NORTH MANCHESTER – Connections are and have been a big part of Chase Wilson’s life.

From his opportunity to get into the Peru youth wrestling program all the way to becoming Manchester University’s first NCAA Division III national qualifier since 2012, essential individuals have aided in his success.

“Our family didn’t have much of an idea (about wrestling) in the beginning … and I’m not too sure my mom was very fond of the idea,” the senior Environmental Studies major said with a chuckle and his infectious wide smile and laugh. “A friend of mine’s dad was involved in everything from t-ball to wrestling, and he said to me ‘Chase you should think about wrestling.’”

Think he did and Wilson hasn’t looked back. After the youth wrestling experience, he looked for more opportunities in the junior and senior high programs at Maconaquah High School. With the likes of former head coach Waite and his son Austin, along with current Braves’ skipper Bob Freiji, he was able to be a four-time semi-state qualifier, highlighting a school record 168 career victories, and earned a trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the Indiana High School Athletic Association state finals as a junior.

“Those three gave me so much,” he reflected. “Austin might have had the biggest impact, though, as he put me through it (in Maconaquah High School’s wrestling room) when I was younger … some of those practices against him were a grind, but, in the end, it made me better.”

The state finals appearance, in his own words, gave him a view of where he wanted his wrestling career to be.

“It was overwhelming,” he reminisced. “I’d never been in a building of that size or with so many people watching. They were all focused on my match as I was taking on (Michigan State standout) Drew Hughes, who was a freshman phenom. I wish I would’ve handled it better, but the parade of champions and everything got to me a little.

“Whenever I’m coming into a big meet now, I think back (to that). It lit a fire under me. I didn’t want to feel the way I did after that day again.”

When his prep days concluded, a friendship with then-North Miami High School standout Alan Mock paved a road to North Manchester.

“I’d been recruited by many of the small college schools (in Indiana),” he said. “Alan, though, kept telling me about Manchester University and what they were trying to build. It was close to home, and the school size fits as well as the field of study I’d hoped for.”

The connection theme hasn’t ended in his collegiate career. Standing on the cusp of 100 career triumphs, becoming the program’s first NCAA Division III national meet qualifier since 2012 and on down the line has been the product of former head coach Matt Burlingame, current head coach Kevin Lake, assistant coach Brandon Music and many of his Black and Gold teammates working to and for his benefit, whether it be in the room, on the mat edges, in the classroom, and so forth.

“I can’t think of a better institution to represent (at the national meet),” Wilson said following his Central Region title at Wabash College on Feb. 24. “Two years ago (when I just missed out on the top eight), Coach Lake said to me 'Where do you want to go from here?' I said 'Up.'

“I wouldn't be here without the support of my teammates and the university. It's a tremendous feeling to be a regional champion and national qualifier.”

Just as his high school career offered, a harsh memory gave him something to build off at Manchester University. Going into his junior regional meet, everything had been coming up roses for Wilson, jetting into the National Wrestling Coaches Association Division III and polls, hitting the 30-plus-win mark and beating some ranked opponents. So it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would be able to qualify for nationals with his home crowd behind him in Fort Wayne. After a 2-2 record, though, he was done … stopped painfully short of his objective.

“It just has come down to getting to work,” Wilson admitted. “It was devastating after regionals, but Coach Lake knew what I needed … building back up and taking things one day at a time. I put too much pressure on myself last year worrying that I couldn’t lose. This season, I’ve stepped back from that and understanding that losses might happen from time to time. I don’t like it when it happens, but it’s a learning experience.

“(This entire experience with wrestling) has taught me so many life lessons. Humility, working hard for something you want and getting after things. Coach Lake always tells us ‘This experience isn’t a vacuum … you’ll gain life lessons from practices and competitions.’”

Those words are something he takes into his work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at three area state park and dams.

“I’ve always been an outdoors person,” he said. “My dad and I would hunt and fish whenever we had the chance. Now, I’m getting an opportunity as a park ranger.

“I hope I can share my wrestling wisdom (after college),” he added. “I’ve brought it up to Coach Lake, and he feels there might be some opportunities.”

Becoming a connection for others in wrestling and life … just as Chase Wilson’s path of success has been built.

The NCAA DIII National Championships start Friday in Cleveland.