As the seconds ticked down before he was to run out of the Qwest Center tunnel to the elevated wrestling mat, senior Chase Pami could feel his adrenaline and excitement level rising. He was about to compete at the highest collegegiate level for an NCAA championship in front of a nationwide audience on ESPN.
“At first, it was pretty breath-taking before I got out there,” Pami said of the championship on March 20. “It was a little overwhelming when I was thinking about it, but when I got out there and calmed down a minute, it was just like wrestling back home.”
Pami came to Cal Poly in 2006 from Las Vegas, Nev., which is not known as a powerhouse wrestling state.
Coming into the championships, Pami knew it would be a difficult road to climb the ranks. He defeated four opponents before reaching the finals. He avenged a loss in the Pac-10 finals to Adam Hall of Boise State in the quarterfinals with a 5-2 victory. He then defeated Justin Lister of Binghamton 13-5 in the semifinals. He posted a career record of 100-35 for the Mustangs and finished this season with a 29-7 mark.
Pami led early in the match by a 2-1 score, but fell just short of his quest to become the third national champion in Cal Poly wrestling history. He fell to J.P. O’Connor of Harvard 6-4 in the 157-pound final. O’Connor finished the season undefeated at 35-0 and was the top seed in the tournament. Despite the loss, Pami became the sixth runner-up in Cal Poly’s wrestling history and the first since Chad Mendes in 2008.
Throughout the match, Pami said he did not want to wrestle scared or just stand around. He wanted to be aggressive and try to score as many take-downs as possible.
“I just wanted to go out there and put on a show,” Pami said. “I didn’t want it to be boring. I wanted to win myself, but also make it enjoyable for people to watch.”
Pami said he was pretty disappointed after having come so close to the realization of his ultimate goal.
“I think I got caught up in the whole experience and didn’t necessarily focus on what I had to do to win,” Pami said. “I think there were so many things that I would’ve done differently and change if I could go back.”
Pami was seeded seventh in the 157-pound weight class and was the lowest seed to reach the finals. He said his preparation before nationals was a big factor in his success. Pami also said he enjoyed the entire tournament experience, despite losing in the final match.
“No one really expected me to be there on the outside,” Pami said. “I think my coaches and I believed, but I don’t think the whole wrestling world expected me to be in the finals.”
Following Pami’s run to the championship, head coach John Azevedo said the rest of the wrestlers can look to Pami’s effort, dedication and success and take that into next season. Azevedo said Pami did everything the right way and was a leader for the rest of the guys through his performance in competition and practice.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster for the rest of the guys,” Azevedo said. “It’s huge for the program to get someone into the finals for recruiting and public relations, since you are on national TV.”
All year long, Pami said the coaches’ support helped him continue to push himself even after difficult losses. Azevedo provided a spiritual presence for Pami throughout the season and would oftentimes pray for Pami before his matches and big tournaments.
Perhaps the biggest motivator for Pami all year was assistant coach Mark Perry. Perry said he continued to push Pami and drill the belief that he could win because Perry knew he had the talent to win it all. He said Pami began to truly realize his abilities toward the end of the season.
“It’s very obvious why Chase did well, and it’s because he believed in himself,” Perry said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the best athlete in the world or the worst. A lot of it is about believing and knowing that you are prepared to go into battle.”
Perry said he was glad that everything paid off for Pami, and he bought into what was being taught. Perry expected Pami to be in the championship and enjoyed how Pami went out and took it from opponents instead of just hoping to win.
Even though Pami fell shy of his dream of becoming a national champion, he was able to connect with more people and learn lessons about himself through the experience.
“One thing I learned is you can’t be afraid to take risks,” Pami said. “You take certain risks and you go for something with everything you have, and you might not get it exactly the way you want it. Taking that risk is worth it in the end because you learn something about yourself.”
Pami said he was proud of how he competed, since he left everything on the mat. He said it was cool because he was able to show other guys from Nevada that they can be great college wrestlers. Also, Pami said he was thankful that God gave him the ability to showcase his talents.
“My hope is that through all this I was able to give God glory,” Pami said. “I just thank God above for the opportunity to be at this high of a platform and this high of a stage.”
Now that Pami’s career is over, Azevedo said he hopes Pami will be involved with the wrestling program next year. Pami will also be training periodically at Cal Poly as he tries to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.