EDMOND — Eli Hale is finally getting a chance to shine.
The former Miami High School state-wrestling champion is off to a 10-0 start at the University of Central Oklahoma and was named the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) wrestler of the week Monday, Jan. 22.
“I am having a lot of fun,” Hale said. “It feels like I am finally getting to produce something.”
Utilizing his final semester of eligibility, he joined the UCO program in December after wrapping up his time at Oklahoma State.
A two-time letterman for the Cowboys, Hale wrestled unattached in three tournaments during the first semester for OSU, winning the Oklahoma City Open, finishing runner-up at the Fort Hays State Open and taking third at the Reno Tournament of Champions.
He received the MIAA honor after going 2-0 last week, with a pair of bonus-point wins to lead the 10th-ranked Bronchos to a 2-0 dual record and a pair of conference wins.
He routed Tyler Lawley of Newman (Kansas) University 24-7 on Wednesday before earning a 10-0 major decision against fourth-ranked Carlos Jacquez of Lindenwood (Missouri) University on Sunday.
Hale is ranked No. 2 in the country at 125 pounds. He’s logged eight bonus-point wins, including two technical falls and six major decisions.
“It’s like he’s been here from Day 1,” UCO head coach Todd Steidley said. “Ninety-five percent of our team is Oklahoma guys, so he grew up wrestling with these guys and against these guys. He’s known them for a long time and he’s known them.
“He has just fit right in. It’s really been fun to watch.”
Central Oklahoma faces a big week on the road, tackling 15th-ranked Western State on Saturday, Jan. 27, then testing No. 5 Colorado State-Pueblo Sunday, Jan. 28.
The Bronchos also have a date with No. 12 Nebraska-Kearney looming on the horizon (Feb. 1 at Kearney).
Hale was caught in a numbers game at Oklahoma State.
“I spent three or four years at OSU behind some really tough competition,” he said. “I felt I was one of the best back-ups in the country. I had beaten All-Americans and wrestled pretty much everybody in the country, but I wasn’t in the starting lineup. I wanted the opportunity to showcase what I could do.”
“That happens at those big schools, OSU and Penn State,” Steidley said. “You can be an All-American and not make the team because they are bringing in the best guys in the country. That is exactly what happened: he got caught up in the numbers game.
“That was good for us. He has been doing a great job for us not only on the mat, but he’s been an outstanding leader. He brings an intensity that we need. It’s been good all the way around.”
UCO has been one of the premiers wrestling programs in the state, winning seven NCAA Division II national championships and eight while a member of the NAIA.
“The team and the coaches have welcomed me,” Hale said. “That has made things easy. I couldn’t ask for anything more out of them.”
Hale said he enjoyed his career as a Cowboy.
“That’s the nature of the beast. It’s not like I didn’t know what I was signing up for,” he said. “While I was there, we had multiple No. 1 recruits in the nation who weren’t even in the starting lineup. Multiple. That is just the nature of Oklahoma State wrestling. You might be the best in the country coming out of high school, but that doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
Hale redshirted his first season in Stillwater (2013-14) but won the Fort Hays State Open and placed in three other tournaments while wrestling unattached.
He missed the 2014-15 season to injury then went 15-8 with five bonus-point wins in 2015-16, going 1-2 against ranked opponents. He placed in three tournaments, including a runner-up finish at the OCU Open.
“I don’t have any kind of regret or hard feelings about not being able to crack the lineup,” Hale said.
He feels the competition in the wrestling room at Stillwater has made him better.
“My partners at Oklahoma State, the 133 and 125 talent, were brutal. We had world champions, All-Americans, national champions, you name it. Those guys were in there every day.
“You had to get fired up to wrestle somebody good every single day. It teaches you something.”
Hale went 135-14 as a Wardog — going 37-0 as a senior.
He finished third at the state tournament as a freshman, second as a sophomore and junior before becoming MHS’ third state champ as a senior.
An all-state selection, Hale was the Jim Thorpe Wrestler of the Year as a senior.
Hale chose Oklahoma State over the U.S. Naval Academy and Columbia University.
“The best thing that ever happened to my wrestling career was coming to Miami, Oklahoma,” he said. “That might surprise a lot of people, but what Miami did for me was put me around some really tough kids.”
Also on the UCO roster are four former Northeastern A&M wrestlers: all-Americans Caleb Cotter and Josh Latham and Bryan Dutton and Tim O’Connor.
All four were part of NEO national championship teams.
Hale is the second Broncho to receive MIAA honors. Will Steltzlen of Collinsville was honored earlier in the season.
Also nominated were Brandon Ball, Fort Hays State; Tyler Selemaea, Central Missouri, and Dalton Weidl, Newman.