3rd Season, Column 28: Conference Crunch, please, 2 scoops; and First Hand Forum

Tasty is not the only word to describe the wrestling wonderment of Marchs 1st full weekend, but it’s a good one. Lets get right to the dessert, shall we?

ACC-The Absolutely Calamitous Conference jammed more action into about 12 hours than the Swedish Bikini Teams Olympic Tryouts. Host Pitt came This close to upending regular season Champ and heavily favored NC State but the WolfPack, with quality depth and a big upset win at 125, held off the Panthers by just 4 points. That team triumph added ACC tournament title number two in 3 years to the WolfPacks run of three, count em, three, regular season conference crowns in a row. 9 NC State wrestlers made the semi-finals, and 6 wrestled for an ACC title. Good thing, too, because only 125LB Jakob Camacho and 2X AA 157LB Hayden Hidlay earned Gold. Never leave an opening for a Panther, and stylin Pitt Head Coach Keith Gavins crew pounced on the opportunity Or, more correctly, created it. 7 Panthers wrestled their way to NCAA Bids, and 3 won ACC titles. 133LB Micky Phillippi, 165LB Jake Wentzel, and 285LB Demetrius “Meech” Thomas nearly did the thing, too, as the ACC hosts pushed the Wolfpack to the limit. Wentzels Golden effort was an especially impressive 3 match march from the 4th seed to the top of the podium. That’s where 3 Tar Heels ended up as North Carolina earned a Team Bronze. Champs 141LB Zach Sherman, 149LB Austin O’Connor, and 174LB Clay Lautt are all back next season for UNC, who loses only 157LB AC Headlee to graduation. 6 Tar Heels will head to Minneapolis as Coach Coleman Scotts squad is a Top 20 lock. Virginia saw their horses, 125LB Jack Mueller and fellow Top 10 ranked grappler 197LB Jay Aiello, go 1 for 2 in their Championship matches. Aiello locked up a high seed at Nationals with his 27th win, earning his 2nd NCAA trip. Mueller gathered in his 4th visit and he’s looking for his 3rd AA finish. Until the conference finals his last college loss was in last year’s National Championship match to Iowa 2X Champ Spencer Lee. Then Sunday and salty NC st RS freshman Jakob Camacho happened, to the tune of 11-4. No matter. Hoosnation was more than happy to finish ahead of their Commonwealth Cup rivals VA Tech in the ACCs, and with 6 Cavaliers earning automatic bids (1) to the NCAAS, UVA can take square aim at a Top 25 finish. Only 1 starter, Mueller, won’t be back for next season. Though the pride of Dallas, TX and Trinity Christian Academy is a lot to lose, look for smooth moves by the ‘Hoos next season. Yes, he wrote that. Not writing the ACC ending they wanted (even if one was expected) were 5th and 6th place finishers Virginia Tech and Duke. Tech tallied 52 points, Duke a few less. About 50 less, more or less, mostly the latter. Even the wizardry of Duke Coach Glen Lanham can only go so far, and a greatly diminished roster in both quality and quantity greatly diminishes returns. Anywhere, in any endeavor. So, for Duke, wins by 174LB Mason Eaglin and 197LB Vincent Baker, 1 each followed by 2 losses per, probably completed the Blue Devils season. For the Hokies, an 8-0, #3 ranking through the seasons 1st half felt the heavy hand of absence, injuries, and enormous expectations down the stretch. Techs talent and depth hoped to make up the 20+point season starting deficit from the absence of defending National Champ Mekhi Lewis. Lewis and the VT staff committed to an Olympic redshirt year for the über-star. OK, got it, get that medal, Mekhi, and Hokie up everybody! Uh oh, Brent can’t go no mo. As in nasty tough 149LB Brent Moore, who reaggravated a terrible neck injury at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Tournament, ending his mat career. Whoa, 6-12 points missing per match and 30-35 per tourney down the stretch was too big a pill for even a Hokie to choke down. Then, at the ACCs, another Moore went down, 141LB Mitch. This statement from VT BHH HC Tony Robie..

“With the development of an unforeseen medical condition this past weekend, we elected to medically withdraw Mitch from the remainder of the ACC Championship under the advisement of our medical staff in the best interest of his health. We are hopeful that he receives an at large bid from the selection committee for the opportunity to compete in Minneapolis at the NCAA Championships.”

That is Unvarnished Truth, dear reader. Savor it for its honesty even as you feel its sadness. Look, nearly any team in the country would do backflips for a Top 10-15 season finish, and ecstasy would echo around the room of a squad with 8 wrestlers out of 10 NCAA bound. For VPI, that’s BAU. Business as usual.

