Los Lunas Wrestler Santiago Salas will be continuing his career at the next level after signing with Ottawa University in Kansas.

Salas graduated from LLHS in May on the heels of his first state championship, which he won at 197 pounds in February at the State Wrestling Championships in Rio Rancho.

Ottawa University was one of the first schools that began recruiting Salas, which he said was an important factor in his decision to choose the program.

He began hearing from OU in April, he said, and was able to really mesh with the coaches.

He also seriously considered Waldorf University and Storm Lake University, which are both located in Iowa, and Hiram College in Ohio. Storm Lake and Waldorf both made strong offers to Salas.

Ultimately though, the connection he had with the coaches, as well as avoiding the Iowa winter, were factors that helped to sway Salas to choose Ottawa.

“They were one of the first schools to reach out to me,” Salas said. “I connected with the coaches on a more personal level. They were really cool guys and the team was promising. It was a go-to.”

The Braves, as Ottawa’s athletic teams are known, are located in Ottawa, Kansas, about an hour southwest of Kansas City. Teams at Ottawa compete as part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which focuses on small universities that would likely otherwise compete as part of the NCAA Division III.

Schools in the NAIA are able to offer athletics scholarships, which Division III programs cannot do, as well as other differences.

The Braves compete in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, which is made up of 10 schools, seven of which are in Kansas with York College in Nebraska, Avila University in Missouri and Oklahoma Wesleyan University rounding out the ten.

The wrestling program is led by head coach Colby Crank, who enters his third season leading the Braves program. Crank has overseen plenty of success in his first two years at OU, winning KCAC regular season championships in both years, as well as the KCAC tournament championship in his first season. He was named KCAC coach of the year for his efforts in the 2018-19 season.

Salas plans to major in biology at OU, according to the University’s release.

To be able to wrestle at the collegiate level is something that Salas didn’t envision for himself when he got to Los Lunas.

“It’s honestly crazy, Salas said. “When I was a freshman in high school and just starting in high school wrestling, I didn’t see myself at that level of ever being college wrestling material.”

At OU, the coaches envision Salas wrestling at 197 pounds, where they lose one of two wrestlers from last season. Salas will fill the vacancy and wrestle with Carson Savage, who was one of four OU wrestlers to qualify for the National Tournament, in the weight class.

“I just want to show the coaches they didn’t make the wrong decision,” Salas said of his goals for his freshman year. “They got the hardworker they were looking for.

At Los Lunas, Salas was a one-time state champion, a two-time state finalist and a three-time medalist.

He also graduated with a grade point average north of 3.5.

While he has plenty of good memories from wrestling at Los Lunas, one of his favorite stories happened during a practice.

“One time we were wrestling in our downstairs wrestling room, and one of our younger lightweights decided to come through the roof. Everyone remembers that, it has to be one of the funniest things we ever did.”

“Everyone was drilling, and I don’t know if they were going off or what, but who crawls through the roof? We had to run, run run, it hurts my rib just thinking about it.“

Salas also wanted to thank the people who helped him to reach this point in his career and for helping him to earn this opportunity.

“I just want to thank my coaches for getting me here,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without them. Steve Chavez, man, he’s a really good coach. I love that man.”

Sports writer

Cameron Goeldner grew up in Boulder, Colo., and attended the University of New Mexico. He covers everything sports for all Valencia County schools.

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