When Alonzo Allen steps out onto the mat Thursday morning inside PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it will mark the last time the former Rockdale County state champion will compete in a collegiate tournament.
Thursday won’t be any average tournament for the 125-pound University of Chattanooga standout, either. Allen’s last tournament will take place on the biggest stage of them all - the 2019 NCAA Division 1 wrestling championships.
After failing to receive an automatic bid at the Southern Conference championships on March 10, where he lost out to Campbell’s Korbin Meink 6-0, Allen’s fate was left up to the committee, who deemed the former Bulldog worthy of an at-large bid, awarded only to one 125-pound wrestler in the conference.
Allen was one of four at-large wrestlers selected in a class that will field 33 in the 125-pound weight class.
“I was excited,” Allen said. “I called my family immediately and told them. My coaches called me. Me and my roommate were just screaming. We were just sitting there waiting, refreshing the page. I was pumped to get another chance to go back up there after not getting an automatic bid from the conference.”
In 2018, wrestling as a redshirt junior, Allen won the SoCon 125-pound individual title and received an automatic bid to the D-1 national championships. Allen opened with a 10-8 maindraw victory over Cal State-Bakersfield’s Sergio Mendez, but went on to lose his next two matches, ending his season with a 22-10 record.
Heading into his final year of eligibility in 2019, Allen’s road back to the national championships was far from an easy one. With first-year head coach Kyle Ruschell entering the fold, Allen immediately found himself in a battle for his starting spot with sophomore Fabian Gutierrez.
In the end, it was Allen who kept his spot when it mattered the most.
“This year has had a lot of ups and downs between me and my teammate battling for the spot,” Allen said. “People say, ‘oh, he’s a senior, he should have the spot.’ But I respect coach for making me work for it to see who deserves it more. There were some times where I doubted whether or not I would be the starter. Just waiting on that opportunity to wrestle my teammate and get my spot was exciting. I felt like that’s helped prepare myself for this week.”
If not for back-to-back victories over Gutierrez after losing the first in a best-of-three wrestle-0ff, Allen said he wouldn’t be headed back to Pittsburgh with a shot to reach the podium.
“I’m just going to let it loose at the national championships and see where that takes me,” Allen said. “My end game is to be Top 8 and get on the podium to be an All-American. But even if I only win one match and go 1-2, If I go out there and try my hardest, I won’t be disappointed in myself.”
Allen has wrestled against several in the 125-pound field, including No. 12 seed, Michael McGee of Old Dominion, who he narrowly lost to 3-2 at the Old Dominion Dual. Allen also narrowly lost to the tournament’s N0. 15 seed, Indiana’s Elijah Oliver, 8-5 at the Indiana Dual.
Allen’s first loss in the tournament will place the former Bulldog in the wrestle-backs bracket with a chance to work his way back through the field.
Knowing it will be his last collegiate tournament, Allen said it’s hard to believe that it’s all coming to an end.
“It’s crazy that it’s coming to an end already,” Allen said. “It feels like I just started college a couple of months ago. Five years go by quick when you’re having fun and doing what you love. I’m definitely going to miss it.”
While his wrestling days will be over come this time next week, Allen said his future plans with the sport will live on in a different capacity.
“I plan on coming back down to Rockdale and helping out the high school and getting something started there,” Allen said. “I want to help guys get to my level, wrestle in college and earn scholarships. I’m going to do whatever I can to help out around the community and find a coaching job or something.”
After redshirting his freshman year in the 2014-15 season, it allotted Allen plenty enough time to graduate. The Conyers native said he’s ready to make the move back down to his home town in the weeks to follow and come up with a gameplan to get his coaching career started.
“I graduated last spring with my first degree in sports administration,” Allen said. “A lot of the wrestling clubs are in Gwinnett, Marietta, McDonough and in south Georgia, so I want to get something going local for the guys. I want to save some money and see if I can buy a mat.”
Allen will enter Thursday’s first round sporting a career 78-51 record, good enough for a 60.5 percent win percentage. One win at the national championships will give Allen 23 wins on the season, which would be a new career-high.