Northern Colorado’s Andrew Alirez upsets Iowa’s Real Woods at NCAA wrestling tournament

TULSA, Okla. — University of Northern Colorado junior Andrew Alirez didn’t eat Mexican, Italian or processed foods this year. It was all in an attempt to win a national title. Well, his next several meals will be “something that tastes good,” because he reached his goal.

No. 2-seeded Alirez (28-0) won the 141-pound national championship on Saturday night, becoming the first-ever champion in the modern era. UNC’s most recent titles came in the Division II days and in the 1960s before the NCAA created divisional breakdowns. He defeated No. 1 seed Real Woods (20-1) from Iowa.

The Greeley local was met with hugs from the Bears coaching staff and his family, while the crowd erupted in support of his accomplishment. UNC finished tied for 22 out of 61 teams, despite only have three participants.

“I’ve given my life to this game, and to be able to reap the benefits from it means everything,” Alirez said. “That’s years and years of sacrifice, especially over this past year. I sacrificed everything that I could to get to this moment. Now that I’m here, I can do nothing but be grateful.”

The match didn’t go quite as expected. Coach Troy Nickerson said Woods moved well on his feet and it threw Alirez off. Still, the hometown kid found a way to win.

Alirez managed to defeat Woods, 6-4, in a bout that included a reversal and four-point nearfall. Last season, he ended his season in heartbreak. This time, he put the wrestling world on notice.

“It’s been a long time in the making. This building process, it’s been a lot of work, but we’ve got the right people in place to do it,” Nickerson said. “I’m proud of him. He accomplished his goal, and nobody’s ever going to be able to take that away from him.”

The Bear won four Colorado state championships for Greeley Central and committed to UNC. He could’ve gone anywhere and clearly has the talent to compete for the bigger schools, but Alirez remained true to his city.

Gallery: Northern Colorado Andrew Alirez wins NCAA wrestling national title

It took a long time to get here. He started training with the program in eighth grade, stayed connected to Northern Colorado and then needed four tries to get on the podium.

Alirez never saw the mat in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID and medical withdrawal, respectively. Then, he lost in the 2022 consolation round.

When asked what he’d tell his younger self, Alirez said to “stay the course.” He faced adversity, questions and disappointment. He responded each time, going through “the depths of it” but making history.

G-Town, he’s not coming. He finally did it. He did it for the place that supported him, raised him and loved him.

“I feel like I’ve been ordained by God for this for success, especially for the town of Greeley, Colorado, and the program,” Alirez said. “I wanted to be that building block for people growing up in the city and people coming from across the country to come wrestle for Northern Colorado — to have something to look at and believe that they can go win a national title, as well. Just being that person to get started means the world to me. It’s what I’ve set out to do, and it’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

UNC NCAA wrestling champions

Before the divisional era

1961: Len Lordino (191 pounds)

1962: Jack Flasche (157)

1969: Leonard Groom (130)

Division II

1970: Larry Wagner (126)

1990: Mike Pantoya (134)

1991: Mike Pantoya (134)

1992: Mike Leberknight (177)

1993: Mike Leberknight (177)

1999: Scott Hewitt (157)

Division I

2023: Andrew Alirez (141)

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