Leaving Oklahoma State to transfer to Central Oklahoma wasn’t easy for him. But Eli Hale made the move with one thing in mind: being a national champion.
He accomplished exactly that when he dominated Upper Iowa’s Maleek Williams in the Division II national finals. Hale knocked off Williams by tech fall, 17-2, and the Miami Wardog alum had his hand raised as a national champion for the Bronchos.
“For me, the feeling of winning was a lot of relief,” Hale said in an interview with Skordle. “When I made the commitment to come to UCO this season, I decided I was going to sell out towards being dedicated to winning this tournament.”
He did so by manhandling the 125-pound field.
A 17-0 tech fall victory over Kutztown’s Austin Petril put Hale on the path to his title. Hale posted an 11-1 major decision over McKendree’s Marcus Povlick in the quarterfinals, and then Hale earned his spot in the championship bout with a 4-3 triumph over Lindenwood’s Carlos Jacquez.
And then finishing Williams off by tech fall put Hale’s superiority on display.
“I think winning by tech fall really did make it more special,” Hale said. “The whole purpose of your training and focus, is to be able to perform at your highest level on the biggest stage. And I think being able to go out and let it fly when it's all on the line is hard to do. So it's special to perform like that when it counts.”
It all came after Hale spent three seasons in Stillwater, watching his teammates chase their dreams of NCAA immortality. Then he took matters into his own hands and pursued that goal at the Division II level.
A championship might of appeared to come easy to Hale, but it’s a challenge at any level, Hale said. That meant it was up to him to focus on the goal at hand throughout the entire season.
“I had confidence that I had the ability to go win, but being able to dominate doesn't come easy,” he said. “You have to earn the ability to go put up 10, 12, 15 points in a match. So my approach to trying to win this championship was that I'm not going to underestimate how hard it's going to be.”
Now Hale can add collegiate champion to his résumé, alongside the 2013 state championship he won at 120 pounds in 2013.
“My state title was definitely important to me. That was another championship that was hard to come by, after I had lost to two consecutive years in the finals before winning,” Hale said. “But winning this national championship at UCO already feels like the most important success I've had in this sport. College wrestling is brutal; not everyone can make it to the end.”
Now comes the question asked of every soon-to-be college graduate: what’s next?
“I'm not certain what's next for me. My line of focus for the last year really only led up to (the Division II championships),” Hale said. “So now I can look beyond that and start to figure where I'm going. It's going to hard to get very far away from the sport of wrestling, so I think there's a good chance I could be coaching or something similarly involved with the sport. Very thankful for where it has led me so far.”
Elijah Hale (24-0) placed 1st and scored 23.00 team points
Champ. Round 1 - Elijah Hale (Central Okla.) 24-0 won by tech fall over Austin Petril (Kutztown) 14-9 (TF-1.5 4:19 (17-0))
Quarterfinal - Elijah Hale (Central Okla.) 24-0 won by major decision over Marcus Povlick (McKendree) 28-17 (MD 11-1)
Semifinal - Elijah Hale (Central Okla.) 24-0 won by decision over Carlos Jacquez (Lindenwood (MO)) 29-5 (Dec 4-3)
1st Place Match - Elijah Hale (Central Okla.) 24-0 won by tech fall over Maleek Williams (Upper Iowa) 30-10 (TF-1.5 3:49 (17-2))