The Perfect Season
Senior Eli Hale celebrates after winning the Division II National Championship on March. 10. Hale went undefeated at UCO after transferring from Oklahoma State University mid-season. (Provided UCO Athletics)
During his senior season at Oklahoma State University, Eli Hale sat in his living room and turned to Eric Waggoner, an OSU alumni, and said, “[I’m] Thinking about transferring to UCO and winning a title there.”
Hale graduated from OSU in December, which made him eligible to transfer to any school without having to sit the year out, even though it was the middle of the wrestling season.
Hale said The University of Central Oklahoma was an attractive school for Hale, who was looking for an opportunity to compete and the chance to team up with a group of “Oklahoma kids” he grew up wrestling with.
I’ll never forget the day we were chillin in @eli_hale’s living room and he told me, “Thinking about transferring to UCO and winning a title there.” Well here we freaking are.. Congrats bro! https://t.co/gULWY0F9YV
— Eric Waggoner (@Ewagg15) March 11, 2018
UCO Head Coach Todd Steidley, who was familiar with Hale from his time recruiting him in high school, immediately noticed Hale’s work ethic when he arrived on campus.
“He’s the most focused guy I have ever been around,” Steidley said. “Every day he had a great practice, he prepared every day like he was preparing to be a national champion.”
During practice Hale would train for adversity, such as situations where he was behind in a match. Hale said he wanted to know how to react when things were not going his way.
However, Hale was rarely ever be behind in an actual match at UCO. Hale’s training and work ethic helped him finish the season with an undefeated record of 24-0. He is the fourth wrestler in UCO history to accomplish an undefeated season.
Through the season, Hale won 19 total bonus point wins, 11 matches through major decisions and seven by technical falls.
“Every night he wrestled, he was prepared,” Steidley said. “He was focused and relentless. As matches went on, he became stronger and that comes from the way he practiced.”
Hale went on to win the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship after going 2-0 and outscoring his opponents 34-8. He then became the Central Regional Champion after going 4-0 and outscoring opponents there 60-8.
On March 10, the 125-pound Hale accomplished his goal of becoming the 44th National Wrestling Champion at UCO after outscoring opponents in the tournament 49-6 in four matches. Hale won the final match of his career with a 17-2 technical fall.
— UCO Bronchos (@ucoathletics) March 11, 2018
“I’m [as] pumped up as ever,” Hale said. “It was a great opportunity and I’m happy I got the chance.”
“It’s exciting,” Steidley said. “It’s good for the university, it’s good for our program and since he’s from Oklahoma, it’s good for Oklahoma as well.”
Now that Hale’s wrestling career is over, he is unsure of what he will do now. He said he spent the last year only focusing on winning the national championship and has not given much thought to what he would do afterward. However, Hale said he knows that he wants to be around the sport of wrestling and said coaching could be an option for him.
“He is confidently learning about the sport,” Steidley said. “He’s a wrestling encyclopedia and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he decided to go into coaching. If he did, I would love to have him work under me. He would be every bit as good a coach as he was a wrestler.”
Upon his undefeated season, Hale became the third Broncho to be selected as 2018 MIAA Player of the Year. The other two athletes include J.T. Luper (Football) and Taylor Bevis (Volleyball). Hale was also named MIAA Wrestler of the Year and came second in voting for the USA Wrestler of the week between Divisions II and III.
“I’m just really thankful for the coaches and teammates at UCO,” Hale said. “The guys in that practice room and the coaches did a lot for me to win that title.”
— Chris Brannick (@chrisbrannick85) March 16, 2018