Take your best shot. Go ahead and try to knock Morgan Sauseda down. He’ll just get right back up. It’s all he’s ever done.
Sauseda is no stranger to adversity. He’s dealt with devastating injuries and the loss of loved ones, but he still finds a way to thrive as a state title contender for the City College wrestling team.
On the Panthers’ team for more than two seasons, Sauseda has compiled 55 wins, just four shy of cracking City’s all-time Top 10 list. He has helped City keep a streak of seven consecutive Big 8 Conference championships alive.
“Sausey,” as he’s known by his teammates, explains his success by looking inward.
“I’ve always been kind of selfish,” he says. “I like that I get to choose how good I am.”
He wakes up at 5:45 a.m. every day to make the nearly 50-mile trek from Stockton to be at his first class by 7:30 a.m. A full day of classes is followed by a rigorous two-hour practice.
Amid the mind-numbing exhaustion of being a student-athlete — he was a 2016 Academic All-American — and the training that has earned him the No. 2 slot for 125-pounders in California, Sauseda reminds himself each day why it’s not really all that difficult.
Sauseda’s father, Mark, was his coach from the time he began wrestling in the third grade and was in his corner for every match.
“He never yelled, never scolded me,” says Sauseda. “Win or lose, he always told me he loved me and shook my hand. That was the best thing. Even when I started winning, same thing. It was always a comforting feeling.”
The youngest of three brothers, Morgan was 11 when Mark was diagnosed with colon cancer. Originally thought to be a 90-day life sentence, Mark stretched it to four years before succumbing to the fight at 49 years old.
Morgan was 15 when his father passed. Despite weekly chemotherapy sessions, Mark never missed a practice.
“I think that’s where I draw a lot of my motivation from,” says Sauseda. “He’d show up and coach practice the same day. He didn’t have to do that. I think of pushing hard through one practice. Two hours is nothing. When something is hard, I just think about that.”
After his father’s death, Sauseda made goals of becoming a state-placer in wrestling at Chico High School. Missing the cut during his first three years, he felt his senior season was his best shot. Two weeks into the postseason, Sauseda was poised to reach his goals until a fractured knee cap pulled the rug from underneath him.
“It was super depressing because you’ve worked so hard for one moment, and that’s the reason why you didn’t accomplish your goal?” says Sauseda. “It felt like everything I did was for nothing.”
But three years later, Sauseda has stayed the course, and he sits poised once again for a state title run with an overall record of 23-7.
“He’s the bright light as far as leadership,” says City head wrestling coach Dave Pacheco. “When he says something, people know it’s important and that he knows what he’s talking about.”
Before leading his teams on the mat, Morgan and his older brother, Mason, would have wrestling matches in their living room, just like all brothers do. Although Mason was older by nearly three years, he insists that Morgan has always been better.
“He’s just a natural,” says Mason. “I’m his biggest fan. I remember watching him wrestle in high school. I was a senior and he was a freshman. Watching his matches would get me pumped for mine.”
The two brothers faced each other last season for the first official match since the days in the living room. With family bragging rights on the line, Mason won a close overtime bout in what he called one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
“I got lucky,” Mason says of his match with Morgan. “Nine out of 10 times, he beats me.”
Of Sauseda’s seven losses, four have been to Brandon Bettencourt from Fresno City College, the only wrestler ahead of Sauseda in the 125-pound rankings. Despite those four losses, Sauseda has the guidance of Mason, who defeated Bettencourt while wrestling for Simpson University last year. Morgan hopes that Mason’s advice and experience will help him get over the hump.
“I just tell him to relax and do his thing,” says Mason, who still trains with Morgan whenever they have the chance. “He’s better than I am, and he’s better than that kid. It’s all a matter of just believing and knowing how good he is.”
Mason plans to be there when Morgan competes in the north regionals Dec. 2, with the state championships to follow on Dec. 8—9 at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.
Sauseda finished fourth in the state in his weight class last year. Despite Sauseda’s success to this point, he knows he must redirect his focus to what lies ahead.
“What you did in the past means nothing,” says Pacheco. “It’s how much you’ve improved on yourself. He’s got the right mindset.”
Silently intense and selfishly focused, Sauseda won’t be satisfied until he has what has eluded him for so long: the opportunity to wrestle in the state finals.
“Let’s just go out there and wrestle,” he says. “I just want what’s mine.”
Regardless of the outcome, Mark Sauseda would surely be proud.