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UCF Third at NCWA Nationals

04/10/2008 -

After an impressive win in its Conference Championship, the UCF Wrestling team placed third in this years Collegiate Nationals.

The team won the National Collegiate Wrestling Association Southeast Conference Championship by 48 points, and 18 wrestlers qualified in the Southeast Conference Championship to move on to nationals, where the team was separated from first by 13 points.

UCF hosted the NCWA Nationals at the Lakeland Civic Center.

"It was nice to be able to bring the teams to Florida," said assistant coach Jason Balma.

Balma was also awarded Southeast Conference Coach of the Year.

"It was an extreme honor to be selected for this award," Balma said, "especially considering it is voted by the other coaches, most of which are older and have many more years of experience than me. I am really proud of the guys [on the team]. They have really come together as a team this year and really represent everything that makes this sport so great."

In order to boost team camaraderie, all the wrestlers decided to grow mustaches. Head coach Johnny Rouse's goal was "to have the winner's trophy and a group shot showing off those mustaches."

Some members of the crowd also wore stick-on mustaches to show their team spirit.

"There was great UCF representation at nationals," Balma said. "We have a lot of dedicated fans."

UCF took third place out of 75 teams and placed eight All-Americans. Of those, two were freshmen.

Freshman Steve DeAugustino took seventh place, wrestling in the 133 weight class, and freshman Richard Rippy placed fourth, wrestling at 184.

UCF ranked first place on day one of the three-day competition, but this year was the closest fight the team has ever encountered. Members said there were four or five teams that could have snatched first place.

DeAugustino was the only freshman in the team's starting lineup. He also earned the title of an NCWA All-American.

Next year holds even higher goals for DeAugustino and the coaches, as well as fellow wrestlers who are anxious to see just how much more they can accomplish.

Zach Sanford, team captain wrestling in the 184 weight class, was thought to be the best shot at victory in nationals. Sanford placed third and has earned the title of a three-time NCWA All-American.

"The team did well overall, but there were shortcomings," Sanford said. "I didn't do as well as I could have. A lot of people came through for the team, like freshmen Devon Jackson and Steve DeAugustino."

Danny Fernandez, wrestling in the 197 weight class, was this year's national runner-up and three-time NCWA All-American.

"This was the toughest the competition has ever been. The tournament was well-run, but the student attendance could have been better," Fernandez said. "We still have a strong team, and hopefully recruitment will be pretty good."

Fernandez said he plans to help coach next year.

"From a coach's standpoint, the guys really came together, considering the high level of competition," Balma said.

UCF lost by 13 points, which would simply have meant a few more wins in the early rounds.

The UCF team is losing eight seniors this year, but Balma said he expects some of the seniors to help the team next year.

Central Florida Future
Jillian Krotki
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