CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Dimitri Boyer was a big fish in a little pond.
Then, the two-time Eddyville-Blakesburg state champion was thrown to the sharks.
He learned to tread water, adjusting to a college wrestling room and taking his lumps from more experienced Coe teammates. The Kohawks' junior continued to work hard and improve, helping him qualify for the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships this weekend at Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. Action begins Friday at 11 a.m. with the finals set for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Boyer (15-6) faces John Carroll's seventh-seeded Terner Gott (25-4) in the first round, marking a turnaround from when it was hard to stomach filling the unfamiliar role as a reserve two All-American Dale Handley. The new role was hard to accept, but quitting was never an option.
"There were times my freshman year where I was like is this for me," said Boyer, whose parents encouraged him to stick it out. "Coaches kept talking to me and I knew I had to push through it."
Standing tall in the shallow end to being dunked in a deep talent pool challenged Boyer's perseverence. He dished out beatings as a four-time Class 1A state medalist with a 180-12 record. They were served to him early on in the Kohawk wrestling room. Boyer had to work to overcome more wrestlers with comparable skills.
"I was perfecting the little things, making my technique better (and) improving every part of your wrestling," Boyer said. "When I came in I was getting beat pretty good by some of the backups. At the end of the year, I was wrestling varsity duals and getting some wins."
Coe Coach John Oostendorp has seen Boyer progress. Not everyone can handle the transition to a college wrestling room, especially the difficulty of breaking into a lineup with Handley, two-time NCAA finalist Nick LeClere and All-American James Locke. LeClere worked out with Boyer Tuesday, preparing for the national tournament.
"I've been impressed with Dimitri," said Oostendorp, noting that Boyer had considered wrestling at Iowa State. "It's difficult for high school kids to come in with high credentials and not have the success they had in high school or felt they were going to have early in college.
"There is a transition ... a big part of success in college is being able to deal with that adversity and push through it. Not all kids are able to do it and train at a level that they can compete at a high level when they get an opportunity."
Boyer is dedicated to getting better, accepting the fact he will be a continuous work in progress, like all wrestlers. He hopes to carry that into his coaching career after college. He resides to the fact he has to keep evolving.
"You're never going to perfect every area of this sport," Boyer said. "You'll always have stuff to learn."
Oostendorp has been high on Boyer's talent. Oostendorp recalled the moment when Boyer decided it was time to take the steps toward being a starter, following a third-place tournament finish late last season.
"I remember the exact time and text he sent me when he made up his made to take his wrestling to a new level," Oostendorp said. "It basically said I'm tired of getting beat and I'll do whatever I need to do to fix it."
Boyer devoted himself in the practice room and weight room, absorbing advice from the coaches. Oostendorp described him as a tough-minded competitor. The results show he is starting to thrive, owning wins over ranked foes, including Wartburg's third-ranked Cole Welter.
"He's really shining now in the varsity role," Oostendorp said. "He has raised his level."
A quick shot of confidence came from one of his first opportunities as a starter. He has been motivated since the taste of success in front of the Coe crowd, recording a first-period fall against Cornell in his college dual debut.
"That was a big turning point for me," Boyer said. "I want to do this on a national level. I want to be a national champion."
Boyer earned a chance to contend for a national title with a third-place Central Regional finish March 2 in Dubuque. He might be proven in the Kohawks wrestling room, but he has something to prove to the nation's best.
"I have all the confidence in the world," Boyer said. "There's no reason I can think of why I couldn't be in the finals. I'm not seeded and, if I win, I have the second-ranked guys in the nation but I don't care. My goal is to be the national champion and that's what I'm going to try to do."