Dalton Lane won two Georgia High School Association wrestling state titles using speed, strength and every physical trait he possessed.
Not long into his college career, the former Murray County Indian figured out that wasn’t enough.
Lane is ranked second in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association’s 174-pound weight class and helped Rome’s Shorter University to a No. 2 coaches poll ranking entering this weekend’s Collegiate Cup tournament at the trade center, where Lane and the Hawks finished runner-up to top-ranked Grand Canyon University (Phoenix, Ariz.). The event serves as the NCWA’s national duals championship.
With his eye on an individual national title at the NCWA’s national traditional (individual-based) tournament in March in Allen, Texas, the redshirt sophomore has come a long way since 2011. That was his senior year of high school, when he won the Class 3A 152-pound title after winning the Class 4A 145-pound crown as a junior.
“Dalton has a lot of tenacity,” Shorter coach Josh Henson said. “He goes hard the whole time. In wrestling, that’s probably the biggest part. If you have a guy who is putting his 100 percent into the whole match, he can improve. ... He was pretty raw coming out of high school, but the main thing is he loves to wrestle and goes hard the whole time.”
Seeded fifth for the 24-team tournament, Shorter was one of eight teams that received a first-round bye and beat Auburn by forfeit in the second round before winning 50-6 against North Florida and 47-7 over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In Saturday’s quarterfinals, Shorter won 32-14 against Central Florida, then beat Liberty University (Lynchburg, Va.) 23-16 in the semifinals.
In the finals, the Hawks lost 23-19 to Grand Canyon in a dual that came down to the final individual match. With the team score tied at 19 entering that bout, Grand Canyon heavyweight Peter Anguiano beat Shorter’s Marlen Morgan 12-4.
Lane won all five of his matches and in the Liberty victory beat Keyshaun Ward, the NCWA’s top-ranked wrestler at 174 pounds, 9-0 for a major decision and four team points. He earned another major decision victory in the finals, winning 10-3 versus Grand Canyon’s Austin Trujillo. Technical falls earn five points, which Lane did in a 17-1 domination of Central Florida’s Sean Mann. Pins earn six points, which Lane did against North Florida’s Austin Englehart and MIT’s Tyler Laprade.
“Not only will he win,” Henson said, “but he’ll also put up bonus points for your team.”
Liberty finished third in the tournament, The Apprentice School (Newport News, Va.) finished fourth and Central Florida rounded out the top five. Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.) finished sixth, followed by Mott Community College (Flint, Mich.), Middle Tennessee Tate, South Florida, Mercer, MIT, Florida Gulf Coast, Marion (Ala.) Military Institute, Stony Brook (N.Y.), East Tennessee State, Southern Virginia, Tennessee Temple, Texas, Connecticut, Toledo and South Carolina.
Success isn’t new to Lane, who was selected as The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Wrestler of the Year in 2010 and 2011.
“My comment then was, ‘It’s all Dalton,’” said Murray County coach Chris Thornbury, who coached Lane in high school. “He works his butt off, is a good student and is tough as nails. He had a thing in high school that as an adult you wish you had. He has this inner peace about him that he trains his best, does his best and works his best and is happy with that.
“I’d like to say we did so many things for him, but it didn’t matter where he went to high school, he’s so mentally tough that he’d overcome whatever obstacles.”
Yet, Lane still wasn’t quite “there” when he went to the next level. In his first match as a college wrestler, he was pinned.
“That’s how tough it was,” Lane said.
He always possessed the physical traits — and the aggressiveness — to succeed in high school. At college, he finally started learning how to outsmart opponents instead of just outworking them.
“It’s definitely more of a chess match,” said Lane, a nursing major. “You have to set up your shots and stuff. In high school, I’d just shoot off the whistle. That’s just how I was. I still have that, but I also like to set up myself a little more now than I used to, especially against a better guy.”
Lane started for the Hawks his freshman year and was redshirted last season. He has two full years of eligibility and should be around to help Shorter transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II level. Shorter is currently a provisional Division II program, but can compete for titles starting next season.
“He has really sharpened his offensive attacks on his feet,” Henson said. “He’s a lot more technical with leg attacks and gets out of the 50/50 scrambles and controls the positions better. He’s just gotten a lot better with his setups. He has great leg attacks, so we’re really trying to focus him in that area.”
The NCWA is an organization designed to provide a competition venue for wrestling programs that are not members of NCAA conferences. With scholarship cuts and colleges complying with Title IX legislation for equality in sports by gender, many wrestling programs — including programs across the Southeast — have been reduced to the club level rather than having direct affiliation with their school’s athletics program.
Additionally, teams making the transition between levels that aren’t eligible for other postseason competition — like Shorter — are among those that take part in NCWA events. Last year’s champion, Lindenwood-St. Charles (Mo.), is now an NCAA member. Liberty, a program that was reduced to club level due to funding cuts, won the NCWA title in 2012 and was second last year.
Thornbury remembers thinking before Lane even started his college career that he could someday become an NCAA All-American wrestler.
“Whenever he decided to go to Shorter — and this was right after he graduated high school, when we heard they were going to the NCAA — my first thought was, ‘Hey, he could be an All-American right now.’”
And if Lane wants to continue his wrestling career beyond college and even to the Olympic level?
“I think if Dalton wants to do it,” Thornbury said, “then he can do it.”
But the 21-year-old isn’t thinking about that decision just yet.
Hsart and outwork the competition on his way to a national championship.