Standout wrestler to attend WSU on academic scholarship
It had been a dream of his since he was 5 years old.
However, if he didn’t accomplish the feat, it wouldn’t have diminished his high school wrestling career at all.
He already held school records of 132 career victories, 72 career pins, and the single-season record of 37 victories.
While those achievements were impressive, they weren’t his ultimate goal.
Heading into the 3-2-1A state wrestling tournament Feb. 27-28, Hillsboro High School senior Nicholas Mueller had one last chance at his dream – a state medal.
And he finally earned it.
To claim that honor a wrestler must finish in the top six of his 16-man bracket. Winning the first two matches guarantees a medal, something that had eluded Mueller his first three seasons.
Despite compiling a 98-22 record his first three years, Mueller did not have a medal. He missed the state meet by one match his freshman season, and although he qualified for state the next two seasons, he did not finish in the top six.
This year however, Mueller finally had hardware placed around his neck after taking fifth place in the 130-pound weight class.
Victories in the first two rounds put him in the semifinals, and earned him his medal guarantee.
Mueller was excited to finally have something he had been wanting for 13 years.
“It was something I have waited for a long time,” he said. “Ever since I was wrestling that was my goal.”
His head coach, Scott O’Hare, said his hard work paid off.
“That state medal was eluding him a little bit,” O’Hare said. “So I’m sure proud he got it this year because he’s put a little time into it.”
Despite falling in the semifinals to Marion’s Cody Wildin, Mueller finished 3-2 at the state meet, including a victory against Central Burden’s Tyler McMichael, in his final high school match.
He wrapped up his career at 135-29, and is the only Trojan to win at least 30 matches all four seasons.
“Those are some pretty impressive numbers,” O’Hare said. “The kid has just always been passionate about the sport.
“He’s been very coachable through it all and improved every chance he got.”
O’Hare said Mueller didn’t have as much natural athletic ability seen in some great athletes, but through hard work and excellent technique, he achieved more than any previous Trojan wrestler.
The coach said whether it was running to stay in shape, working hard at practice, or eating the right foods, Mueller was dedicated to making himself and the team better.
“Nicholas was committed to everything he did,” O’Hare said. “He can look back and be proud of what he did.”
O’Hare joked that the hardest part were his daily meals.
Mueller said his day usually consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast, a ham sandwich, granola bar, and pack of fruit snacks for lunch, and a Healthy Choice TV dinner for supper.
For some athletes, his entire day may have been his or her lunch.
As soon as the season was over, Mueller enjoyed some pizza and cookies.
“I think I’ve gained about 15 pounds,” he said with a laugh.
That would not have been funny during the season, as Mueller and his coaches worked hard to keep him below 130 pounds.
He had wrestled 135 his junior year, but he and his coaches felt 130 would be his best fit during his final season.
Mueller said he was a little nervous at the start, weighing-in at 129.9 and 130 pounds during his first two meets.
After that, he said, maintaining weight became easier, and the victories began piling up.
Top of his class
At 34-4 heading into the state tournament, Mueller had the third-best record, percentage-wise, in his weight class.
Only runner-up Wildin and eventual champion Colt Rogers of Smith Center had better records.
O’Hare said in the past Mueller had been satisfied pushing top wrestlers to the brink, even if he lost a close match.
This year, the coach’s plan was to make sure Mueller knew he was one of the top wrestlers in the state.
His record and performance proved O’Hare right.
“We couldn’t allow him to be satisfied with wrestling close matches with good kids, and he really stepped up in that aspect,” O’Hare said.
Of Mueller’s seven losses, five were to eventual state-medalists.
McMichael, whom Mueller beat in the fifth-place match, actually beat Mueller three times during the season.
Mueller was 2-2 against Wildin during the season.
He was 2-1 heading into the semifinals match where Wildin defeated the senior, 10-4.
“Wildin is a great wrestler, and he wrestled well,” O’Hare said.
Mueller said he saw Wildin a lot this season at tournaments, and a rivalry formed.
“It was kind of friendly considering everything,” Mueller said with a smile.
It’s hard to be friendly with someone when you are trying to put him on his back during a match, but O’Hare agreed the rivalry was good.
“That’s one of the things I love about this sport,” O’Hare said. “They recognize they are opponents on the mat, but still have a mutual respect for each other.”
Respect is something Mueller had earned by his career record, state medal, and overall attitude while part of the Trojan program.
From becoming the first Trojan wrestler to go undefeated during middle school, to breaking high school records, to helping out at middle school practices even though his career is done, O’Hare said the future is bright for Mueller.
“He has a great head on his shoulders,” O’Hare said. “He understands the big picture.”
The big picture includes a full-ride, academic engineering scholarship this fall to Wichita State University.
Mueller thought about wrestling after high school, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity that will keep him busy with the books.
“I will probably still run to stay in shape,” he said.
O’Hare said he was glad to have the wrestler who “has a lot going for him,” as part of his program.
And while he didn’t win a state championship, he actually accomplished much more during his four years, including his ultimate dream of a state medal.
“Obviously he is disappointed he didn’t make that state championship, but it’s not from a lack of effort,” O’Hare said. “He isn’t going to make any excuses why he didn’t get there. It just didn’t happen for him. He is going to move on. He has better things ahead of him.”