The storyline doesn't write itself any better than this: A hometown athlete, the most sought-after recruit in the nation who could have gone anywhere to wrestle, decides to stay home and make a name for himself, his town and his school in front of his family, friends, and supporters.
That is exactly what happened for Greeley native and University of Northern Colorado (UNC) junior, Andrew Alirez.
This March, Alirez made history and capped an unbeaten season; a 28-0 season with a 6-4 win over Real Woods of Iowa to claim the 141-pound national championship at the 2023 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament in the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"I've given my entire life to this game, and to be able to reap the benefits, it means everything," Alirez said. "That's years and years of sacrifice, especially over this past year. Now that I'm here, I can do nothing but be grateful."
Alirez's win was also a first under UNC head wrestling coach, Troy Nickerson, who is thrilled to see his protege reach the pinnacle of intercollegiate wrestling. It was also the Bears’ first individual championship in the modern NCAA Division I wrestling era and the national championship has officially put the UNC program, and Greeley, back on the wrestling map.
"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 no one can ever take that away from him."
Alirez says he dreamt about winning a national title daily and had visions about it.
“This past summer, every time I walked into the wrestling room, I envisioned it in my head,” shared Alirez. “I see the two national champions on the wall, I envision my name right after it. I’ve seen it thousands and thousands of times, played it out in my head, yeah to the smallest detail, just really trying to manifest it.”
Shortly after winning the national championship, Alirez was named the Big 12 wrestler of the year and a finalist for the Hodge Trophy, which is presented to the top college wrestler in the
“The Big 12 is a tough wrestling conference and I don’t think it receives the respect that it deserves,” Alirez said. “To be honored as the top wrestler in the conference, regardless of the weight class, is an honor.”
Since Alirez captured the championship gold in Tulsa and claimed the Big 12 Conference’s wrestler of the year accolade, he’s been the toast of the city and community in more ways than one.
Greeley Mayor John Gates and the city council presented Alirez with a key to the city. The Weld County commissioners proclaimed it to be Andrew Alirez Day, and he was featured on every major television station in the Denver market. He’s been invited to headline wrestling camps, speak to national wrestling publications and more.
It is safe to say that Alirez is a household name in not only Greeley but throughout Colorado and on the national wrestling scene. Since his national championship win, he’ll have people stop him at the grocery store, or at the gas station to congratulate him on the win.
Alirez, who was a four-time state champion at Greeley Central High School, is thankful to the community that has supported him since he started wrestling as a child 15 years ago.
“I love this community,” said Alirez. “And that right there is what I wanted to do especially for the town and for everyone who supported me along my long journey of wrestling. Most of these people have seen me wrestle since I was eight years old. G-town baby, we did it!”
Yes he did.