When he was 6, Joe Velliquette had it all figured out.
The two-time state champion Nixa High School wrestler always had dreams of attending an Ivy League school.
“Since I was 6 years old, anytime people asked me what college I wanted to go to, I’ve always told them I wanted to go to an Ivy League school,” the Nixa senior said. “I’d always get funny looks from people when I said that, because Ivy schools typically aren’t the most prestigious wresting schools.”
Velliquette can soon call himself an Ivy Leaguer, however. The 138-pounder recently signed a national letter of intent with the University of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia.
Despite two state championship medals dangling from his neck, and hopefully a third come February, Velliquette’s college choice was never solely about wrestling.
“Academics and wrestling were the two biggest factors for me,” said Velliquette, who won state championships at 106 and 126 pounds in Class 4 the past two seasons. “Penn is a top 10 school for academics in the world and is probably top 20 in wrestling. It met both factors pretty well.”
Academically, Velliquette plans on studying engineering, although he’s not sure which specific area.
“I’ve talked to a lot of intelligent people on careers, and they suggest not having one set plan,” he said. “I’m trying to take whatever advice I can and keep my options open as they come to me.”
Even though Velliquette has always wanted to attend an Ivy League university, he wasn’t sure Penn was the right one until he made his official visit.
“When I was there, I got a feel for the atmosphere around the campus and what life is like living there,” Velliquette said. “I felt like it was something I could acclimate into.”
During his visit, Velliquette not only got the usual campus tour, but was also taken out to eat at some superb restaurants — which could become “go-to stops” for him when he’s not pulling weight.
He also attended wrestling practices at Penn and had a chance to meet some of his future teammates.
“I expected them to be Ivy League snobs that thought they were better than everybody,” Velliquette admitted. “They weren’t. These were down-to-earth people that were nice and hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone type. My type of people, I guess.”
Before Velliquette can join his future teammates, he’s got unfinished business left to take care of in high school: winning a third state championship.
“The only major goal I have this year is to be a three-time state champ,” he said.
While reaching that goal isn’t going to be easy, with his current training, he feels he’s ahead of where he needs to be. He has not wrestled in any matches yet due to an undisclosed injury, but is expected to be cleared for an Arkansas tournament this weekend.
“It’s just been a long time,” Nixa coach Dustin Martin said of Velliquette’s season-long absence. “We’re just trying to go the conservative route.”
The time off only means he hasn’t wrestled. He has continued to work out.
“I wasn’t expecting to be in this good of shape at this point in the season,” Velliquette said. “I feel great. I’m hitting my weight perfectly, and I feel like I’m doing everything perfectly. I actually think I’m ahead of my benchmark.”
Fresh off competing in the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament, the Eagles will have 10 days off before they return to action on Jan. 10 against St. Louis Christian Academy.
The time off gives Naval Academy signee Bryce Dulin extra time to heal his left ankle, which he sprained in practice Nov. 27. He has yet to play. The Eagles will also host Neosho and travel to Kickapoo before hosting the Nixa Invitational Tournament Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
After the Pink and White Lady Classic, the Lady Eagles will take a week off before entering a stretch of three games in five days. Nixa travels to Waynesville on Jan. 9, hosts Columbia Rock Bridge on Jan. 11 and Neosho on Jan. 13.