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By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Calvin Ochs isn’t a big talker.
He’s not the rah-rah guy who motivates his teammates with enthralling speeches.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney wrestler lets his actions speak for themselves.
“I know it’s pretty cliché, but he’s a leader by example,” said UNK head wrestling coach Dalton Jensen. “As tough as our sport is, as combative as our sport is, you need to know you have a guy who can step out and compete at a high level every time and not back down from a challenge. That’s someone we have in Calvin Ochs.”
The fifth-year senior demonstrates his toughness on a daily basis.
Ochs, the top-ranked Division II wrestler at 165 pounds, is still battling a left shoulder injury he suffered during the 2016-17 season. The injury, followed by an unsuccessful surgery, forced him to miss the entire 2017-18 season and continues to cause problems for Ochs, who wears a protective brace during matches.
“My shoulder has a mind of its own,” Ochs said. “At this point I just let it do its thing while I do my thing.”
Although the injury has limited him to just seven matches this season, he doesn’t view it as a weakness. It’s more of a motivator.
“This is the stuff I live for,” Ochs said. “Nothing gets me more excited than being injured and still being able to beat the best and be the best. That extra challenge is what makes wrestling fun for me.”
Ochs is undefeated this season, with victories over seventh-ranked Kyle Jolas of Lindenwood, ninth-ranked Devin Fitzpatrick of St. Cloud State, 2018 All-American Devin Austin of Pittsburgh-Johnstown and 2017 national finalist Brock Wingbermuehle of McKendree University. He went 3-0 at the National Duals, where the second-ranked Lopers finished third for the second consecutive season.
“I like the big-time matches,” Ochs said. “I don’t care so much for wrestling the average kid. I want every match to be a dogfight and a battle, and I want to come out on top. That’s what it’s all about.”
That internal drive is what separates the two-time Division II All-American from his competition.
“He wants to challenge himself at the highest level,” Jensen said. “He’s a small-town, tough farm kid from Kansas and he carries that over into the athletics side.”
ROAD TO UNK
Ochs had that mentality long before he arrived at UNK.
The Hoxie, Kansas, native was a two-time state champion in high school, posting a 46-0 record as a senior in 2012-13.
He started his collegiate career at Colby Community College, about 30 miles away from his hometown. Ochs wanted to remain close to his family, and he had a strong relationship with head coach David Nordhues, a three-time Nebraska state champion from Greeley High School who wrestled at Colby before becoming a two-time All-American at Fort Hays State University.
“I had options to go other places, but I really respected him and liked what I was getting out of him,” Ochs said of Nordhues.
The 165-pounder excelled during his only season at Colby, finishing as the national runner-up and a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.
Then the sport took a backseat to other priorities.
Ochs left school after the fall 2014 semester and returned to the family farm to help his mother. After spending more than a year away from wrestling, he faced another tough decision.
Ochs planned to enroll at Fort Hays State and was less than 24 hours away from heading to campus to sign the paperwork when he received an unexpected phone call. Hall-of-fame coach Marc Bauer, who led the Loper wrestling program from 1999 to 2016, wanted to chat.
Bauer previously coached another wrestler from Hoxie, Kansas, and Colby Community College – Tyler Baker – who also happened to be Ochs’ cousin. Baker told Bauer his cousin was looking for a new school, and the UNK coach was immediately interested.
The talent was undeniable, but Bauer also saw a young man who was willing to work hard and set a good example for his teammates.
“That’s what I was hearing from everyone, that he’s just a good kid,” said Bauer, who currently serves as UNK’s interim athletic director.
Ochs’ next trip to Fort Hays State came as a member of the UNK wrestling team.
ONE MORE GOAL
The 24-year-old calls the decision to attend UNK “a blessing.”
“It’s given me the opportunity to get my priorities right and figure out what I want,” said Ochs, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a finance emphasis.
“Looking at me now versus when I first got up here, I’m a completely different person. And I can attribute a lot of that to the program, the school and the town,” he said. “It’s just a lot of positive energy and vibes, and people want the best for you. I think that’s really helped me out along the way.”
Bauer has also noticed that maturation, which he attributes to Ochs’ mental toughness, focus and commitment to being a better student-athlete and person.
“A lot of kids who have gone through what he’s gone through, they would have hung it up a long time ago,” Bauer said.
Ochs went 24-6 in his first season at UNK, winning a Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) title and finishing fourth at the national tournament. As a junior, he put together a 27-6 campaign, adding a second MIAA title, a regional championship and another fourth-place finish at nationals.
Those are impressive accomplishments, but Ochs isn’t satisfied with a season that ends in a loss.
He won’t tell you he can win a national title during his final go-around – that’s “bad luck” – but a couple other guys are willing to do the talking for him.
“He would have won a national title last year, and he’s got the ability to win a national title this year,” Bauer said.
Jensen is equally frank.
“He doesn’t have that No. 1 ranking for nothing,” the UNK coach said.
Hometown: Hoxie, Kansas
Major: Business administration with finance emphasis
Season stats: Ranked No. 1 at 165 pounds with 7-0 record
Career notes: Two-time Division II All-American, finishing fourth nationally in 2016 and 2017; Two-time MIAA champion; 2017 regional champion; 58-12 career record
Fun fact: Of his nine tattoos, Calvin’s favorite is this quote from Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”
Upcoming home events: The Lopers face Fort Hays State for an MIAA dual 3 p.m. Feb. 10 and UNK will host the Super Region IV Championships beginning 11 a.m. Feb. 23.