Little Giants Capture Regional Title; Send Six to Nationals
RESULTS The Wabash wrestling team embodied the spirit of the College's "Wabash Always Fights" motto at the NCAA Division III Midwest Wrestling Regional Saturday, overcoming some difficult losses early in the day to claim the team title and qualify six individuals for the national championship meet.
The team title is the fifth regional title in school history. The others came in 1981, 1982, 1983, and 2005.
Qualifying for the NCAA Championships were Devin Broukal (133), Michael Venezia (141), Nick Bova (157), Connor Brummett (165), Ethan Farmer (174), and Riley Lefever (184).
The Little Giants struggled early with only five guys advancing past the quarterfinal round.
"During the quarterfinals and early in the semifinals, we had some bad losses, and the guys could have easily quit on us," said Little Giant head coach Brian Anderson. "But they didn't. They were facing some major adversity but stepped up to the challenge to get the job done."
At 157 pounds, Nick Bova was the first Little Giant to punch his ticket on the day by pulling off a thrilling overtime victory in his semifinal match against Brandon Arteaga from Wisconsin-Whitewater. To reach the semifinals, Bova recorded falls at the 2:18 mark of his opening round match against Kevin Papak from Olivet and at the 6:45 mark of his quarterfinal match against Clayton Davidson of Ohio Northern. In the championship bout, Bova faced off against North Central's Josh Tardy. After trading escapes in the second and third periods, the match went to overtime. In the second overtime, Bova secured two escapes to win 3-1.
"After two years of getting fifth place here, it was pretty awesome to finally get out of here." Bova said. "I'm really looking forward to getting out there on the national level in a couple weeks and wrestle the best I can to get on the podium."
The second Little Giant to earn a trip to nationals was senior Ethan Farmer at 174 pounds. Farmer recorded a fall 1:58 into his first round match against John Cooper from Adrian. In his quarterfinal match, Farmer defeated Shawn Brewer from Alma by a 5-2 score. Farmer advanced by defeating Chicago's Paul Papoutsis in the semifinals by major decision 10-2. Farmer recorded two takedowns and put Papoutsis to his back for a four-point nearfall to build up an 8-1 lead by the end of the first period and cruised from there. In the championship match, Farmer lost 3-1 to Tyler Schneider from Wisconsin-La Crosse on a late takedown.
"It's great to get back to nationals," Farmer said. "I'm disappointed that I lost to Schneider in the finals, but I'm going to watch the film to see what I need to work on the next two weeks. But, honestly, I'm really more excited for the team right now. Getting six guys through and winning a regional championship is a great accomplishment."
The last Little Giant to lock up an NCAA bid in the semifinal round was two-time defending national champion Riley Lefeverat 184 pounds. Lefever received a first round bye before pinning Trent Hullett from Alma 1:34 into his quarterfinal bout. Lefever moved through the bracket with a quick pin 1:02 into his semifinal match against James Davis from Adrian. In the championship match, Lefever settled for a 19-3 technical fall at the 4:16 mark to claim his third consecutive regional title.
"The individual title was great, but, for me, it was all about the team title," Lefever said. "Last year we got third at the NCAA's but couldn't win the regional title. Hopefully, we can ride the momentum from winning today and get the national team title here in a couple of weeks."
Devin Broukal was the first of three Little Giants to secure a spot at the NCAA tournament by placing third. Broukal kicked off his day with a 12-4 major decision over Austin Eldred from Adrian. In his quarterfinal match, Broukal defeated Olivet's Jared Brickley by a 5-1 score. After dropping a close 8-4 match in the semifinals to Wisconsin-La Crosse' Dustin Weinmann, Broukal defeated Kalib Jackson from Manchester by an 11-2 major decision in the consolation semifinals to reach the third place match before clinching his second straight trip to nationals with a dominating 17-2 technical fall over Nick Koch from Wisconsin-Whitewater.
"I'm just really excited to make it back to nationals," said Broukal. "I feel like if I do a better job managing my weight the next two weeks, I'll feel a lot better going into the tournament, which will set me up for a strong performance."
In a weight class that featured four of the top six ranked wrestlers in the nation and one other returning All-American, Michael Venezia weathered the storm and came away with one of the three coveted national qualifying spots at 141 pounds. Venezia began his day with an 18-0 technical fall in only 2:28 over Aaron Ward from Adrian. He then dropped a tough 5-2 match in the quarterfinals to Cody See from Wisconsin-La Crosse before recording a 14-0 major decision over Eric Wales from Wheaton. In the consolation quarterfinals, Venezia pinned Chase Wilson of Manchester in 1:00 to reach the consolation semifinals, where he recorded a 7-3 decision over Curtis Blackwell from Olivet. In the third place match, Venezia wrestled seventh-ranked Jared Kust of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Near the end of the first period, Venezia defended a shot by Kust and locked up a cradle for a six point move. After building up a 6-0 lead, Venezia cruised to a 6-2 victory and his first berth in the NCAA tournament.
"It's pretty surreal," Venezia said. "I had to get through some very tough guys today. Being a national qualifier is a good feeling, but it doesn't end there. I've got to put in a couple more good weeks of practice to make it to the top at nationals."
If there was one wrestler that personified the Wabash Always Fights motto the best, it was Connor Brummett at 165 pounds. Brummett began his day with a gutsy 4-3 win over Tyler Grimsley from Olivet. In his quarterfinal match, Brummett dropped an 11-7 decision to eventual champion Logan Hermsen of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In his first consolation match, Brummett was taken down to his back and trailed Kyler Deeter of Ohio Northern 9-3 at the end of the first period. Brummet clawed his way back into the match with four takedowns and an escape before winning the match with a riding time point to get the final score of 13-12. In his consolation quarterfinal match, he fought off Derek Weinmann from Wisconsin-La Crosse to win 7-6. Brummett fought off numerous deep shots from his opponent, Eric Kirkman from North Central, in the semifinals just to keep the match tied and get into overtime. In overtime, Brummett hit a slick dump for a takedown to win 3-1 and move on to the third place match. He controlled that finals bout from beginning to end against Frank Aiello from Wheaton for a 9-5 win and a berth in the NCAA championships.
"It feels good right now," said Brummett. "Making it out of here today has me feeling really good going into the NCAA meet now. I feel like I can go out there and make some noise, and I'm really looking forward to it."
Two other Little Giant wrestlers placed on the day, as well. At 149 pounds, Tim Locksmith made it to the semifinals before dropping two straight matches. He received a medical forfeit for fifth place. At 197 pounds, Brett Thumm finished in sixth place. He won two matches in the consolation bracket to get to the placement rounds.
"I was really proud of the way that Tim and Brett battled back even after they knew this was their last tournament," Anderson said. "They fought until the very end."
Robbie Carter (125 pounds0 won a pair of matches on the day, and heavyweight Paul Snyder won a match as well.
Wabash won the team title with a score of 117.5 points, finishing 16 points ahead of runner-up Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Broukal, Venezia, Bova, Brummett, Farmer, and Lefever will take the mats on Friday, March 11 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the first day of competition at nationals.