Maleek Williams has had his mind on unfinished business for almost a year.
Three days shy to be exact, but Upper Iowa’s 125-pound senior can turn his full attention to what eluded him a year ago.
“Almost 365 days,” Williams said about how long he has waited for a chance to improve last season’s national runner-up performance. “I’m always thinking about what I could have done better in that match to come out on top. In practices, after tournaments and matches, I’m always just thinking about it.”
Williams will make his fourth appearance at the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center, beginning Friday at 11 a.m. He is one of four qualifiers for Upper Iowa, which placed fourth in the team race a year ago.
Williams (21-10) is the eighth seed and faces Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Brendan Howard (19-5) in the first round. A victory could pit him against unbeaten No. 1-seed Carlos Jacquez, of Lindenwood, in the quarterfinals.
Doubters were silenced at the regional tournament when Williams reached the finals as a fifth seed.
“That’s OK,” Williams said. “You can put me at the eighth seed. I’ll turn some heads, a couple people will bat some eyes and we’ll see what is really good.”
Williams made a huge postseason leap last year. He didn’t make the podium in his first two NCAA appearances, but advanced to the finals at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids in 2018.
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Grimm said it is an impressive accomplishment to be a four-time national qualifier, but it would be better to return to the finals and cap his career with a title. He said Williams has developed a knack for wrestling his best when the spotlight is brightest.
“Maleek tends to really dial it in during the biggest occasions,” Grimm said. “We’re going to miss that guy greatly. There have been some downs in his career, he always brings it and always shows up for the biggest matches.”
Williams, a regional runner-up, has posted some quality victories this season. He defeated an NAIA All-American earlier in the season. Williams recorded a 13-6 major decision over St. Cloud State’s former national champ and second-seeded Brett Velasquez in one of his final home duals.
“He was hot to start off the year and then he cooled off,” Grimm said. “He’s a little bit streaky.
“He’s right there.”
Grimm noted that they implemented a more disciplined approach, especially in the opening moments of matches. The goal was to remain in good position and stingy early. Williams began to notice a change at the start of February.
He wants to ride that wave of momentum into the national tournament.
“I picked it up right at the end,” Williams said. “I am moving like I haven’t moved in a long time, getting takedowns and not being afraid to do things.
“I’m going to have to keep moving, no matter what. I can’t have my feet sitting on cinder blocks is what coaches say. I have to keep moving, believe in my attacks and takedowns and stay smart in every position and not trying to force things. When I do that, I usually come out on top.”
Williams and Nick Baumler return as All-Americans for the Peacocks. Baumler (21-7) was seventh a year ago and is seeded eighth this season. Junior Justin Folley (28-7) is Upper Iowa’s best seeded wrestler, coming in No. 6 at 133. Brock Benitz (15-5) is unseeded at 165.
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“Those guys expect to do big things,” Grimm said. “We want to come back with four All-Americans. There isn’t a guy going there thinking they can’t win every match he wrestles.”
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