University wrestling team for the 2009-10 season.
In fact, he was not able to break into the line-up, so he was red-shirted his first year.
“My career has been filled with a lot of ups and downs,” said Voelker. I red-shirted my freshman year, but I have improved ever since I’ve been here, and to me that’s most important, pushing myself and the team to get better each year.”
He made the line-up in the 2010-11 season, going a modest 5-16. The next season, he still struggled at 8-11, but was improving.
“I was a boy wrestling men,” he said. “I took a lot of beatings in the room at first, but always came back to practice to get better.”
Giving up is not something Voelker ever considered. No matter how difficult it became, he was determined to work that much harder to get better.
His hard work paid off last year when he finished with a winning record of 15-13. But he made great strides from the beginning to the end of the season. He finished third overall in the NCAA Super Region 1 Championships, and was a NCAA qualifier.
After losing in the first round of the regional tournament, he fought all the way back to get third place and a spot at the NCAA tournament.
“It was great and eye opening at the same time,” said Voelker about competing at the national level. “I was happy just to get there and be a part of the Division II National festival. I say it was eye opening because of the level of competition that I faced was stronger and more experienced.”
Now that he has tasted the national tournament, he has just one goal for his senior season, that is to win a national championship. It’s a lofty goal for someone who had just eight wins two years ago.
Kutztown University head wrestling coach Rob Fisher believes there isn’t much Voelker could do if he put his mind to it.
“Mitch has been a true Warrior for us his entire career here at Kutztown,” said Fisher. “His work ethic is off the charts and really second to none.”
Voelker started wrestling when he was in fourth grade. He played lots of sports as a young boy, but never played a winter sport until he tried wrestling.
“A lot of my friends helped in convincing me to join,” He said. “But it was also the fact that I was full of energy and would become bored without sports.”
Wrestling filled the winter sports hole nicely. He quickly grew into a very good wrestler, wrestling both for Schuylkill Valley High School, and on the Steel Mat Club team.
“There are so many memories from Granby camp in the summer, to wrestling in Disney world winning national duals, to placing third in the state as a team, or winning counties my senior year as a team,” said Voelker. “What I’ll remember most though is how hard we worked in and out of season, and the time we spent with each other outside of the room at team sleep overs.”
Voelker has many people thank for the success he has had in the sport, but he gives Schuylkill Valley High School coach Duane Mauer a lot of the credit.
“I’ll never forget his motivational talks after practice and all the work he put in making his athletes being the best they could become,” said Voelker.
He also gives credit to his coaches at Kutztown who helped him go from an overmatched freshman wrestler to an NCAA national qualifier. He’s hoping to make a continued improvement and earn an NCAA medal this year - maybe even a gold.
“Mitch will be truly missed (next season) by not only myself and the rest of my program, but also by the entire university,” said Coach Fisher. “You don’t replace quality human beings like Mitch Voelker.”
Voelker is a sports management major and plans to be a personal trainer. He would also like to stay in the sport of wrestling as a coach.