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College update for March 8: Post-season tournaments keep fans busy

By Jason Bryant

If you were any sort of wrestling fan this weekend, you were either attending one of 10 conference or regional tournaments or you attended one of the two national tournaments. If you didn't do that, you were likely glued to the computer, refreshing every 10 seconds to see what the latest gossip was on your tournament of choice, or scouring school websites, InterMat, and messageboards for information.

The Pac 10 had it made two weeks ago. They were the only thing going, at least, after the Junior College wrapped up their national championships in Rochester.

This week was another story.

The Division III National Championships were in Ewing, N.J., while three conference tournaments were taking place in Pennsylvania, The Big 10's in Indiana, The Big 12's in Iowa, East Regionals in North Carolina, The MatJam in Virginia, the West Regionals in Wyoming and the MAC championships in Northern Illinois.

Not to be forgotten, Dana College won its first NAIA national championship in Sioux City, Iowa. Whew.

Hopefully this won't be the last time Slippery Rock wins an East Region title. The Rock and coach Derek DelPorto have been present in the weekly college wrestling update since the school announced it was cutting wrestling along with seven other sports back in late January. How did DelPorto's team respond? Putting all 10 wrestlers into the East Region final and qualifying five wrestlers to Oklahoma City.

DelPorto was also named East Region coach of the year - an honor that suits a guy that has done everything right with his program to a tee.

In the group were Charlie and David Pienaar, one of 12 sets of brothers that will compete at the NCAA's this year. Of course, this is a topic that came up with messageboards in the past few days and it has its merits.

Also competing in the NCAA's are: Illinois' Alex and Troy Tirapelle, Michigan's Ryan and Josh Churella, Oregon State's Kyle and Jeremy Larson, Michigan State's Nick and Andy Simmons, Minnesota's C.P. and Dustin Schlatter, Cleveland State's Mike and Ryan Hurley, Army's William and Patrick Simpson, Central Michigan's Christian and Brandon Sinnott, Iowa State's Travis and Trent Paulson.

There are also two sets of brothers wrestling on different teams: Wisconsin's Tom Clum and Wyoming's Danny Clum and Oregon State's Dan Pitsch and Arizona State's Pat Pitsch.

Eastern swing
The three tournaments in Pennsylvania might have seemed closer than they appeared, but Lehigh, Edinboro and Hofstra were all favored and each came home with their respective conference championships.

Lehigh had the closest battle, edging Cornell and Penn. Lehigh received big boosts from true freshman Matt Fisk, the runner-up at 125, and redshirt freshman and late replacement Trevor Chinn at 149, the runner-up at his weight. This offset the subpar tournament for returning three-time EIWA champion Troy Letters, who looked like a completely different wrestler after missing much of the second half of the season with a pinched nerve in his neck. The opportunity presented itself for young Steve Anceravage of Cornell to knock Letters off before Army's Jonathan Anderson beat Letters 10-9 for third place.

The amazing thing isn't the fact that Letters was beaten by Anderson, but Anderson's journey. In 2001, Anderson finished sixth in the state of Virginia while wrestling for Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach - sixth in the state at 103.

In 2002, Anderson was fourth in his district, third in the tough Eastern Region before finishing second to Christian Smith, formerly of Duke and Virginia Tech, now at Liberty - at 112 pounds. In 2002, Letters finished third at the Midlands at 165.

Also of note was three-time All-American Dustin Manotti's freak episode during his final with Harvard freshman Andrew Flanagan, a bout that ended officially in nine seconds. After Manotti blasted into Flanagan with a double-leg in the opening seconds, Flanagan's elbow caught Manotti in the head, rendering him unconscious immediately in one of the scariest scenes ever witnessed by some wrestling fans.

Manotti did recover, but not in the minute and a half provided and the senior left the mat at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem without an EIWA championship.

Down the road in Philadelphia, Hofstra crowned seven Colonial Athletic Association champions and pulled away from a three-team group led by second-place Old Dominion, third-place Rider and fourth-place Drexel. Hofstra led by four going into the semifinals. The Pride lost just three matches the entire tournament - one in the finals and two by heavyweight Jon Andriac. Rider's Zack Cunliffe, ODU's Adam Wright and Sacred Heart's Payam Zarrinpour were the only non-Hofstra wrestlers to win championships.149-pounder Jon Masa was named Outstanding Wrestler.