SOCON-the Deep South bastion of D1 Collegiate wrestling tried to hold an 8 team tournament and a dual meet broke out instead. The Campbell Camels and the Appalachian State Mountaineers combined for 14 out of 20 finals berths and an astonishing 9 out of 10 champions. To say the two squads staged an intervention against conference parity is an undersell. The lone titlist not from Cary Kolats title winning bad boys from Buies Creek or BHH HC JohnMark Bentleys rough n ready mountain men from Boone NC, was VMI 174LB “Nasty” Neal Richards. Richards avenged a last match of the regular season loss with a decisive defeat of App States Thomas Flitz. Folks, it was Campbell v App State, App St v Campbell all afternoon and night. The odd men out in this scenario? The Scribes beloved UTC Mocs, who busted their tails all season long with a Marquis de Sade approved schedule to be fully post season ready. Then, they followed through on the months long struggle by advancing half their team to the finals. Yeah, you see where this is going. The Mocs were a misery-inducing 0-5 in championship matches. Repeat disappointments included 149LB Tanner Smiths 3rd loss to App State star Jonathan Millner, 184LB Matt Waddells 3rd defeat in 3 tries against Campbells Andrew Morgan, and 197LB SoCon top seed Rodney Jones 2nd defeat by App States DeMazio Samuel. You could then be told that Smith also lost his “true 2nd” place match, to the Citadels Selwyn Porter, and lost an NCAA qualifying bid in the process, but that would be too painful. Or something. Richards was something, for sure, as the 174LB VMI masher claimed his 2nd straight conference title and a piece of the SoCon Tournament Most Outstanding wrestler award. You want numbers? Richards has them. 38 wins against just 7 losses, 18 out of 19 in a row, heading to the NCAAS for the 3rd time in an illustrious career. Capping it with AA status is a long but reasonable shot (2) for Richards and would greatly bolster the already excellent efforts of Coach Jim Gibson, Assistant Ty Schoffstahl, and the spirits in the VMI room. Richards, UTCs Waddell and the Citadels Porter are more than likely the only SoCon grapplers not from Campbell or App State headed to Nationals. By way of explanation, only 4 SoCon weight classes had 2 bids. Waddells wt class had two bids and an opponent he had already defeated finished 3rd. 4 of UTCs 5 finalists do return, 9 overall starters back. It’s a given that with “The Kyle Ruschell Initiative” into year 3 they’ll start at a higher spot than in years past. Now they just need to finish that way. The rest of the conference is still looking straight up at the Big 3, with 5th place Davidson and 4th place the Citadel combining for less points than Chattanoogas 75. Porter wasn’t the only star for the Charleston, SC breed of Bulldogs, though. Fellow sophomore Dazjon(3)Casto, 2 weight classes up at 165, helps form a nice 1-2 middleweight punch with Porter(4) for the next 2 years for Coaches Rob Hjerling, Cody Cleveland and company. 285LB senior Mike McAleavey also closed out his season in style with the Bronze spot on the podium. This years crop of Citadel seniors could all do their career thesis presentation on “The Three I’s: Illness+Injury=Inconsistency.” Do NOT fault these fine young men, friends. That is an unsolvable equation. Speaking of numbers, a 4 pack of 4th place finishers had Gardner-Webb ending up 7th. The Boiling Springs, NC breed of Bulldogs, unfortunately, were strongest where the best SoCon teams just had better wrestlers. 165LB RJ Mosley finished his season with 23 wins and a spot on the SoCon All Freshman team. He and every other starter except 197LB Roderick Davis return next season, so Coach Daniel Elliott will have good guys to work with. Just one note-only one of two touted freshmen remain on the roster at 125, as GA 4A State Champ John Jones III is MIA, and a planned 125LB appearance by he or Michael Pappaconstantinou never fully materialized this year. The pre SoCon roster had Will Edmiston at 125 and mid season transfer Trevon Majette manning 133. Sunday saw Edmiston at 133, Majette missing, and a large post season hole at the smallest weight class. Curiouser indeed. Not curious at all but interesting were the 5th and 8th place finishes of Davidson and Presbyterian. Given both squads roster numbers, academic/cultural standards and, in Presbyterians case, 1st year program status, any kind of point total past 15 was going to be good for the Wildcats and any points at all for Presbyterian would have been: A: Progress/B: Peachy/C: pointing in the right direction.(5) With 29 points “Certifiably Intense” Head Coach Andy Lausiers crew nearly doubled reasonable expectations and 2 Wildcats clawed their way up the backside of the Tournament to each finish 3rd. Sophomore 133LB Kyle Gorant and 184LB freshman Gavin Henry each went 3-2 and both had 3rd place revenge wins over wrestlers who had beaten them before. Even better, between them they recorded tournament victories over wrestlers from all 3 conference big boys. That is measurable progress. Presbyterians progress this year? Existence, competition, a dual meet win, good efforts at multiple tournaments, and big time bragging rights at being the very first school to field a D1 Mens and Womens team. Like, ever. Not that Presbyterian Director of Wrestling Mark Cody is any kind of braggart. No sir. A smiler, yes. A braggart, no.

