It’s an incredible challenge to comprehend what goes through a high school athlete’s mind when deciding where to continue playing the sport they love in college.
For South Kitsap High School’s Mitchell Neiner, who ranks as one of the best wrestlers in his weight class and Washington state, choosing from the multitude of colleges calling his name seemed an impossible task.
Neiner’s mother, Malie, said: “My husband (Mike) and I were saying how we thought this was supposed to be fun. It was stressful. It’s like putting five boxes of your kid’s favorite cereal in front of them and asking which one they want.”
“And you have to eat that for the next four years,” replied Neiner, who understood not only the weight of his decision, but the commitment to that decision.
Neiner has dominated on the mat since entering high school and club competition. He currently wrestles in the 138-pound weight class and holds an 86-5 overall record, according to TrackWrestling, including a state championship at the 126 weight class in last season’s Mat Classic. With that kind of resume, the choices appeared to be endless. Neiner received attention from a long list of NCAA Division 1 schools, including Navy and North Carolina, along with powerhouse North Dakota State.
The favorite destination for Neiner early on was the East Coast. Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Brown were looking to recruit him, but a couple of academic slips caused those doors to close.
“Along with those top universities comes your GPA, and because of his unweighted GPA, they were like, ‘You just didn’t make the cut,’” Malie said.
Meanwhile, Malie said a connection with one of their wrestling families exposed her son to Riverside, CA and the Lancers of California Baptist University. Neiner said the opportunity came out of nowhere, but after visiting the campus, he took a liking to the community and the wrestling program.
“I really wanted to be there after that,” he said, “so I made the phone call on the way to the airport to go home to tell them I was going there.”
Cal Baptist was granted its first year of full active status as an NCAA Division 1 school just this year after transitioning from Division 2, and the program is entering its second year in the Big 12 Conference.
“I think I can bring some freshness to the program,” he said, “being a new recruit and being a pioneer of the program. I have confidence that they will be a better program in the future and be a Top 25 team.”
Along with working with what he called an incredible coaching staff that includes California Hall of Fame wrestler Derek Moore, Neiner said signing with the team will give him continued exposure to some of the best collegiate wrestlers in the nation.
“That’ll be good for my development, along with the team’s development,” he said, “just getting that competition early on in your face so you know what you’re working with.”