On top of his class: Detailed look at LU wrestler Abner Romero’s golden season

Lindenwood+wrestler+Abner+Romero+runs+out+onto+the+mat+ahead+of+his+match+during+the+2021+NCAA+Division+II+National+Championships+from+March+12-13.

Don Adams Jr.

Lindenwood wrestler Abner Romero runs out onto the mat ahead of his match during the 2021 NCAA Division II National Championships from March 12-13.

Dominic Hoscher, Sports Editor

“He’s a bad, bad man.”

That’s how wrestling head coach Jimmy Rollins describes his junior from Fresno, Calif. Abner Romero.

In his second year at Lindenwood, that junior from Fresno is now a national champion.

“With all the struggles and things that I’ve gone through to get up to this point, I couldn’t even put it into words,” Romero said. “Having my family there, and just finally doing it. It took awhile for it to sink in. But it was worth it.”

Before coming to Lindenwood, Romero was a California state runner-up at 160 pounds in high school in 2016. There, he helped lead Buchanan High School to a state title as well as becoming the fifth-best team in the country. 

Right out of high school, he went to Old Dominion University. Romero spent around a year and a half there.

After posting 29 wins in 2016-17, he took a year off from school before heading to a junior college called Fresno City College. There, Romero was the 2018 California Community College state champion at 174 pounds.

All of this would lead to Romero coming to Lindenwood. His path to St. Charles was a unique one, however. He hadn’t even met his coach until January of last year.

“That was the first time I talked to Jimmy [Rollins],” Romero said. “I had actually committed to Lindenwood and I hadn’t even seen the campus or even officially met Jimmy yet. I kind of just wanted to wrestle and get in there, and Jimmy made that easy.”

Despite not spending time on campus prior to becoming a Lion, it took Romero little time to already earn the confidence of those in the wrestling program, and what he could accomplish at Lindenwood. 

Rollins says that as soon as he first saw Romero at the university, he realized the kind of potential he had.

“The first day he stepped on campus the previous year,” Rollins said. “We knew he was a special talent coming in right away, immediately going into the lineup for us.”

For Romero, he knew early on just how special the 2020-21 season could be for him individually. 

He entered the year with just one loss in his Lindenwood career, which came on Jan. 30, 2020 at McKendree (No. 2 at time) and Bearcat wrestler Joshua Jones. After his junior season, this would remain his only loss.

While matches didn’t get started until January, the wrestling team started their season in terms of training in late-September. Practices would include runs, lifts, and drills to get the team in shape for the season. 

Junior Abner Romero competes at home for Lindenwood at Hyland Arena. (Don Adams Jr.)

Lifts would take place three days a week, same with wrestling. Then once the season arrived, the team would wrestle each day of the week with two or three lifts thrown in there as well as five or seven mile runs.

“It’s the little things, getting in your extra drills on your own, or grabbing one of your teammates or buddies and getting that extra lift,” Romero said. “We all have our season and our workouts that are required of us, but it’s the things that we have to require of ourselves off the map that makes those jumps.”

For those around Romero, this is where the junior stood out. 

Redshirt sophomore Ronnie Gentile has been teammates with him for one season now, and can already recall a time where Romero’s high-level work ethic was on full display.

“I remember one specific time we were doing stance motion drills at the end of a hard practice and the whole team is exhausted, the room’s soaked with sweat, everyone’s out of breath,” Gentile said. “It’s easy to break mentally when you’re in situations like that and I remember after one of the stance motion drills, I dropped to a knee and looked and saw Abner waiting for the next drill to start.

“It’s hard to make excuses and not work hard when I’m constantly trying to keep up with him.”

The hours of work spent behind the scenes would pay off for Romero, and this started on Jan. 10 vs. Davenport and No. 5 McKendree. As a team, Lindenwood was ranked No. 4 at the time and defended that ranking with a dominant 44-0 victory over Davenport before winning 19-18 against the Bearcats. 

Davenport’s Sam Greco was Romero’s opponent in his first match of the day, who he defeated 9-0 in a major decision. Against McKendree, however, he got a chance at a rematch with Jones from McKendree, and was able to get redemption.

Despite trailing early, Romero was able to rebound and win by a final score of 7-2. After what happened in their last contest, this one carried more weight than some of the junior’s other victories.

“It felt so good,” Romero said. “After he [Jones] beat me, I had basically trained the rest of the season going into the national tournament to beat that guy. I wanted to avenge my loss, and then NCAA’s got canceled so that didn’t happen. So it was good to avenge my loss and show him that it was kind of like a fluke in a sense and it just felt good to do it as a team.”

Lindenwood had their trip to Wichita, Kan. called off the Sunday after this, but Romero and the rest of the Lions kept marching on in Springfield, Mo. on Jan. 24. He won by 16-1 tech fall against Ouachita Baptist, before securing his first pin of the season against Drury.

