Nick Smith routinely seeks out formidable challenges. And when challenges approach Smith, well, he'll embrace those too.
Despite competing with severe restriction in his elbow, Ida's Smith won his third straight Division 3 state wrestling championship this month at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Upon ripping through the first three rounds of the 119-pound class, Smith decisioned Dundee's Joe White in the finals, 13-8.
It marked the ending to a wild senior season for Smith. He sought out matches against two of the state's best wrestlers - one of which happened, and another Smith wishes did - and in doing so injured himself for the remainder of the year.
Smith moved up not one but two weight classes to 130 for the Monroe County Sheriff's Invitational in January so he could have the opportunity to meet Dundee's unbeaten Joe Rendina. But to get to Rendina, Smith would first have to beat an opponent who would later place at state in Division 1.
"I just wanted the competition," Smith said later. "I guess it helps you out when you get to the next level."
Smith advanced to the finals, where he was beaten by Rendina by a 5-4 margin that was narrower than the gap in size between Smith and Rendina. It was Smith's only blemish in 39 matches. However, during the bout he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, an injury often associated with baseball pitchers. From that point of the season forward Smith adapted a more takedown-oriented style as he was no longer physically able to hold down his opponents. That means he'd be severely handicapped should he get his wish - along with the wish of all wrestling fans in the state - of meeting three-time state champion B.J. Suitor of Saginaw Swan Valley in the state finals.
"It was pretty noticeable," Smith said. "Everybody said I was wrestling with one arm. It bugged me, so I changed up my style a bit."
Had he not missed time healing from the injury, Smith would have surely set the school record for wins in a career. As it is, he fell one victory shy, finishing with a mark of 172-34. Of those losses, 20 happened in Smith's freshman year when he qualified for state.
"He is, I guess you could say, a coach's dream," Ida coach David Pearce said. "Hardworking, great work ethic, does everything you tell him without giving any lip. That's kind of Nick Smith in a nutshell."
Pearce, of course, also lauded Smith's extreme willingness to wrestle the very best. Already with two titles in his hands, Smith may have enjoyed a calmer senior season had he stuck around at 125. But it wouldn't have been as fulfilling, so Smith dropped to 119 for a colossal potential match-up with Suitor.
Smith was aware that a three-time champion has never lost in his bid to win a fourth title. But Smith isn't your typical state final opponent.
"I definitely wanted a third state title, and I think I was going to win it either way," Smith said. "If I didn't win, at least I tried my hardest. I think it would be cooler to win it against a harder opponent than a [less heralded opponent]."
Alas, the match never took place.
Suitor injured his back and was unable to advance from regionals. An entire state of wrestling fans was disappointed, and Smith is among them.
"Everybody else was like, aww man, I wanted to see that match," Smith said. "I think it would have been cool to wrestle him."
Should the match ever occur, it will be at the Division I college level.
Suitor will compete at Boston University, while Smith expects to stay closer to home. He has visited Cleveland State, Central Michigan, and Eastern Michigan, and expects to soon check out Northern Illinois and Michigan State.
"He's always looking for some kind of challenge to make him better," Pearce said.
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