“Last year I was confident I was going to win it, but I ended up falling short,” Brunson said. “This year I knew it was possible, but I tried to focus on being more humble. One match at a time, and I was not concerned about winning, but wrestling my best.”
Brunson won 11 matches during three days to win the 152-pound title at the national freestyle championships in Fargo, N.D., on Saturday.
“It was pretty spectacular,” Churchill coach Scott Kearney said. “This has been part of the process for him and goal of his since he was a little kid. This is the tournament that defines his high school career.”
Brunson is a three-time state wrestling champion who has a chance next year as a senior to become the 21st four-time champion in state history and the first from the Midwestern League. Kearney said that Brunson is only the ninth wrestler from Oregon to win a title at Junior Nationals.
“It feels great and I am real pleased with it, but after all is said and done I look forward to still competing,” Brunson said. “Competing in college and trying to win NCAA titles, things like that. So this is a steppingstone.”
Brunson will have his pick of colleges and said he is still narrowing his choices but hopes to decide by November.
Brunson faced Edwin Cooper, a runner-up last year who just graduated from high school in Illinois, in the final, and Cooper won the first period 4-0 in the best-of-three format.
Kearney noted that Cooper had obviously scouted Brunson, so he had to alter his attack.
“You don’t want to lose 4-0 in the first period, but Zac has been there before,” Kearney said. “He’s a cool customer, so I wasn’t worried although I was concerned.”
Brunson won the second period 1-0 and then clinched the title by winning the third 6-0.
“I try to wrestle 20 seconds at a time, so once the first period was over I tried not to think about it,” Brunson said. “The second round comes, and it is a new match for me. Just go out and score points and win the round and not worry about what happened earlier or later.”
Brunson failed to place at the tournament last year.
“After losing last year it was eating at me the whole year wanting to win this,” Brunson said.
Brunson wrestled nearly four matches per day against foes from across the country, including some who were a year ahead of him in school.
“The competition was unbelievable,’ Brunson said. “I wrestled four or five returning All-Americans and four kids I wrestled were state champions. You can’t understand how difficult the tournament is until you have wrestled in it. Not just physically, but mentally it wears on you. The whole time you have to be focused, and when you have a chance to recover physically and mentally, you have to take it. If you focus on the whole 11 matches it will tear you apart.”