Ryan Mango had an option this weekend that he hasn’t had since high school. Following a day of wrestling, Mango could go home.
The former standout was back in St. Louis over the weekend representing Stanford University at the NCAA wrestling championships at Scottrade Center. Among the hordes of fans from the universities of Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and the 73 other schools participating, was a small contingency of fans pulling for the Stanford Cardinal. Not many of them were cheering for Nick Amuchastegui, a senior and two-time All-American who was last year’s national runner up at 174 pounds and came to St. Louis undefeated.
Instead that group wearing Cardinal Red was a local assemblage with ties to Mango, Stanford’s 125-pound junior. Among that group were Mango’s parents, Orvelle Hughes and Deborah Mango, his high school coach, Charlie Sherertz and several former teammates.
“I’m seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen in years, since I was in high school,” Mango said following a pair of wins on Thursday. “It helps me actually take my mind off of wrestling, seeing all my friends and family coming out. So, in between sessions, I’m not so focused on the tournament and I can relax my mind and my body. It’s definitely a good thing.”
Mango arrived in St. Louis last Tuesday and was picked up at the airport by his mom.
“This couldn’t get any better for me,” Deborah Mango said. “Philadelphia, last year, was nice, but I can sleep in my own bed and come watch my son. That was absolutely fantastic.”
And on Saturday, Mango found himself in the same position he did a year ago – and because of similar circumstances. Mango had earned all-American honors and was back in the fifth-place match of the tournament. This time he was determined to win.
Trailing 3-0 to fifth-seeded Nicholas Bedelyon of Kent State, Mango turned a Bedelyon shot into a throw and got the takedown in the third period. Following a Bedelyon escape, Mango tied things with another takedown with just 14 seconds remaining in regulation. In the sudden-victory overtime period, Mango charged at Bedelyon like a linebacker and got the double-leg takedown in just eight seconds.
“I knew after I took it to overtime, he was already broken,” Mango said. “When I tied it and got up I knew he was going to relax right away in overtime. I just took advantage of the opportunity and went for it.”
HUNGRY FOR MORE
Mango, a biological sciences major, finished his junior season with a 30-7 record but isn’t satisfied with his fifth-place finish.
“You want to accomplish one goal at a time and you’ve got to become an all-American before you can be a national champ,” said Mango, who went 26-7 last year and placed sixth in Philadelphia to earn all-American status for the first time. “Just focus on one match at a time. You can’t be a national champion unless you win the match ahead of you. That was a huge stepping stone for me, but I’m not satisfied with that at all.”
Mango capped his high school wrestling career with 95 consecutive victories and two straight state championships. As a freshman at Stanford, he won 25 matches and qualified for the NCAA tournament in Omaha. But his 95-match win streak ended with a loss in his college debut.
“Part of me knew it was going to be a different story coming into college,” Mango said. “You see it all the time. Guys who were superstars in high school, it’s a whole different stage and you’ve got to prove yourself again. I was ready for that type of change. I knew I wasn’t going to dominate like I did in high school. It’s been a great learning experience. It’s a whole new level of wrestling. It’s like learning to wrestle all over again.”
Mango’s NCAA tournament experience helped prepare him for Philadelphia.
“The previous two years, I wanted everything to be perfect,” Mango said. “We obviously had a game plan going in, but the more you wrestle in the NCAA tournament, the more you know you’ve already put all the work in and you have to be on your game. You’re not going to win a match by eight, nine points like you do during the season. There are going to be some grind matches, so you’ve got to stick it out and make sure you’re doing the right things to recover.”
NERVES AT HOME
Mango’s weekend back home in St. Louis got off to a rough start.
He admitted to being fatigued from making weight and nervous about being back home, but got by upset-minded Shane Young of West Virginia with a 10-8 decision in the first round. That victory matched Mango, ranked eighth at 125 pounds, against ninth-seeded Levi Mele of Northwestern. Mele pinned Princeton’s Garrett Frey in the first round and boasted a 32-6 record.
Mango dominated Mele in a 15-6 major decision and that win set up a rematch with top-seeded Matt McDonough of Iowa. McDonough defeated Mango at last year’s NCAA tournament and got an early takedown before McDonough rolled to a 13-3 victory.
“We told him to let it roll off his back and get ready for the next match,” Mango’s parents said.
McDonough said Mango’s early takedown was a “wakeup call” and spurned him toward an eventual national championship.
A 9-3 loss to Cornell’s Frank Perrelli in the consolation semifinals sent Mango to the fifth-place match. Perelli finished fourth following a 6-4 overtime loss to Minnesota’s Zachary Sanders. Cornell had three individual national champions and finished fourth as a team with 102.5 points. Iowa (107.5) was third, Minnesota (117.5) was the runner-up to Penn State, which also had three national champs and ran away with the title with 143 team points.
Mango’s brother, Spenser, was a member of the U.S. Olympic team and placed eighth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was only after Spenser was not allowed to play football as a 90-pound CBC freshman that the older Mango turned to wrestling. That’s when Ryan got hooked.
“It started with Spenser,” Hughes said. “His freshman year at CBC, he wrestled and did well. He’s been wrestling ever since. That’s how Ryan became a wrestler because he wanted to do everything his older brother did. They liked it and it liked them. The rest is history. They’ve done well and it’s done well by them.”
Sherertz, Whitfield’s coach for 16 years, saw Mango’s potential to compete on a national state early in his high school career.
“He goes to a wonderful school and is in a program that takes its sport seriously,” Sherertz said. “I’m extremely proud of him. There are a number of seeded guys who didn’t place. To get back-to-back all-American finishes, national qualifier as a true freshman, I’m extremely proud of him. I’m glad I contributed to his success.”
After his goodbyes on Saturday night, Mango was back on a plane to Palo Alto, Calif., to return to campus and begin preparations for next year’s tournament in Des Moines.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed the journey so far,” Mango said, “and hopefully I continue to enjoy it.”
A national championship would help.