By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – It was summer 2017 and Matt Malcom was back in his hometown of Glenwood, Iowa, contemplating his future.
The former Class 2A state champion was ready to give up wrestling.
“I really didn’t want to go back to school after I left,” said Malcom, who spent the previous year at the University of Iowa. “I just wanted to start working and build a new life.”
Malcom, who set school records in career wins, falls and takedowns at Glenwood Community High School, was at a crossroads.
Although he found athletic success in Iowa City, posting a 19-5 record and winning two open tournaments during his redshirt season, he struggled academically and financially.
“I wasn’t really happy,” Malcom said.
Returning to the Hawkeyes – and all the distractions he left behind – wasn’t an option.
As Malcom leaned toward ending his wrestling career, a couple of coaches 200 miles away decided they weren’t willing to give up on him just yet.
About halfway through the summer, he started receiving phone calls from University of Nebraska at Kearney head wrestling coach Dalton Jensen and assistant Andrew Sorenson. The more they talked, the more Malcom liked their message and the opportunity he’d have at UNK.
“They cared more about me as an individual going back to school, rather than just wrestling,” he said. “They knew I wasn’t going to go very far in life if I didn’t end up going back to school to get a degree. That showed me there are people out there who had my back that I didn’t even know of.”
Malcom may not have known a lot about the UNK coaches, but they were plenty familiar with him.
Jensen, a two-time state champion, is from Missouri Valley, Iowa, about 45 miles north of Glenwood.
He trained at MWC Wrestling Academy in Papillion, the same club Malcom belonged to, and watched the former Hawkeye compete in high school.
The similarities don’t end there.
Like Malcom, Jensen started at a Division I school before transferring to UNK. He spent three years at Iowa State University and almost stopped wrestling following a coaching change.
Instead of quitting the sport, he came to UNK and became a two-time Division II All-American, finishing as the national runner-up in 2011 before winning an individual and team title in 2012.
“To go on and take advantage of another opportunity was something that I needed to do,” Jensen said. “I’m truly grateful for it and it created more opportunities for me down the road.”
Jensen, who joined the UNK coaching staff after graduating in 2012 and was named head coach in 2016, sees the same potential for Malcom.
“I’d love to see him go win a national title this year and follow it up with two more after that,” Jensen said. “I’m excited about his future and I’m excited that we still have the opportunity to work with him for two more years.”
Malcom joined the UNK wrestling team during the second semester last season and made an immediate impact, earning Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) Freshman of the Year and All-American honors.
He went 21-7 overall and 4-2 at the Division II national tournament, finishing fourth at 157 pounds.
Expectations are much higher this season as the redshirt sophomore is ranked No. 1 nationally, but Malcom enjoys the pressure of having a target on his back.
“Knowing I have to be on top of my game for every match, it’s kind of exciting,” he said.
Malcom has a 22-5 record, with six falls, three technical falls and a team-best seven major decisions. Four of his five losses came against Division I opponents, and he’s beaten five wrestlers ranked in the top 12 in Division II, including No. 2 Efe Osaghae of Fort Hays State, No. 3 Tyler Mies of Newman and No. 4 Jake Barzowski of St. Cloud State.
He was 4-0 at the National Duals and 3-2 at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, one of the toughest collegiate wrestling tournaments. The third-ranked Lopers were the only Division II school at the Vegas event, where Malcom took down opponents from American University, Virginia and Drexel.
“We want to continue to challenge him at the highest level, not just Division II,” said Jensen, who believes Malcom is one of the best wrestlers in the country at his weight class.
“Matt’s competitiveness is top-tier and it really drives him,” the UNK coach added. “He wants to go out and dominate everybody.”
Malcom credits his teammates and coaches for pushing him every day in practice and supporting him as a member of the Loper “family.” More than any personal accolades, he wrestles for them.
“Being a national champ is cool and all, but I would rather have our team be at the top, too,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can for our team to be national champs at the end.”
The 21-year-old is also working on one more goal he discussed with the UNK coaches two summers ago. He’s made the dean’s list all three semesters at UNK and was named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic team in 2017-18.
The education major wants to be a high school math teacher and wrestling coach after earning his degree.
“I love being able to spread knowledge and have an impact on people, whether it’s through wrestling or in school,” Malcom said.
Hometown: Glenwood, Iowa
Season stats: Ranked No. 1 at 157 pounds with 22-5 record; Victories over Nos. 2, 3, 4, 9 and 12 in the Division II rankings
Career notes: Division II All-American in 2017-18, finishing fourth at the national tournament; MIAA champion; MIAA Freshman of the Year
Academic honors: Dean’s list all three semesters at UNK; National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic team; MIAA Scholar Athlete; MIAA Academic Honor Roll
UNK hosting wrestling Super Regional Saturday
UNK will host the NCAA Super Regional Six Championships on Saturday (Feb. 23) at the Health and Sports Center.
Doors open for fans at 9 a.m. and wrestling begins at 10 a.m. Finals are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
Wrestlers from 10 schools, including third-ranked UNK, are competing in the event. The top three finishers from each weight class advance to the NCAA Division II Championships scheduled for March 8-9 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Tickets for the Super Regional are $10 for adults and $5 for youths ages 11-18, seniors 65 and older and students with a valid college ID. Children 10 and younger can attend for free. Tickets can be purchased online at www.lopertickets.com or at the Health and Sports Center the day of the tournament.
UNK season tickets and passes aren’t valid for the event.
Fan parking is available in Lot 14 on the west side of the Health and Sports Center.
Live video and results can be viewed free of charge at www.trackwrestling.com.