No. 13 Iowa State gave the Lions their only loss of the season on Jan. 30, with the final score being 28-9. Romero kept rolling individually, however, defeating his opponent 8-3 in a decision victory.

At the midseason mark, the junior was having a nearly flawless campaign. While this only helped increase his chances at potential national glory, teammates such as Gentile were already confident in Romero prior to his strong start.

“It’s hard to really remember what I was thinking about Abner in particular at that time [midseason] I was zoned in myself, but that’s probably because there was never even a doubt to begin with that he could achieve a national championship,” Gentile said. 

Hosting No. 10 Indianapolis on Feb. 6, No. 3 Lindenwood ended their regular season with a conference championship win at Hyland Arena. It was the first GLVC title in program history. Romero, along with three other Lions, was unanimously voted to the all-GLVC first team once the regular season concluded.

Up next for a Lions team that entered the postseason ranked No. 2 was the NCAA Division II Super Regional in Edmund, Okla. where Lindenwood had four wrestlers win championships. Romero met with Jones from McKendree once again in the finals of the competition, winning 3-2. 

Thanks to the strong showing, Lindenwood was able to send five athletes to the national championships: Romero, Tanner Hitchcock, Colby Smith, and Gavin Londoff, as well as Gentile who earned an automatic invitation.

The five of them got the opportunity to compete at America’s Center in St. Louis, Mo., an opportunity that Romero says he will never forget. 

“Having the lights, having the smoke, having the tunnel, the fans, it was an experience that I didn’t know was going to be like,” Romero said. “But it’s definitely something I want to feel again, so I got two more years to make sure I keep doing it.”

It ran from March 12-13, about two weeks after the Super Regional. 

Rollins viewed this competition as something that will prove to be beneficial to Lindenwood wrestling as a whole.

“It’s tremendous for our program,” Rollins said. “We only had five guys get through, but four of them in the semis was something special. You could just tell as a team, our guys go out there really loose and Abner being one of those guys, he just loves to compete. He thrives on it, and he wants to put on a show.”

And then that show began.

Romero towered over the 174-pound bracket as the class’ top seed. On day one, he defeated his two opponents by a combined score of 29-2. His first win came against Queens University’s Noah Curreri, and his second one was against Newberry College’s Caleb Spears.

Daniel Beemer of Ashland was Romero’s semifinal opponent, who he was able to top in a 7-0 decision with two takedowns helping his cause. This set up a final round between the top two seeds in the weight class: Romero and No. 2 Trevor Turriff from Minnesota State. This tie was one of the lone two championship matches that consisted of a No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed.

Just 14 seconds into the match, Romero was able to complete a takedown on Turriff. The junior would go on to dominate the remainder of the first period, and did so in the second as well. With 1:35 remaining, Romero was able to tally a reversal, before later completing another takedown with 12 seconds left to go.

Lindenwood’s Abner Romero wrestles an opponent at the 2021 NCAA Division II National Championships at America’s Center in St. Louis, Mo. from March 12-13. (Don Adams Jr.)

Once those 12 seconds expired, the junior from Fresno had become a national champion.

“It’s a little surreal,” Romero said. “Sometimes I’ll forget, it slips my mind where it’s like, ‘alright, I got the job done this year’. It was cool to look back and know I did it. I did the best to my abilities”

The total score from Romero’s four matches at the national championship was 44-4. Gentile believes this was the best group of performances this season from the national champion.

“Just really proud of him and how he wrestled,” Gentile said. “I think the national tournament was his most dominant set of matches he competed in all year. He did a great job with his weight this week, he was feeling good and performed great.”

Coach Rollins joked that if he were to continue performing at this high of a level, Romero would deserve even more honors back at Lindenwood.

“I keep telling him, if he wins a second title, and he gets a big picture on the wall, and happens to go for number three, we might just name the wrestling room after him,” Rollins said.

Overall as a team, the Lions took third place in the competition. Romero is their first national champion since Carlos Jacquez won in 2019 in the 125-pound class. 

Romero and the other four Lions, including Gentile, were All-Americans.

After a season as special as the 2020-21 one was, Romero and the wrestling program will first have time to reflect and cherish the historic year it was. But Rollins knows that soon, a new season will arrive, and it will be time once more to do it all again.

“Winning a title is difficult, repeating is even more difficult,” Rollins said. “I think that he welcomes the challenge, I think that he is excited for the opportunity to do it. I know we are as a staff, to follow and be a part of his journey.”

Even Romero himself is already looking ahead, and after getting a taste of the national championship already as a Lion, he is hungry to do it all again.

“It’s something that I’ve experienced once, just if I don’t go back and experience it again within the next two times, it’ll just kind of be a loss in my eyes,” Romero said. “Just sitting back and watching someone else do it, it just doesn’t sound right or even sit right with me.”

Romero will get the chance to do it all again starting in the fall of next semester, where he looks to repeat as a national champion.