FIRST HAND FORUM: TX HS COACHES POST SEASON EDITION

The second installment in at least a 2 part series with the post season perspective of various Region 4 TX HS Coaches. 5 questions, 5 answers, unedited, in their own words….

SAN ANTONIO WINSTON CHURCHILL HS HEAD COACH BRIAN HAWKINS

  1. In you and your staffs measurements was your teams season a success, and how so?

Our kids weren’t satisfied but my answer would be yes. Our boys only returned 4 out of fourteen starters from last seasons District Championship team. Our most talented returning wrestler missed the entire season due to major injury, and we finished the season with only 1 senior in our Varsity lineup. After all that, our boys fought to a 2nd place finish at Districts, qualified 7 for Regionals plus two alternates, and we qualified three for state with our senior winning 4th place. Our girls team lost one of our team captains to injury halfway through the season and finished with four freshmen in the starting lineup. They still fought to 3rd in the District, qualified 7 for Regionals plus an alternate, and advanced one girl to State. We did not hit all our team goals, but this group faced a lot of adversity this season. The ability of these kids to overcome these obstacles and still achieve some measure of success will serve them well in the future.

2. How was the needle moved this season towards improving our sport in this city/area/state? If it, in your opinion, was not, what can be done?

The city of San Antonio needs more wrestling programs. We will not experience consistent improvement until there are more schools in the city that have wrestling. That means at the high school level but also at the middle school level. The sport in the state of Texas is improving rapidly, but this city will continue to fall behind Dallas and Houston because of the lack of programs in the area.

3. Please give your perspective on the best and the most challenging things you and your team experienced this post season?

My best experience this postseason was watching our senior boy, Chris Pruske, at the State Tournament. This is a kid that plays mutliple sports,so he does not get to develop his full effort and energy to wrestling. He just works and competes and refuses to settle for anything less than excellence. Last year, he finished 6th in our region. This year, he finished 4th at State. Watching his career end the way it did was a very satisfying experience. As a team, I think our best experience was the way the teams competed at Districts. Our girls team was shorthanded with four freshmen in and our second-best wrestler out, but they still finished third. Our boys team was in fifth place going into the championship round but just continued to battle and finished the day in second. The most challening thing we experienced was the blood round at Regionals, that last round in onsolations where you either win and get to go to State or you lose and your season is over. We had two boys and two girls go out in that round and those are tough matches to get over. But luckily none of those four are seniors so they get another crack at it next season.

4. Whom, and what successes, both team and individual, may we highlight from your season?

Victoria Morales, 12-2X District Champ, 2X Regional Runner-up, State Qualifier

Winter Hill and Eliza Stricklin, 9-both won 20+ matches, won a District medal, and won matches at Regionals as freshmen

Chris Pruske, 12-2X Regional place winner, 47 wins this season, 4th place at State

Adam Miller, 11-Two sport varsity athlete, District Champ, Regional Runner-up, State Qualifier

Quinn Porter, 11—32 wins, District Champ, State Qualifier

Alex Boarnet, 11—-38 wins, 2X District Medalist, Silver Bracket Champ at the Texas Outlaw

Rocco Obregon, 11—-32 wins, District Runner-up

5. In 5 years Texas wrestling at the scholastic level will____________. Note both your expectations and your hopes.

Still be improving. I think Texas is quickly catching up to other states in terms of the number of quality wrestlers in the state. My hope is that by then state-wide middle school wrestling is either a reality or at least a topic of serious discussion.

See you next week!

Ted Carreras

(1) No trite “Ticket Punched” descriptive here. No Siree, bob.

(2) Who do you want taking that shot besides a VMI guy? C’mon, man!

(3) Dang, somebody moved his “Cheese”. Loved that nickname!

(4) He’s stout, and even better with Cheese. That ones for you JB.

(5) All bad. Goodwin, where are you when we need you? Running and lifting, right. Sickening.