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VonOhlen nails a closing pin giving Air Force a 22-19 win over North Dakota State

Cole VonOhlen of Air Force works to pin Trevor Johnson of ND State at 141 pounds in the final match of the dual meet, giving the Falcons a big win over the Bison. Pat Fox photo

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. – It’s always nice to have your big gun wrestling in the final match.

When they drew the lineup order for the Western Wrestling Conference dual meet between Air Force and North Dakota State, the match started at 149 pounds. That meant Air Force’s No. 10 ranked Cole VonOhlen would be the closer for the Falcons in the final bout at 141 pounds.

It went just as Air Force coach Joel Sharratt might have wanted, as the Falcons trailed by just three points, 19-16, as VonOhlen, a sophomore stepped onto the mat against freshman Trevor Johnson of ND State.

Right off the bat, Johnson took down VonOhlen.

“I have a habit of getting taken down right away sometimes,” said VonOhlen. “I’ve worked up the composure where it doesn’t faze me. If anything, it gets me into the match a little more and gets me going.”

VonOhlen quickly got an escape, took Johnson down, then turned him twice before settling in for a first-period pin at 1:48. The Falcon’s little big man gave the home team an exciting 22-19 victory in an important conference bout.

“It is the first time in my career where I wrestled in the heavyweight spot. It is a little different, but it was fun. I never got this chance in high school. Winning a close match against a tough team made it fun,” said VonOhlen.

Air Force head coach Joel Sharratt usually likes to start at 125 pounds and end at heavyweight, but because his 125-pounder Tyler Spangler was down to the weight for the first time, Sharratt believed it might be better to have a draw and start the meet at a different spot.

“We elected to push for the draw. It just happened to start at 149. It put us in a good position, if we needed points at the end, it went down to Cole,” said Sharratt.

This was a big win for Air Force, which moved to a 9-2 record, the team’s best start in a number of seasons. North Dakota State came in with eight straight victories over Air Force, and had every right to believe they could extend it to nine.

NDSU entered with a 6-2 record, including a win over Central Michigan in November. The Bison lost their WWC opener to Northern Iowa by a slim 21-19 margin and had a recent win over conference foe Northern Colorado.

Both teams won five matches, but the difference for Air Force came from bonus points. In addition to VonOhlen’s pin, Clay Gable (165) and Derek Gillespie (133) scored major decisions and Joe Stafford (174) earned a technical fall.

“We talked to the team coming into the match and said the guys need to know their role and compete hard for every point,” said Sharratt. “If they were in a position to get bonus points, they needed to score them.”

North Dakota State was able to muster one major decision and one fall, but not enough points to overcome Air Force.

The visiting Bison started the meet with a victory by sophomore Mark Erickson at 149 pounds, edging freshman Josh Kreimier 7-5. Erickson took a 5-4 lead in the first period on a reversal and a takedown and never trailed the rest of the way.

In the next match, senior Vince Salminen used riding time to defeat freshman Alec Williams, 5-3. The bout was tied at 4-4 after two periods, but Salminen rode Williams the entire third period, racking up 2:31 in riding time. Salminen was ranked No. 18 in the NWCA Coaches Panel rankings.

At 165 pounds, Gable’s 12-4 major decision over junior Tyler Johnson. Gable, a sophomore, was able to score from a number of positions, including takedowns, reversals and exposure points, and earned the major decision with 3:11 of riding time.

Air Force got more bonus points with Stafford’s 16-1 technical fall over sophomore Mac Stoll at 174 pounds. Stafford, the senior team captain, was able to turn Stoll multiple times on the mat for backpoints to put the match away. The win gave Air Force a 9-6 lead after four bouts.

NDSU bounced back with a bonus point at 184 pounds, as senior Kenny Moenkedick controlled all positions on the way to a 9-0 major decision over senior Kazden Ikehara. Moenkedick rode Ikehara the entire third period to earn 4:40 in riding time.

The Bison won two straight when Drew Ross defeated Neil Delaney at 197 pounds in a battle of seniors, 4-1. Ross scored the only takedown in the match.

The Air Force comeback began at 285, when Jared Erickson stopped Will Johnson, 2-0. Both wrestlers are sophomores. There were no takedowns, but Erickson scored an escape and riding time.

No. 17 ranked sophomore Trent Sprenkle extended ND State’s lead to 19-12 with a pin at 125 pounds over sophomore Tyler Spangler in 4:42. Sprenkle scored three straight takedowns in the second period in a let-him-up, take-him-down exhibition, then scored the fall with a cradle.

A huge win came for Air Force at 133, when Gillespie scored a major decision over junior Justin Solberg, 11-3. Gillespie, a senior, dominated on his feet with four takedowns, and clinched the bonus point with riding time.

Gillespie’s win brought Air Force within three points of North Dakota State, and set up VonOhlen’s clutch victory.

North Dakota State coach Bucky Maughan was upset with his team’s performance, especially with the bonus points given up. Even with a starter out of the lineup, Maughan believed his team could win six bouts and secure a victory.

“One of our best people were out, but we had enough people to win. We just didn’t get the job done,” said Maughan.

Sharratt credits his previous Air Force teams with helping develop a culture and set the high standards which his current Falcon team has used to improve and find success.

“We have the right guys in the room that are wrestling at the right pace to help us move the program forward,” said Sharratt. “We are moving up, but we are not at the top yet.”

VonOhlen believes that the way the team thinks about itself has been a key factor in the team’s strong start for the season.

“We know that we all believe that we can compete with whoever we want to compete with,” said VonOhlen. “We have a different mentality.”

Air Force 22, North Dakota State 19
149 – Mark Erickson (NDSU) dec. Josh Kreimier (Air Force), 7-5
157 – Vincent Salminen (NDSU) dec. Alec Williams (Air Force), 5-4
165 –Clay Gable (Air Force) maj. dec. Tyler Johnson (NDSU), 12-4
174 – Joseph Stafford (Air Force) tech. fall Mac Stoll (NDSU), 16-1, 7:00
184 – Kenny Moenkedick (NDSU) maj. dec. Kazden Ikehara (Air Force), 9-0
197 – Drew Ross (NDSU) dec. Neil Delaney (Air Force), 4-1
HWT – Jared Erickson (Air Force) dec. Will Johnson (NDSU), 2-0
125 – No. 17 Trent Sprenkle (NDSU) pin Tyler Spangler (Air Force), 4:42
133 – Derek Gillespie (Air Force) maj. dec. Justin Sohlberg (NDSU), 11-3
141 – No. 10 Cole VonOhlen (Air Force) pin Trevor Johnson (NDSU), 1:48
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