Jan. 19, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - NC State junior wrestler Colton Palmer has a list of explanations for*why he has nearly twice as many wins this season as he recorded in his first two years combined.

Palmer, who started the season with just 12 career wins, currently leads the team with a 22-8 record, including a seven-match winning streak in the 157-pound weight class.

First, there's the influence of first-year assistant coach Lee Pritts, who joined head coach Carter Jordan's staff prior to the season, after coaching stints at Missouri and Old Dominion. Pritts, a former All-America wrestler himself at Eastern Michigan, has helped develop 16 Division I All-Americans in his 12 years as an assistant.

Second, Palmer credits the return of his two older brothers, Brandon and Austin, to North Carolina. Both wrestled collegiately, Austin at William Penn and Brandon at Iowa State, so their proximity has helped Palmer focus on the things he needs to do to be successful.

And third, he acknowledges that he has grown as a person and a wrestler since arriving in Raleigh four years ago from Durham's Riverside High School, where he set a national single-season mark with an undefeated 95-0 record as a senior and captured the North Carolina Class 4-A state championship.

"It's a very tough maturation process, because you're so accustomed to winning," he said. "Then you get here and you're getting beat up every day in the practice room. I definitely wasn't accustomed to that.

"I knew I had the talent and the capability of doing well, but I had to get over that hump of knowing I'm supposed to win this match, no matter what the opponent is ranked or what his record is. My biggest battle this year mentally is not being afraid to win."

He believes the mix of those things will help him reach the aggressive goals he has for himself this season.



"I want to be an All-American and to win the ACCs," Palmer said. "This has been a major turnaround year for me. I've been working hard on focusing on the little things I've missed the last couple of years." When you get right down to it, Jordan believes that hard work has done more for Palmer's development than anything else.

"He has a fire in his belly like he hasn't had the last couple of years," the coach said. "It's amazing the light bulb that goes off with people after they've been here awhile. They realize that if you compete really, really hard, work hard and mix it in with a little bit of talent, you can do well in this sport.

"It's the workers at this level who push their way to the top and that's where Colton is right now."

In the absence of defending national champion Darrion Caldwell, both Palmer and red-shirt junior Darrius Little at 141 pounds have developed into the most consistent performers in the Wolfpack lineup.

Palmer performed okay in the early-season tournament schedule, earning a third-place finish at 157 in the Wolfpack Open, a second-place finish in the Pembroke Classic and a fifth-place finish at the Southern Scuffle. He also lost his only two matches at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

But, since losing his first dual-meet match to Bloomsburg's Frank Hickman, he has reeled off seven straight wins, including a 13-6 decision over No. 16 Vince Salminen of North Dakota State.

"He's had some real rough patches during his time here with some injuries and high expectations,"*Jordan said.*"But I'm real proud of him. His last month has been phenomenal.

*"If he wrestles the way he has for the last 30 days, he can wrestle with anybody in the country."*