It’s Missouri’s first year in the MAC and the former Big 12 school comes into the conference tournament as the favorite. The Tigers feature six wrestlers pre-seeded #1 with the four other starters all in the top 4 in their classes.
For Buffalo, the host team, a trio of NCAA qualifiers look to return to the biggest tournament of the year. In the 2012 MAC tournament, Max Soria rode a strong performance to a fourth place finish and a spot at Nationals. The 125-pound bracket once again has four automatic bids this year and Soria earned the fifth seed. The field is challenging, led by the nation’s #1 grappler, Alan Waters of Missouri as well as top 20 competitor Christian Cullinan of Central Michigan. Soria lost 2-0 to Cullinan but hasn’t faced Waters or the other two wrestlers seeded above him, Steve Mitcheff of Kent State and Jared Germaine of Eastern Michigan, this season. Can he make another strong March run to get back to Nationals?
Joining Soria at the NCAAs a year ago was 165-pounder Mark Lewandowski. To get a guaranteed spot at that event again, the senior, who is 28-6 this season, will need to place first or second. The Buffalo wrestler received the #3 seed, with Central Michigan’s Mike Ottinger and Missouri’s Zach Toal above him. He has had a number of tight battles with Ottinger, including a 2-1 loss earlier this campaign. Head coach Jim Beichner felt early on that Lewandowski could make some noise in March, as he did when he came within one victory of All-America status a few years ago.
Another wrestler who could make his presence felt in Des Moines is 174-pounder John-Martin Cannon. The senior has been hampered with injuries this season, but is looking to make a run in his last weeks of college wrestling. He is seeded fourth in a class that has qualified five spots for Nationals. The bracket is full of solid wrestlers, as six different entrants have been in the national rankings at some point this season.
While 174 pounds will send a number of grapplers forward, there is just one automatic slot at 141. That was earned for the conference by Northern Iowa’s Joey Lazor. Looking to take that spot away is Buffalo’s Erik Galloway, who moved up from 133 in mid-January. The transfer from Pittsburgh recently defeated the third seed Kevin Fanta of Northern Illinois.
Another transfer, Angelo Malvestuto (from Virginia Tech), missed a portion of the season, but recently returned to the lineup at 197. He sits in the #5 position and is looking to finish a few places higher, as the top three advance to Des Moines.
Also aiming to finish high on the podium this weekend for Buffalo will be 149-pounder Blake Ruolo, who was pre-seeded sixth as well as those sitting in the seventh slot for the Bulls – Justin Farmer (133), Wally Maziarz (157), Tony Lock (184) and Justin Heiserman (heavyweight).
Wrestling will begin on Sunday, March 10 with quarterfinal action at 10 a.m. at Alumni Arena on Buffalo’s campus. The finals are scheduled for 5:20 p.m..