Wrestlers and coaches always emphasize that what counts the most is performing in March. Well, March is upon us. This weekend, wrestlers from all six Division I schools in New York will try to earn their spots at the 2013 NCAAs in Iowa with strong showings at the EIWA, CAA and MAC Championships. The following is a look at the EIWA event, which will be held at Rutgers University. (We will discuss the other tournaments separately).
Note: We may provide a live blog of all mats at the EIWAs, as we did last year. Please check back at LIVE BLOG link.
Returning EIWA National Champions:
Kyle Dake, Cornell (2012 Champion at 157, now at 165)
Steve Bosak, Cornell (184)
Returning EIWA All-Americans:
Mike Nevinger, Cornell (141)
Steven Keith, Harvard (All-American at 133, now at 141)
Walter Peppelman, Harvard (157)
Robert Hamlin, Lehigh (184)
Micah Burak, Penn (197)
Cornell has won six EIWA crowns in a row. Will the Big Red make it seven? The squad certainly has the firepower to do it, but has a few more question marks than in recent years. There are a number of teams who have the balance to make legitimate runs at the big trophy. Cornell, Rutgers and Navy all have seven wrestlers pre-seeded in the top 4 of their weights, while Lehigh has five such grapplers, all pre-seeded in the top 2.
Let’s take a quick weight-by-weight look at what we’ll see in New Jersey on Friday and Saturday:
125: (Four automatic bids to NCAAs)
Nahshon Garrett, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, has had a stellar freshman campaign. Currently ranked sixth nationally, he will be the top seed. One of his few close victories this year was an overtime battle with former EIWA runner up Mark Rappo of Penn. The two are favored to meet again in the finals on Saturday although some other wrestlers, such as Joey Langel of Rutgers, could throw a wrench in the works.
NY Storyline(s): Garrett has beaten everyone he’s faced all year – except the #1, 2 and 3 grapplers nationally (Alan Waters, Matt McDonough and Nico Megaludis). The first time Garrett and Rappo met this season, the Penn grappler wrestled much of the bout on one knee to counter Garrett’s quickness. However, the Cornell rookie’s mat wrestling led him to victory. We think it will again.
133: (Two automatic bids)
This weight has only two automatic qualifying spots, the fewest of any class in the conference. The race for those slots seems wide open. Perhaps the favorites are Vinny Dellafave of Rutgers and Randy Cruz of Lehigh, the top two pre-seeds.
NY Storyline(s): Jordan Thome wasn’t pleased with his seventh place finish at the 2012 EIWAs but wrestled well at the NCAAs, picking up a pair of victories. He is a multi-time national qualifier and will no doubt push to finish his career at the season’s biggest event. Cornell’s Bricker Dixon had an effective weekend at the National Duals Regional in Ithaca, topping a pair of solid wrestlers in Jamie Franco of Hofstra and Shawn Nagel of Nebraska. He also has a quality win over Lehigh’s Cruz. The pair could meet in the semifinals.
Matt Bystol of Columbia dropped to 133 in early February and won four of five contests, according to the NWCA Scorebook, including a decision over Dixon. The way this weight class is, any of those Empire State grapplers could make the finals and get tickets to Iowa.
141: (Seven automatic bids)
While 133 offers just two guaranteed berths to Des Moines, 141 has seven. And that’s an accurate reflection of the quality of this class. Leading the way are a pair of returning All-Americans, Mike Nevinger and Steven Keith. Nevinger, the runner up at the EIWAs last year at this weight, registered two wins over Keith earlier this season. The Harvard wrestler and Long Island native has been very impressive lately, however, including victories over a pair of contenders, CJ Cobb of Penn and Anthony Salupo of Lehigh in February. (Cobb topped Nevinger in dual meet action). Not to be forgotten are Trevor Melde of Rutgers, Richard Durso of Franklin and Marshall and another New Yorker – Connor Hanafee of Army. The former CHSAA star can battle with anyone, as he did while making the medal stand at the Southern Scuffle.
NY Storyline(s): New York should be well represented here. We see a trio of Empire State high school stars – Nevinger (Letchworth), Keith (Shoreham Wading River) and Hanafee (Monsignor Farrell) all heading to Nationals after high podium finishes.
149: (Four automatic bids)
Last year’s EIWA finalists, Shane Welsh of Lehigh and Kevin Tao of American, are back, as are the third and fourth place finishers – Chris Villalonga of Cornell and Steve Santos of Columbia. The return of those medalists should make for an exciting class.
NY Storyline(s): Santos and Villalonga split a pair of bouts a year ago, but didn’t meet in the dual between their teams in 2013. If pre-seeds hold, they could square off in the semifinals.
However, another Empire State resident has the potential to take the title as well – Daniel Young of Army. The Black Knight didn’t qualify a spot for the conference, but he has some significant victories, including over All-Americans Cam Tessari of Ohio State and Derek Valenti of Virginia. (He’s also topped Tao and Villalonga this season and earned the third pre-seed as a result). We expect to see all three make the trip to Des Moines.
