Div. II Wrestler McMahill made sense of success

Updated: June 27, 2011

By Mike Finn, WIN Editor

Donovan McMahill ended his career at Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., as a two-time NCAA Division II champion, the only undefeated wrestler in his division in the nation and was later named the Division II Wrestler of the Year by Division II coaches.

Two-time NCAA champion Donovan McMahill was the only Division II wrestler to go undefeated last winter.

The native of Lochbuie, Colo. — nearly three months after he also was named the O.W. at this year’s NCAA Division II national tournament in March — still has a hard time believing his success … when he considers where he was two years ago.

“It was a complete 180 from where I was that year,” said McMahill about his 2009 NCAA tournament experience when the 197-pounder went 1-2; one year after he finished second in the 2008 nationals. “I think back and wished I would have known then what I know now and I could have become a three-timer.”

Fortunately for McMahill, who ended his career with a 51-match winning streak and a school-record 137-20 career mark, he got some help off the mat from his academic advisor Ashwin Patel.

“He has his doctorate in sports psychology and he got me into it,” said McMahill, who graduated from WSC with two undergraduate degrees — in psychology and exercise science — and will start working on his master’s degree in sports psychology at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville next fall. “Getting into that kind of stuff really started helping me out and helped me turn the corner.”

So what did McMahill — who defeated Augustana’s Tyler Copsey in the 2010 NCAA final and West Liberty’s Mitch Knapp in the 2011 national finals — learn about himself the past two years that also helped him become his school’s first undefeated wrestler since 1965.

“It wasn’t anything that I really thought about in high school,” said McMahill, who graduated from Weld Central High School in Lochbuie, which is located in the farming flatlands of Colorado and five hours away from the WSC campus in the Rocky Mountains. “I didn’t really get into it until my sophomore year in college when I didn’t earn All-American honors. I had a breakdown at the national tournament.

“(Sports psychology) makes you think about why you are doing this sport. What is your motivation? Are you doing it for yourself or other people. You learn what level of optimal arousal is really needed to be amped up before a match. Do you need to be more excited or do you need to be more mellow and calm.

“There is such a transition from high school to college. The pace of the matches is faster. You have to be more consistent. People who can adapt to that and maintain their focus with that transition, especially in tough matches, are the most successful.”

McMahill said this past year also helped him look back at his life in the sport, which began when he was in third grade and did not become a big man in the sport until his freshman year in high school when he gained 30 pounds over one year and wrestled at 152 pounds.

“It’s crazy to see how far I came from where I started to where I am right now,” he said. “I never thought it would have happened that way.

“I remember the first year I wrestled I got beat up a lot. I was always one of those kids who’d be crying after losing a match. The second year I took like second at Little League state. After that, I was just hooked.”

And McMahill also had planned on playing college football until his senior year of high school when he paid a recruiting visit to Western State and met head coach Miles Van Hee.

“Just wrestling at Western was such an honor for me; looking at the tradition and some of the other great wrestlers who came out of there,” said McMahill, who graduated as one of 56 different Division II All-Americans to graduate from WSC.

And even though McMahill is done wrestling in college, he spends his summer months working at a local ranch and working with young wrestlers at Western State’s wrestling camps.

“In the sport of wrestling, I believe once people are done (competing), they want to give back for the people who are coming up,” said McMahill, who knows exactly what he is taking from the sport and sharing with others — on and off the mat — in the future.

“I feel like the work ethic was a big thing. Anybody who can put that they wrestled on their resume would benefit them a lot,” he said. “It’s not just a sport. You have to maintain your diet and your weight. You also had to develop a lot of discipline.

“You can take away a lot of self-motivation from the sport. You put in so much time training. It’s only a seven-minute match in college and you probably only spend 20 percent of your time in college competing and 80 percent training. In order to be successful, you have to motivate yourself.

“Wrestling teaches you a lot of discipline and how important a good work ethic is. You can apply those lessons you learn in wrestling in your everyday life.”