Terrence Zaleski felt devastated when UNC-Greensboro cut its wrestling program.

Terrence Zaleski felt devastated when UNC-Greensboro cut its wrestling program.

He was on scholarship at the college after his graduation from Havelock High School in 2010. After completing his freshman year, he no longer had a team.

Zaleski’s whirlwind journey landed him at UNC-Pembroke, and now he is doing just fine. He is ranked fourth in the nation in the 174-pound weight class on the No. 14 Division II wrestling team in the nation.

“I feel like I am on the right path,” Zaleski said. “I feel like I’ve been given a second chance here at Pembroke and I am taking advantage of it.

“Not many people get a chance to do what they really want to do. It’s a great feeling.”

Zaleski, a former high school state champion at Havelock, turned his focus toward Greco-Roman wrestling for two years after he was notified of UNC-Greensboro’s plan to end wrestling.

At the point, he didn’t know the direction his path was headed.

Zaleski went on a recruiting visit to Newberry College in 2012, and wrestled in the Newberry Open. It was there that Pembroke coaches noticed him.

“Pembroke saw me and I checked them out. Pembroke fit me more,” Zaleski said. “I’m proud of the decision I made and it was a great choice for me.”

Zaleski used a redshirt season last year, so this is essentially his first full season of college wrestling. He owns a 24-2 record on the season, including an 18-1 record in tournaments.

He pinned his opponent in 2:16 last week in a match against St. Andrews.

“On my feet, that’s where I’ve always been good at,” he said. “I continue to get good at it. That’s where the action happens for me.”

While many wrestlers across the nation were unaware of Zaleski, the Pembroke senior is making them take notice.

“As long as I wrestle my match, and take it one match at a time, it doesn’t matter who is in front of me,” Zaleski said.

“I’m not going to let another person try and break my spirit or break me. No man is ever going to out-work me on the mat. My drive is much higher than theirs when we step on the mat.”

Pembroke will compete in the Super Region 2 Duals in Tiffin, Ohio this weekend and then he has five more dual team matches before the NCAA Division II Super Regionals and Championships.

“I’m going to be the national champion in Division II, that’s a fact. That’s a goal of mine and it’s reachable,” Zaleski said. “People didn’t know who I was when I started. It’s my time to shine and I am going to shine big.”

Zaleski registered a record of 50-2 as a senior at Havelock, while winning the conference, regional and state championship. Prior to that, he wrestled at White Oak High School in Jacksonville.

On the mat, he said he is the same, charismatic wrestler. Off the mat, he has matured.

“I’m a better leader and I lead by example on the wrestling team,” Zaleski said. “I still like to entertain the crowd, but on the mat, I’ve just tweaked a few things here and there.

“Every day, I work hard. I have a lot of making up to do, so I am always training extra.”

Adam Thompson is the sports editor of the Sun Journal.