QUINCY — Life soon will change dramatically for Thomas Culp, all in the span of four days..
On August 18, the recent Quincy High School graduate celebrates his 18th birthday. Three days later, the state champion wrestler checks into the dorms at Missouri Baptist University.
“I’ll be getting a lot more freedom right when I move to college,” he said.
Culp will be getting a workout, too.
After winning an Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Class 3A state championship at 195 pounds in June, Culp earned All-American honors at USA Wrestling’s 50th Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., as he placed fourth in 195-pound Greco-Roman Junior Division.
With that comes the expectation he will show up at Missouri Baptist primed to compete.
“They expect us to come in knowing how to wrestle hard in practice,” Culp said. “They know we should have been lifting in the offseason. They sent us a lifting schedule. They just expect us to be ready.”
After his latest success, he will be.
Success on the national stage
Two years ago, Culp finished fourth in his weight class in the 16U division at the Junior Nationals, which set the stage for a triumphant return this summer.
“To come back and do it again is pretty crazy,” Culp said.
First, he had to prime himself.
At the USA Wrestling Junior National Duals in Tulsa, Okla., in mid-June, Culp went 4-0 in the Greco-Roman division and 2-1 in the freestyle division for Team Illinois. The next week, he won the IWCOA state championship with four consecutive victories.
After that, all practices were designed as a lead-up to the Junior Nationals.
“Just some technique stuff, just so I could get back into it moving from folkstyle to Greco,” Culp said.
He had no issues doing that.
Culp won his first four matches in Fargo in impressive fashion, earning a spot in the semifinals and guaranteeing himself a top-six finish and All-American honors.
He opened with an 11-0 technical fall against Montana’s Xander Sarbacher, pinned Texas’ Corbin Phelps in 54 seconds, posted an 11-0 technical fall against Michigan’s Logan Badge and pinned Minnesota’s Jacob Meissner in 1:21.
In the semifinals, Culp suffered an 11-0 loss to Florida’s Ryan Cody. He bounced back with a 12-0 technical fall over Indiana’s Gabe Sollars to get into the third-place match, where he suffered a 4-3 loss to Pennsylvania’s Caden Rogers.
“It was tough considering I was up going into the second period and ended up giving three points up,” Culp said. “Not being able to get that last point back was brutal.”
After stepping away, Culp appreciated all he accomplished.
“It takes some time to get over the loss,” said Culp, who helped Team Illinois win the team championship. “Once you get over the loss, you look at it kind of like, ‘Even after coming up short, I’m still 5-2 at this tournament and top four in the nation.’ You can’t really be mad about it.”
Embracing the attention
The Junior Nationals took place at the FargoDome, which is on the North Dakota State University campus and seats more than 18,000 fans for football games and more than 25,000 people when configured for concerts.
Fans from across the country filled the arena to near capacity for each of the seven days of competition.
“It’s kind of crazy to know everyone is watching now, not just people from Illinois,” Culp said. “It’s the whole U.S. It’s weird.”
With the place packed, Culp fed off the energy.
“Sometimes you let the nerves get to you,” Culp said. “At this tournament, I had a pretty good feel for it. It pushed me to where I need to be knowing everyone’s watching. Everything’s recorded so people at home are watching. The support really helped.”
It propelled him to earning All-American honors.
“I came out and showed I was top four in the nation,” Culp said. “I wrestled my heart out.”
Miss Clipping Out Stories to Save for Later?
Click the Purchase Story button below to order a print of this story. We will print it for you on matte photo paper to keep forever.Purchase Story