With 44 seconds remaining in the third period and holding a 7-4 lead, Dylan Foley limped around the mat in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the NCAA Division III Wrestling National Championships. Foley circled around his opponent in the center of the ring before dropping to both knees.
Foley then attacked quickly, driving Ursinus’ Anthony Caro into the mat. Finally, Caro escaped with just 24 seconds remaining while Foley clung tightly to his left leg. Foley drove quickly again, planting Caro into the mat before riding out the final 15 seconds en route to an All-American junior campaign.
“I remember a feeling of, ‘I did it, finally,’” said Foley. “I didn’t achieve the ultimate goal of winning a national title, but being on the podium was on my brain every single day for the last 10 years of my life.”
While Foley became the sixth All-American in three years under head coach Jason Holder, few have faced the uphill climb that Foley endured just to be on the center stage.
One year after failing to place in the region, Foley was front and center, placing sixth in the country in the 165-pound weight class, all while competing on a grade two MCL tear in his left knee.
“Dylan is an incredibly hard worker,” Holder said. “He has high expectations of himself. He’s a hard-nosed kid, he’s a student of the sport, [and] he picks things up quickly. Coming in he was very physical. We called him a brawler type wrestler. Last year he made a big jump from freshman year, but he was all about the physical style so we had to work on getting points.”
Foley’s strategic practice schedule prepared him for his late-season success.
“Leading up to the competition, my knee was immobilized,” said Foley. “Coach Holder was on top of it. He was calling me a couple times a day. He came up with this thing called ‘battle fever’ where you are just blocking it out. He did a great job keeping me on my mental game, telling me every day, ‘This isn’t going to affect you.’”
Foley suffered the MCL injury in the semifinals of the regional tournament. After losing a match, Foley won two straight matches to qualify for the national tournament.
Once in the national spotlight, it came down to catching “battle fever” and letting instinct take over.
“At that point you kind of just shut your brain off,” Foley said. “You train six months out of the year for that moment. What’s your go-to move, what’s your favorite takedown, what do you do best under pressure, and I just executed. Everything just fell in my favor and I was able to execute under pressure at that moment when I needed to most.”
None of his success came easy. In high school, Foley fell in love with wrestling during his freshman year, before arriving at Springfield in 2011.
“You come in as a freshman and think you’re going to start,” remembered Foley. “You have to earn your spot.”
Through hard work and persistence, his chance soon came.
His sophomore season, Foley took over as the lone starter at 149-pounds, using his ferocity and physicality to own the spot.
By his junior season, Foley jumped up to the 165-pound weight class, helping him focus on wrestling and not cutting weight.
“He had to focus on being a better wrestler,” said Holder. “Coaches were calling saying, ‘If you said Dylan Foley was going to be an All-American after not placing in the region, I would say no way.’”
Despite being a junior and having one more year of eligibility, Foley never entertained the thought of skipping out on a chance to compete nationally.
“You never know when you’re going to get the opportunity,” said Foley. “I look at last year, Devin Biscaha, 157-pound as a junior, goes out and wins a national title. Senior year breaks his hand in the conference tournament, doesn’t get a chance to go to nationals, doesn’t get a chance to repeat. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. I had it, I had already claimed it. This was my trip. I was going. There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever. I wasn’t not going to not go because of [my knee].”