Across the Keystone State in Edinboro, the host Fighting Scots held off West Virginia to claim another Eastern Wrestling League championship. Coach Tim Flynn will send nine wrestlers to the NCAA's, including champions Shawn Bunch (133) and Gregor Gillespie (149). The EWL finals featured only ONE bout where top seeds did not meet in the final. Fourth-seeded Larry Hall of West Virginia upended top-seeded Deonte Penn of Edinboro in the semifinals before falling to Pittsburgh's Justin Nestor in the final.

Around the horn
In what's turning into a tougher conference by the minute, Central Michigan won the MAC, but by a more comfortable margin than expected. Unfortunately for the conference, it only takes 19 wrestlers to the NCAA championships. Unfortunately for Sean Clair of Eastern Michigan, Mike Grimes of Northern Illinois, Bubba Gritter of Central Michigan and Joe Sapp of Northern Illinois, they aren't any part of the 19 wrestlers going.

Clair has likely the biggest argument - beating six NCAA qualifiers, two of which were conference champions. Unfortunately for Clair, a true freshman from Plum, Pa., he was in the deepest weight in the conference behind nationally ranked Luke Smith of CMU, Midlands runner-up Pat Castillo of Northern Illinois and Kent State's Chad Sportelli.

Grimes beat four qualifiers but was saddled with a loss to Kent State's Jason Bake, an opponent he'd beaten earlier. Grimes and Clair could have been the last wildcards in had things shaken out at 133, where Jason Borrelli of Central Michigan was knocked off in the semifinals by Eastern Michigan's Philip Plowman.

The Eagles only representative, Plowman's 10-6 win was likely the match that kept Clair and Grimes out of the show. With three nationally ranked heavyweights, it wasn't a good time for Kent State's Jermail Porter to play spoiler on Gritter in the semifinals.

In the Big 10, Doug Withstandley and Brady Richardson fell victim to the pairing bug, losing early round matches and then getting ousted in one of the handful of first-round consolation bouts. Not placing top eight means no chance at a wildcard, regardless of how well the season went. Withstandley was upended by Ohio State Jeff Jaggers before dropping into the one consolation bout of the round - which happened to be against former All-American Eric Tannenbaum, who was knocked off in the tiebreaker by unseeded Troy Tirapelle of Illinois. Richardson was knocked into the consolations by Nathan Moore of Purdue before being knocked out by Iowa true freshman Dan Erekson. Jaggers pulled out of the tournament on Wednesday, opening the door for Wisconsin's Jake Donar, but Donar was also scratched, giving true freshman Reece Humphrey the nod as the second alternate.

One controversial wildcard was given at 141 pounds to eighth-place finisher Cassio Pero of Illinois, an All-American last season who went 0-3 at the Big 10 Tournament. No disrespect to Pero, but the question mark comes with some merit. Pero's 13-10, lost his last six matches and didn't beat an NCAA qualifier all year. To his defense, the last six losses were all to NCAA qualifiers from the Big 10.

The Big 12 wrapped up with little fanfare as the Oklahoma State Cowboys won yet another title and send nine wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament. The most surprising qualifier is Tennessee native Rusty Blackmon. Platooning most of his career with teammate Clay Kehrer, Blackmon finished third at 184 pounds, beating Vince Jones of Nebraska and Justin Dyer of Oklahoma on the weekend. While Blackmon wasn't expected to qualify, Ethan Kyle's first round major decision over Missouri's Chris McCormick was the end-all for the Tigers senior. McCormick, who's beaten six NCAA qualifiers this season, was a likely choice for a wildcard had he finished in the top four. The loss to Kyle ultimately ended his chances even before his loss to Dominick Moyer of Nebraska.

