Shiprock sophomore is ready to make an impact at district
SHIPROCK — At the Mogollon Invite this weekend in Heber, Ariz., Shiprock wrestler Zelldan Clark dealt with something he hadn't faced all season: losing.
The 160-pound sophomore went into the meet with an undefeated regular season record. But he lost twice on Saturday, finishing 3-2 on the day.
Shiprock assistant coach Sean Hayes said he's actually glad Clark lost.
"Zelldan wrestled like he had nothing to lose after the losses," Hayes said. "It was a case where, we were almost relieved he tasted defeat before district and state, because it kind of lights a new fire under him now."
Emotionally, Clark is even-keeled — he doesn't get too high or too low before or after matches. When it comes to his recent defeats, he said he's turning a negative into a positive by treating the losses as learning experiences.
"I knew I was probably going to lose eventually," he said. "I just told myself, 'It's not district or state, so I shouldn't be mad about it.' It's all a learning process for me."
The first loss Clark suffered was to a wrestler from San Pasqual Valley, Ariz. But he got his revenge later in the meet when he defeated the same grappler in the fifth-place match of their weight class. Clark said he learned from the mistakes he made in their first match-up.
"I wasn't pacing myself, and I wasn't moving as much as I needed to," Clark said of the first loss. "My coaches told me to loosen up and move around on the mat more, and that's what I did."
Losing triggered a newfound source of motivation for Clark, who began wrestling in seventh grade. Shiprock assistant coach Zane Frazier, who has been coaching Clark up since middle school, said the way the wrestler carries himself in practice shows how determined he is to bounce back.
"When he comes in every day, you can see he wants to be here," Frazier said. "He wants to practice, he wants to learn. He realizes he doesn't know everything, but he's putting in the work to learn as much as he can."
The Chieftains have competed in Arizona five times this season. Hayes said Shiprock takes part in those meets to learn the techniques of wrestlers from different regions, hoping it will make the Chieftain athletes more versatile and harder to beat come district and state time.
Clark has been well prepared for those kinds of style clashes, because he deals with them daily on the practice mats, Hayes said.
"By wrestling Zander Dale and Logan Charley and Zephaniah (White), Zelldan is getting to see different styles, and he's learning how to compete against guys who have more size than he does," he said. "Those four guys pound each other in practice, and it's paying off for all those guys, but for Zelldan in particular."
Clark took third in his weight class at the district meet last season, then he came into 2015-2016 and immediately started padding his resume. He took first place at two difficult Arizona meets — one in Monument Valley and one in Window Rock — and he's confident that the losing is out of his system.
On Saturday, Shiprock will head to Kirtland Central High School for the District 1-4A Duals. Clark said he's ready to improve on his district placing from a season ago and accomplish something his older brother, Denzel, once did for Shiprock.
"I want to take first this year, that's the goal," he said. "I wanna make my dad proud, my mom proud and my brother proud, 'cause he was a district champion. Then, after that, I wanna place at state. I just want to keep improving."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
A closer look: Zelldan Clark
1. Favorite team?
"New England Patriots."
2. Favorite athlete?
3. Favorite food?
4. Favorite movie?
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
5. Favorite subject in school?
6. Least favorite subject?
7. Biggest fear?
8. Do you play any other sports?
9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
"Buy my mom a big house."
10. Do you have any pregame rituals?