BEREA Gabe Mahaney has come a long way in four years.
The former Green High School competitor wrapped up his collegiate wrestling career last week at the NCAA Division III wrestling championships, dropping two matches in the heavyweight bracket to finish his season with a record of 31-10.
Although the end wasn’t what he hoped for, Mahaney said that reaching the national championship meet twice at the college level for Baldwin Wallace is a feat of which he’s extremely proud.
"Making it last year was more of a redemption thing because in high school, never qualified for states … I never made it," he said. "It was awesome getting there last year together with (former Green teammate) Chris (Doyle) and this year is even better because we were both expecting to do big things and worked hard all year."
Leading up to the national tournament, Mahaney said he and Doyle spent time reflecting on just how far they’ve come together. They talked about their youth wrestling days, rising up through the ranks in high school and being able to enjoy the rare opportunity for two childhood friends to compete together from elementary school through college.
Mahaney, a public health major, and Doyle, a business major, are both on track to graduate this year and Mahaney intends to continue his education and work toward becoming a firefighter medic. He would also like to coach, giving back to the sport he loves and trying to replicate the impact his own coaches have had on his life.
The national championship appearance, which saw three BW wrestlers earn All-America honors - including Doyle - and the Yellow Jackets place 15th as a team, was especially meaningful for Mahaney because the tournament was held in Cleveland, allowing him to wrap up his career close to home.
In the days prior to the tournament, he heard from faculty members who planned to make the short drive to Cleveland to watch he and his teammates wrestle. The school had two full sections of seats to accomodate fans and among that group was Mahaney's older sister, Brandy, who made the trip from Florida to watch her brother compete one last time.
Reaching the national championships again wasn’t a sure thing for Mahaney, who had hip surgery last summer and wasn’t able to go through his normal offseason work to prepare for his senior season.
"The biggest thing that was different was just my work load. I hip surgery this summer because I had a torn labrum in my hip," Mahaney said. "Getting back on the grind was tough, but put on 20 pounds so I could compete better as a heavyweight. Last year I weighed about 207 (pounds) and now I’m about 230."
The hip injury hindered him last season and because it was on his right side, where he prefers to put his legs in when locking up with opponents, getting the hip operated on was a necessity. Because he wasn’t cleared to return to the mat until October, Mahaney admitted that his conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be early on. He noticed it any time he would run, but worked to better his conditioning as the season approached.
The result was a 31-win season that nearly doubled his career win total and his 78-31 overall mark ranks 20th in school history. It’s an impressive result for a wrestler who didn’t make a single state tournament in high school and came to college knowing it would be an uphill battle.
Had anyone told him when he stepped onto the BW campus that he’d be ending his career with consecutive NCAA Division III wrestling championships appearances, Mahaney admitted it wouldn’t have seemed plausible.
"If you would have told me back then, I would have told you you were crazy," he said with a laugh. "My first year here I didn’t start and last year was my first year staring, so to do all of this has been great."
As his college career comes to a close, Mahaney has completed his journey from an energetic, wide-eyed youth wrestler in Green to an NCAA national championship qualifier, ready for whatever comes next and excited to take that step into the future.
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