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SOCON PREVIEW: Campbell, App State expected to battle for team honors, 13 NCAA spots up for grabs

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

Image of Chris Kober of Campbell (No. 1 seed at 197) courtesy of Campbell Athletics.

Campbell will seek its third straight Southern Conference Championships title when it travels to Boone, N.C. for the conference meet hosted at the Holmes Convocation Center at Appalachian State on Sunday, Feb. 27. There will be 13 spots in the NCAA Div. I Championships up for grabs during the tournament.

Campbell has also won three straight regular season SoCon titles, and will be led by first-year head coach Scotti Sentes. In 2020, Campbell had five individual champions and one runner-up receiving bids to the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championships,

The 2021 team will be led by four No. 1 seeds, Benjamin Barton (157), Austin Murphy (174), Caleb Hopkins (184) and Chris Kober (197). Murphy, Hopkins and Kober were unbeaten in conference action, while Barton was 6-1 in SoCon dual meets.

Appalachian State, which hosts the tournament for a third straight year, will be the top challenger for the team title. The team will be led by three No. 1 seeds, Codi Russell (125), Jonathan Milner (149) and Will Formato (165). Yesterday, Formato was named SoCon Wrestler of the Year after going 13-1 this season, not allowing a takedown in any of those 13 victories.

The dual meet between Campbell and Appalachian State happened on January 23 on Campbell’s home mats, with Campbell winning 21-17. Both teams won five matches in the showdown, but Campbell had the edge in bonus points. App State swept the first four matches, and Campbell won the last four matches. Pins by Campbell’s Caleb Hopkins (184) and Chris Kober (197) were key to the Camel victory.

The SoCon will qualify 13 athletes for the NCAA Championships based upon the results Friday, with all 10 champions advancing, as well as a second athlete at 149 pounds, 184 pounds and heavyweight. Based upon the most recent Coaches Rankings, the SoCon has 21 ranked wrestlers, meaning should things go according to that prediction, a number of other conference wrestlers are hopeful to receive wildcards to the big dance.

A weight class to watch will be 149 pounds, which features a pair of 2020 SoCon champions. Campbell’s Joshua Heil won the 141-pound title last year, and is a three-time conference champion. If he wins again, he will become the 16th four-time champion in SoCon history. He is not the top seed, however, as Appalachian State’s Jonathan Milner, last year’s 149 pound champion, earns that top spot. In the dual meet between Campbell and AppState, Milner faced Jason Kraisser, with Heil not in the lineup. Heil is unbeaten in SoCon matches in his career.

The Citadel has a pair of No. 1 seeds, Jake Rotunda (133) and Michael McAleavey (285). Chattanooga’s No. 1 seed is Franco Valdes (141).

There will be two teams not competing. Davidson ended its season and will not enter the tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. Bellarmine was added as an associate member of the league in July 2020, but is still transitioning to Div. I and is not yet eligible for the Div. I Nationals.

Presbyterian will compete in its second conference championship, now in its second season as a member of the SoCon. Seven Blue Hose wrestlers are set to take the mat Sunday to compete for their individual conference titles.

Click for Southern Conference brackets

Click for Southern Conference Championships website

The championship will be streamed in its entirety on ESPN+.

FYI, Appalachian State has provided an allotment of tickets for family members of student-athletes, coaches and staff. Today, the university will announce if they will allow additional walk-up ticket sales. Check Appalachian State’s wrestling Twitter - @AppWrestling – or its website for an update.

Event Schedule (Eastern time)

Sunday, February 28
9:00 a.m. – Doors Open
10:00 a.m. – First Session
7:00 p.m. – Championship finals

2020 SoCon final team scores

1. Campbell, 117
2. App State, 102
3. Chattanooga, 75
4. The Citadel 30
5. Davidson 29
6. VMI 28
7. Gardner-Webb 16.5
8. Presbyterian 1

Southern Conference Seeds
With FloWrestling and Coaches Poll rankings listed)

125 (1 NCAA berth)

#1 Codi Russell, Appalachian State (19/18)
#2 Fabian Gutierrez, Chattanooga (24/21)
#3 Zurich Storm, Campbell
#4 B. Gomez, Presbyterian
#5 Jordie White, The Citadel
#6 Aedyn Concepcion, Gardner- Webb
#7 Cliff Conway, VMI

133(1 NCAA berth)
#1 Jake Rotunda, The Citadel
#2 Sean Carter, Appalachian State
#3 Colton Landers, Chattanooga
#4 Gabriel Hixenbaugh, Campbell
#5 Dominic Chavez, Presbyterian
#6 Todd Carter, Gardner-Webb
#7 Cameron Chicella, VMI

141 (1 NCAA berth)
#1 Franco Valdes, Chattanooga (-/31)
#2 Anthony Brito, Appalachian State
#3 Trevon Majette, Gardner-Webb
#4 Shannon Hanna, Campbell
#5 Jacob Brasseur, Presbyterian
#6 Tyler Seeley, The Citadel
#7 Freddy Junko, VMI

149 (2 NCAA berths)
#1 Jonathan Milner, Appalachian State (20/14)
#2 Josh Heil, Campbell (18/11)
#3 Job Chishko, VMI
#4 Selwyn Porter, The Citadel
#5 Austin Murphy, Chattanooga
#6 Brandon Bright, Gardner-Webb
#7 Reid Stewart, Presbyterian

157 (1 NCAA berth)

#1 Benjamin Barton, Campbell (-/25)
#2 Cody Bond, Appalachian State (-/31)
#3 Weston Wichman, Chattanooga
#4 Taylor Parks, Gardner-Webb
#5 Blake Showers, VMI
#6 Zachary Phillips, Presbyterian
#7 Grant Speer, The Citadel

165 (1 NCAA berth)
#1 Will Formato, Appalachian State (12/16)
#2 RJ Mosley, Gardner-Webb (25/21)
#3 Drew Nicholson, Chattanooga (-/27)
#4 Dazjon Casto, The Citadel (-/33)
#5 Austin Kraisser, Campbell
#6 Jon Hoover, VMI
No Entry for Presbyterian

174 (1 NCAA berth)
#1 Austin Murphy, Campbell (12/12)
#2 Thomas Flitz, Appalachian State (15/13)
#3 Evan Schenk, Gardner-Webb
#4 Cole Burke, The Citadel
#5 Carial Tarter, Chattanooga
#6 Joel Diaz, VMI
#7 Victor Tello, Presbyterian

184 (2 NCAA berths)
#1 Caleb Hopkins, Campbell (20/22)
#2 Jha’Quan Anderson, Gardner-Webb (-/32)
#3 Matthew Waddell, Chattanooga (-/26)
#4 Zach Brown, VMI
#5 Julian Gorring, Appalachian State
#6 Kyle Kretzer, The Citadel
No Entry for Presbyterian

197 (1 NCAA berth)
#1 Chris Kober, Campbell (-/28)
#2 Tyler Mousaw, VMI (-/33)
#3 Logan Andrew, Chattanooga
#4 Mason Fiscella, Appalachian State
#5 Samuel Mora, Gardner-Webb
#6 Ben Stemmet, The Citadel
No Entry for Presbyterian

285 (2 NCAA berths)
#1 Michael McAleavey, The Citadel (-/30)
#2 Anthony Perrrine, Gardner-Webb
#3 Taye Ghadiali, Campbell
#4 Michael Burchell, Appalachian State
#5 Grayson Walthall, Chattanooga
#6 Airin Spell, Presbyterian
#7 Giomar Ramos, VMI
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