At Francis Howell Central High, Terrel Wilbourn established himself as one of the area’s best wrestlers, winning three state titles and finishing with a career record of 176-5.
In the offseason, he was equally successful as a freestyle wrestler, earning All-American honors three times.
As a freshman at Iowa Central Community College, he won the National Junior College Athletic Association championship at 141 pounds and then redshirted to focus on academics.
Bypassing offers from several Division I programs, he returned home to nearby Lindenwood University and has continued to thrive on the mat.
A two-time NCAA Division II All-American, Wilbourn placed third nationally at 149 in 2014 and was a runner-up at the same weight a year ago, when the tournament was held at St. Louis University.
Friday and Saturday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., Wilbourn will compete in college for the final time. He enters the tournament 21-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation at 157 pounds.
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“It won’t be easy — at this time of year, it never is — but there’s no reason Terrel can’t win it,’’ Lindenwood coach Chad Smith said earlier this week. “He’s as focused and determined as I’ve ever seen him. He’s worked hard all season to get to this point and he’s determined to finish on top.’’
On Friday, Wilbourn will face DeAndre’ Johnson (21-11) of Limestone (S.C.) College in the opening round before a likely matchup with JaCobi Jones (21-7) of Colorado State Pueblo, last year’s third-place finisher at 157.
In the semifinals, Wilbourn is likely to square off with two-time All-American Jonatan Rivera (18-3) of powerful Notre Dame College of Ohio. Rivera won the national title in 2014, helping the Falcons capture a team title as well. Last year, he placed fourth at 157.
“There’s no such thing as an easy route to a national title, but Terrel will definitely have to earn his way,’’ Smith said. “It’s a tough bracket, but it’s not anything he can’t handle. This is something he’s been preparing for; he’s always been very goal-oriented, and I’m expecting him to have fun with it. He’ll take on the challenge, just like he’s been doing throughout his wrestling career.’’
The younger brother of Howell Central standout Brandon Wilbourn, a four-time medalist who went on to wrestle at the University of Nebraska, Terrel placed fifth at state as a freshman and won the title at 112 the following season. As a junior, he capped a 51-0 season with a state championship at 130.
Limited by a knee injury as a Spartans senior, he battled through the pain to avenge the lone loss of his senior season with a 6-3 decision over Blue Springs’ Keenan Hagerty for the Class 4 title at 140. A Post-Dispatch All-Metro selection in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Wilbourn finished his senior season at 28-1.
Hagerty, another two-time All-American, is a fifth-year senior competing for Maryville University at 149 pounds.
In last year’s NCAA DII title match at 149, Central Missouri’s Frank Cagnina retained his title with a 5-2 win over Wilbourn.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not that upset because I know I wrestled my match and pretty much stuck with my game plan,’’ Wilbourn said after the loss, vowing to use it as motivation for this year. “This just adds fuel to the fire.’’
Smith, an Oakville High grad in his sixth year as coach of his alma mater, said the key for Wilbourn is his positioning.
“He’s very difficult to score on because he always seems to be in the right position,’’ the coach said. “On top of that, he’s extremely explosive. He’s able to create a lot of his offense by countering off his defense.’’
Wilbourn has a chance to be Lindenwood’s first Division II wrestling champion. The Lions are in the their third season at this level after a move from NAIA.
“I’ve coached national champions, but not at this level,’’ Smith said. “Terrel has been successful at every level, so he obviously has the ability. It’s just a matter of him going out with the right mindset and competing the way he’s competed throughout his career.’’
Wilbourn is one of four to make the trip to nationals for the Lions, who placed 13th a year ago. Lindenwood’s other qualifiers are freshman Danny Swan (17-6) at 125, sophomore Kyle Jolas (28-8) at 165 and junior Dillon Archer (24-11) at 197.
“We were hoping for at least a couple of more (qualifiers),’’ Smith said. “but our super-regional is incredibly tough and these were the four who went out and got it done.’’