For some athletes, when their final season of high school sports comes to a close so does their time competing in front of anybody except family and friends.
It's just the chosen few who get to take the skills they learned on the prep level and apply them to a larger format, which is exactly what happened on Tuesday in the Mexico High School Sports Complex when Kellen Ekern signed his national letter of intent to wrestle at Old Dominion University.
"I was also looking at Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Campbell University. I chose Old Dominion because I liked the atmosphere and it's a nice area (Norfolk, VA.)," said Ekern. "The school has about 23,000 students, so it's not too big and not too small and the campus is a nice size."
This season the Monarchs began with an intersquad scrimmage on Oct. 24 before participating at the Southeast Open in Roanoke, Va. on Nov. 5. The team then lost to 24th ranked Northwestern 17-16 and defeated Gardner-Webb 30-3 on Nov. 12 at the Monarch Classic according to www.odusports.com. Old Dominion next takes the mat on Nov. 18 and 19 at the Navy Classic in Annapolis, Md., and the Wolfpack Open in Raleigh, NC, respectively.
"Old Dominion has the major I want, Biology, and they have a Physical Therapy program that I'm going to try and get into," Ekern said. "Because of the coaches, I think I can excel. I went on a visit to the campus about a month ago, but I've also been in the area two other times to wrestle at national tounaments and I've been to Virginia Beach twice, so I'm familiar with the area."
One of Ekern's greatest accomplishments so far was winning the Class 2 state title in 2016-17 for the Bulldogs at 160 lbs. That feat wasn't all that easy to come by, though, and included a 10-4 win against Eldon's Trenton Dillard (54-2) that raised his final record for the season to 46-1. Ekern also pinned Savannah's Brant Price (51-4) in 3:07 in the semifinals and bested Pleasant Hills' Nolan Miller (34-15) in the quarterfinals in 1:27.
"I want to see a completely different area, get a new feel and meet new people. I'm looking forward to trying new things and having fun," said Ekern. "There are a lot of guys from Illinois (at Old Dominion), but there are also guys from California, New York and all around. I fit in with them pretty well."
Because Ekern will wrestle at 170 lbs. now that Brit Wilson has graduated after winning the state title last season for Mexico, the fact it looks like he's going to compete for Old Dominion at 174 should be fairly seemless. Considering the Monarchs roster features just one individual at that weight class, sophomore Dean Drugac, its starting to look like all the talent Ekern has been training with is going to be what puts him over the edge when it comes time to compete for a spot in the starting lineup.
"As a team Old Dominion is pretty good. I think they finished just outside the top-25 last year (26th) and are currently in the top-30 in the nation," Ekern said. "Since I was five years old I've been telling myself I was going to compete at the Div. 1 level, whether it was in football or wrestling. I've worked for this by practicing two or three times a week since I was five, and when I got older everyday, to get to where I'm at now, so I'm excited."