Ramstein's 'mentally tough' Sheppard chasing wrestling title at 125
January 27, 2005
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — There’s a reason Ramstein junior Noah Sheppard is among the favorites to win the European 125-pound wrestling championship Feb. 19 in Wiesbaden.
And it’s all in his head.
“Noah is one of the most mentally tough kids I’ve ever coached,” Ramstein coach Dave Izzo said as his Royals practiced Monday. “He’s not the strongest kid out there, but he makes up for it with heart.”
In Sheppard’s case, heart manifests itself in several ways. Last October, for example, the 16-year-old placed fifth, for the second straight season, in the European cross country championship, adding that plaque to the 3,000-meter bronze medal he won in May in the European track championships.
Sheppard also moved up a weight recently to take on defending European 119-pound champion Jonathan Scott of London Central, who is wrestling this year at 130. Wrestling on his home mat, Sheppard pinned a 6-2 payback decision on his opponent.
“That was my biggest match of the year,” the undefeated Sheppard said.
“I saw him whip up on [Ramstein teammate Tracy] Tibbetts last year [21-10 in the 119 European final]. I wanted some retribution.”
Stepping up to take on the best is nothing new for Sheppard.
“In meets and in practice, he makes a point of going against kids three and four weight classes above his,” Izzo said. “He wants to see how he measures up.”
This year, Sheppard, who said he began wrestling as a fourth-grader in Colorado Springs, Colo., doesn’t have to leave the Ramstein wrestling room to test himself against top-notch competition.
On Monday, he was working against Ramstein’s unbeaten 130-pound freshman Coty Reinhart, an Ohio state champion as an eighth-grader.
In addition to Reinhart, Sheppard can take on 140-pounder Jose Figueroa, who lost a 4-3 heartbreaker to four-time champion Josh Anderson of Patch in last season’s 135-pound European title bout; 145-pounder Karl Saucier, the defending European 140-pound king; and 152-pounder Logan Rainforth, fourth in Europe at that weight last year.
The benefits of such high-powered competition accrue both ways, according to Figueroa.
“Noah’s lighter, but he’s also quicker,” Figueroa said. “It helps me be quicker. And he keeps coming at you.”
And if going up against wrestlers of that caliber weren’t enough to keep Sheppard on his toes, he’s also benefiting from hands-on advice from a pair of newcomers to the Ramstein wrestling room — 215-pound Far East champion Cole Maxey, a freestyle veteran, and volunteer assistant Gary Steffensmeier, a three time All-American (1990-92) at 150 pounds at Northern Iowa University.
“They’re great wrestlers,” said Sheppard, who cited “determination” as the indispensable quality for a wrestler.
For the future, Sheppard said he has his sights set on wrestling for the Air Force Academy. For the present, however, his eyes are on Wiesbaden, where he watched from the sidelines last February because of an injury.
“A European title,” said Sheppard, the determination evident in his voice.
“That’s what I want.”