Northern Iowa is sending seven wrestlers out of a noticeably weak West Region. With five teams, many of whom are in the midst of rebuilding or just outright having down years, the Panthers claimed their 21st consecutive regional championship. The region will be bolstered with the likely addition of Northern Colorado, North Dakota State and South Dakota State, all of whom have wrestlers that would have qualified out of the region this year.

Only three of the six teams out of the Southern Conference qualified wrestlers to the NCAA championships, conference champion Tennessee-Chattanooga, UNC Greensboro and The Citadel. Joe Seay's return to Division I head coaching has been a success, so far, as the Mocs qualified seven wrestlers. With the depth at 141 pounds, where Kevin Artis of UNC Greensboro, Sean Markey of The Citadel and former All-American Michael Keefe of UTC, some wrestlers are sitting home. Most notably was 18th-ranked Scott Ervin of Appalachian State. With a 22-2 record, Ervin's only losses on the year were to Chattanooga's Jake Yost. Ervin has a win over Yost in the early season, but an injury kept Ervin out of the Southern Scuffle, preventing him from wrestling some of the nation's top 157-pounders. With Appalachian State's schedule, Ervin had minimal chances to see better competition. App State, VMI and Davidson didn't qualify any wrestlers, but they did have some finalists. The SoCon needs more than 13 bids, bottom line.

The ACC can also make the same argument as the conference held its championships along side the Southern Conference at the annual MatJam, held at VMI this year.

C.D. Mock's North Carolina Tar Heels sent seven wrestlers to the finals and will be taking six to the NCAA's. It was a disappointing tournament for co-champions Maryland and Virginia. The two teams combined to qualify one wrestler to the NCAA championships - Maryland 149-pounder Andrew Schlaffer. The Terps could have sent two as Adam DeCosmo's season was cut short by surgery. DeCosmo would likely have been the tournament's top seed at 165 and was 5-0 in conference dual competition. The ACC has a pair of All-American contenders at 141 with Dave Hoffman of Virginia Tech taking the championship from North Carolina's Vince Ramirez, who had defeated Hoffman during the regular season. Hoffman seems to be regaining his early-season form.

State representation at the Division I championships is again owned by Pennsylvania, who will send 62 Keystone natives to the NCAA championships in Oklahoma City. Following Pennsylvania are Ohio with 28, California with 27 and New Jersey with 26. Iran's Payam Zarrinpour of Sacred Heart and EIWA Oustanding Wrestler Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov of American are the only two international wrestlers competing in this year's field.

We're not about to forget the Nationals
Wartburg won the NCAA Division III National Championship over the weekend at The College of New Jersey. Jim Miller's Knights crowned two champions as Dusty Hinschberger won his third NCAA title and 125-pounder Tyler Hubbard claimed his first. Noticeably absent from the top of the medal stand was Augsburg, who failed to crown a national champion for the first time in 12 years.

Duane Bastress of York College was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler, knocking off Wartburg's two-time champ Akeem Carter 6-4 in overtime. Carter advanced to the final by upending UW-La Crosse's Jason Lulloff, a former All-American who sat out the 2004-05 season with a back injury.

"Now this has been the longest and the shortest season of my career," said Bastress in a post-match interview. "It's been the longest because I worked so hard to get here, but the shortest because as my senior year it seemed to fly by."

UW-Lax's Ryan Allen won his third national championship, edging rival Blake Gillis of Wartburg.

Over in the NAIA, Steve Constanzo's Dana College Vikings claimed two individual crowns, the first in the school's history as Jimmy Rollins won at 133 pounds and Willie Parks took home the title at 184 pounds.

The win concludes a dream season for Dana College, who won the NWCA Cliff Keen National Duals in the NAIA Division. Amazingly enough, all 12 Dana College wrestlers placed (you can qualify more than 10 in the NAIA) and set a new tournament record with 193 pounds, surpassing the old record of 180 set by NAIA power Lindenwood. The Lions finished second.

Without a heavyweight, Dana College placed both entries at 125 (Burke Barnes, 3rd; Chris Trampe, 7th), 141 (Terrence Allmond, 4th; Jason Lozier, 7th), and 157 (Scott Taylor, 4th; Ben Henderson, 5th).
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