157: (Five automatic bids)
Scott Winston of Rutgers has been an EIWA finalist each of the past two years. He isn’t the top seed, however. In fact, he’s pre-seeded at number four. That’s largely because of accomplished grapplers in this class ranked high nationally – Walter Peppelman of Harvard and Joey Napoli of Lehigh. Meanwhile, Columbia’s Jake O’Hara and Navy’s Bobby Barnhisel have also appeared in the polls during 2012-13.
NY Storyline(s): O’Hara won a pair of matches at Nationals last year and is looking to improve upon his 2012 fifth place showing at EIWAs. Cornell’s Jesse Shanaman has had an up and down season but had Peppelman on the ropes as time expired in Cambridge. His defense and toughness on the mat give him the ability to pull some upsets and grab a qualifying spot.
165: (Five automatic bids)
Kyle Dake is a two-time EIWA champion and a three-time NCAA champion. This bracket is reasonably filled with solid wrestlers, but none on Dake’s level.
NY Storyline(s): Dake is, of course, the big one. But Army’s Paul Hancock has been solid as a rock all year long for the Black Knights. He has compiled a 28-9 record and placed at the challenging Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. We expect to see both make the trip to the Midwest in a couple of weeks. The question is whether Josh Houldsworth of Columbia (pre-seeded at #7) can join them as a possible sleeper. The Lion wrestler has won nine of 11 bouts in 2013, with his only setbacks coming to Penn’s Casey Kent, the #3 preseed, by a 1-0 score and by fall to Dake.
174: (Four automatic bids)
Like at 133, there isn’t a clear favorite at this weight. Mat Miller of Navy, Greg Zannetti of Rutgers, Nate Brown of Lehigh and Stephen West of Columbia have all had very strong seasons. All are in the top 21 of the final Coaches’ Panel rankings.
NY Storyline(s): Can Stephen West get his first bid to the NCAAs? The Columbia coaching staff was surprised he was not awarded an at-large bid to the NCAAs a year ago after a solid campaign and a fifth place EIWA showing. He has followed up with a better senior season and hopes to represent the Lions in Iowa.
Last year’s 165 pound bronze medal match at EIWAs featured an overtime win for Army’s Coleman Gracey over Cornell’s Marshall Peppelman. Peppelman recently got the starting nod for the Big Red after a season-long battle with freshman Duke Pickett while Gracey didn’t take the mat for the Black Knights until the second half of the campaign. Neither wrestler is pre-seeded in the top five, but both are capable of strong runs this weekend to earn return trips to the NCAA tournament.
184: (Five automatic bids)
Will we get to see another installment of Steve Bosak vs. Robert Hamlin? The past two seasons, the two-time All-Americans have met for the EIWA crown. Both times, the Lehigh grappler used late heroics to take the title. The two are on another collision course and this one could have major implications for not only the team race but also for seeding in Des Moines. Presumably neither wants to be in the path of Penn State’s Ed Ruth.
NY Storyline(s): Bosak is a national champion but hasn’t collected an EIWA title. Can he add that honor to his resume this weekend in New Jersey?
197: (Five automatic bids)
Cam Simaz stood on top of the podium at this weight for the past four years. The last three times, his titles came at the expense of Penn’s Micah Burak. Now as a senior, the Quaker is the favorite to finally get over the hump and take first place.
NY Storyline(s): Jace Bennett is one of the more exciting upperweights to watch in the nation. 27 of his 38 matches have ended as bonus point affairs – some for and some against. Nick Mills came tantalizingly close to qualifying for nationals two years ago at the EIWAs and has one last chance this weekend. On the other end of the spectrum, this will be the first shot for Army freshman Bryce Barnes, who has 22 victories in his rookie campaign. A year ago, Army’s Derek Stanley rode a great conference tournament to the NCAAs at this weight. Barnes could do the same.
285: (Four automatic bids)
This is one of two classes without a top 20-ranked wrestler (along with 133). So, who will emerge? Both Stryker Lane of Cornell and Dan Miller of Navy have placed at EIWAs in the past. Meanwhile, Billy Smith of Rutgers and Blake Herrin of American have both been consistent and effective throughout the campaign and as a result entered as pre-seeds number one and two.
NY Storyline(s): Colin Wittmeyer of Army has placed in the EIWA tournament in the past. After spending the early part of the season at 184, he recently has seen action at 285 and enters in the ninth spot.
Cornell’s Lane sustained an injury during the Harvard meet, but came back on the mat to register a late reversal and near fall to clinch the dual victory for his team. He returned several weeks later and fought through the pain to ensure the Big Red went to the second weekend of the National Duals in Minnesota. The number three pre-seed, he should be back and ready for Cornell.
For the pre-seeds for this year’s tournament, see here.