As Cornell wrestler Brandon Womack’s hand was raised in victory, the newly minted All-American felt the rush of a dream coming true.
He was congratulated by his coaches before racing into the stands to celebrate with family members.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Womack said. “I’ve worked and sacrificed for that. So for it to happen is awesome. It’s still kind of setting in. Sitting in the stands, my dad [Billy Womack] said you’re name is going to be on [the All-American banner in Cornell’s] gym. That’s an [honor].”
Womack, a 2014 Scottsboro High School graduate and a former six-time Alabama prep state champion — he was 422-8 during his SHS career — finished eighth in the 165-pound weight class during the NCAA Wrestling Championships last weekend in Cleveland. He’s the first Alabama native to be a collegiate all-American wrestler since Butler alum Byron McGlathery of UTC in 1980.
Womack entered the tournament as the 165-pound weight class’ No. 13-seed.
“To be [an All-American] I knew I’d have to win a match or two I wasn’t expected to,” said Womack, who went 4-3 in the tournament. “My second match, I lost to the fourth seed. I had a couple of opportunities that I could’ve won the match. But I still gained confidence from that match.”
Womack defeated Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia to earn the All-American status at 165. Valencia defeated Womack twice during the Las Vegas Invitational earlier in the season, but Womack was confident entering their rematch at nationals.
“He’s a good wrestler and a real good athlete, and he’d beaten me twice pretty handily. He majored [major decision] me in the first match and pinned me in the second. I knew if I could keep it close, he’d panic. I wrestled my match this time and just made sure I didn’t make stupid mistakes.”
Womack used a six-point move early in the second period, reversing Valencia to his back and nearly earning the fall to go up 7-2 before holding on for the win.
“I hit him with a Peterson [Roll],” Womack said. “That was huge.”
Defeating an opponent that had beaten him twice during the regular season made the accomplishment sweeter, Womack said.
“It showed that I had made strides and improved [during the season],” he said, “that I’d earned it.”
Down the stretch of the regular season, Womack was uncertain if he would get the opportunity to wrestle at nationals.
Cornell’s senior All-American 157-pounder Dylan Palacio was on the fence weight wise, and the discussion was there for him to move to 165.
The possibility of the move would have sidelined Womack, who admitted it was difficult experience to go through.
“It was really hard. A lot of calls back home and talks with my coaches. Donnie Vinson — he coaches middleweights — he’s like a brother to me. He offered me a lot of encouragement. It was stressful. I love the sport, had made so many sacrifices throughout the season. I just wanted it to pay off,” Womack said. “But I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to worry about trying to get the spot [in the lineup]. I was just going to focus on being my best everyday.”
Womack and Palacio had a “wrestle off” at 165. Womack fared well in the match, and the coaches decided to keep Womack at 165 and Palacio at 157.
“It worked out — Palacio finished sixth at 157,” Womack said. “We ended up with two All-Americans.”
Cornell had four All-Americans in all and finished eighth in the team standings. Womack will be Cornell’s lone returning All-American next season.
“I have a list of things I need to work on and perfect for me to keep climbing the ladder and working for that national championship,” he said.
Womack’s All-American accomplishment did not go unnoticed in his hometown — he has been flooded with congratulatory text messages and social media posts. The outpouring of support, he said, has been humbling.
“Everyone is very supportive,” Womack said. “I didn’t realize there were so many people keeping up with me. That’s been awesome.”