It’s something you couldn’t script in Hollywood – a wrestler winning a national championship and then proposing to his girlfriend on a podium for everyone to see. But that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago.
North Idaho College wrestler V.J. Giulio, a four-time state champion from American Falls, Idaho, won a national title in the 197-pound weight class at the NJCAA Wrestling Championships March 1 at the Spokane Convention Center.
Soon after claiming his individual championship, he proposed to his girlfriend Jordan Moyer on the All-American podium.
“She doesn’t like being the center of attention very much and I wanted to put her out of her comfort zone and embarrass her a little bit and just make it super memorable. I think I did,” Giulio said. “I think it worked out.”
Giulio said he knew that he was going to propose if he won a national title, so that gave him “a little extra motivation for the tournament.”
“Every match I was like well, if I don’t win this match, then I can’t propose at the end of it,” he said.
As for the championship match atmosphere, Giulio said “those are the moments I live for.”
The wrestling mat was elevated on a stage with lights focused on the mat and the rest of the room fairly dark.
“That’s the reason I love this sport because it’s just you,” Giulio said. “It’s you and one guy, go at it and do battle. That’s where I shine. Every state championship I ever wrestled in and now the national championship I just wrestled in, it’s just where I excel. It’s where I feel like I belong. It’s just the best feeling on the planet.”
Giulio was also named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.
NIC placed sixth as a team in the national tournament with Taylor Kornoely (285 pounds) and Derrick Booth (174) earning sixth place finishes for the Cardinals.
Giulio and NIC head coach Pat Whitcomb said he wrestled his best at the end of the season.
Whitcomb said the last month of the season Giulio was “focused” and “hitting on all cylinders.”
Giulio came into the tournament as the third-ranked wrestler in his weight class, but was ranked No. 1 in the three previous polls.
He finished third in last season’s national tournament when the Cardinals proceeded to share the national title with Labette Community College.
However, Giulio lost in the quarterfinals.
“It was heartbreaking obviously coming up short,” Giulio said. “I didn’t expect to lose. You never expect to lose. It turned out to be kind of a blessing because without me losing that match we wouldn’t have won the national title.”
With Giulio losing in the quarterfinals, he was able to rack up more pins and as a result, gave his team more points than perhaps he would have if he blazed through the tournament undefeated and crowned a national champion. He finished the tournament with five pins.
Whitcomb said it was “pretty devastating” when he lost last season at nationals as he was the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class and his sights were set on winning a national championship.
Giulio had about 20 minutes to regroup until his next match was set to start.
Giulio said Whitcomb told him after the loss “‘you get five minutes for yourself and then after that, I don’t want to see or hear anything about that match. We need you to come back as strong as you are and win these next matches for us if we’re going to have a chance at this.’”
“It kind of made it in my mind about the team, not about me anymore,” Giulio said. “That’s really what it boils down to is I needed to wrestle back, and wrestle hard for my team.”
Whitcomb said “what speaks more volumes to me is his character from coming back last season (in the tournament).”
So how does the national champion Giulio come to NIC and win a team and individual national championship?
Well, his dad coaches all levels of wrestling in American Falls, including freestyle wrestling, middle school wrestling and high school wrestling. Giulio has been wrestling since he was four years old with his dad coaching him through high school.
“I didn’t have anyone else in my corner until I came to college,” Giulio said.
Giulio won four state titles at American Falls High School.
The high school weight classes are different than college weights. His freshman year he won at 135 pounds, sophomore year at 160 and junior and senior years he took home the state championships at 189 pounds.
“It was a fun run,” Giulio said. “It was just a blast, especially going through it with my dad.”
Giulio said he was undefeated his senior year in high school and estimated his record to be 42-0 with about 36 pins.
He was recruited by four-year schools out of high school, including Arizona State University and St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn., where he will be wrestling next season with former NIC wrestler Ryan Zumwalt.
Zumwalt helped NIC win its 14th national title last season by finishing second at the national tournament at 165 pounds.
Giulio chose the University of Wyoming in Laramie out of high school, where he wrestled for a year.
“I had a full ride, so it was kind of hard to pass it up,” Giulio said. “It was close enough to home and everything like that. But I left it because it just wasn’t a good fit.”
Giulio said wrestling in the open tournaments at Wyoming was a bit of a wake-up call.
“That was kind of an eye opener,” Giulio said. “I lost like six matches that year and so coming down to NIC, it was kind of like a middle ground, right in between D-I and high school. It was a perfect transition.”
Giulio’s dad contacted Whitcomb after Giulio’s time in Laramie.
Whitcomb said Giulio’s dad wrestled at the University of Montana at the same time he wrestled at NIC. Whitcomb won two individual and two team national titles at NIC in 1986 and ’87.
Whitcomb said Giulio is “very athletic” and “explosive” and would fit into the NIC wrestling program.
Whitcomb said that some wrestlers don’t transfer their high school wrestling success to the college level. He said he’s had four-time state champions that didn’t handle the pressure well, but “V.J. didn’t miss a beat.”
Giulio now looks forward to wrestling for St. Cloud State, which recently finished sixth at nationals, and head coach Steve Costanzo.
“He (Costanzo) likes me,” Giulio said. “I like him. He’s the kind of guy that I want to wrestle for.”