UCF Wins First National Duals Title, Defeats Grand Valley State
By Scott Farrell
DALTON, Ga. – The Central Florida bench was largely quiet during the opening bouts of its championship match, waiting for its strength in the bottom part of its lineup to come through.
There were some nervous moments along the way. But when Chandler Dobler put his opponent on his back early in the 184-pound match, the Knights’ bench erupted as if it knew the match would be in hand. Dobler, top-ranked in his weight class, responded to the surge on cue, pinning Eric Dietz in 1:48 to send UCF on its way to a 32-18 win over Grand Valley State.
It was UCF’s first National Duals championship, earning valuable team points (24) that will carry over to the overall NCWA Championships in March. UCF has won three NCWA Championships in its past, but never the National Duals. The Knights had placed among the top five at the Duals in six of the last seven years.
UCF had to rally twice to do it, first from a 12-6 deficit after three bouts, then a 16-12 shortfall following a major decision by Grand Valley’s Austin Geerlings at 165. Geordan Speiller, the U.S. National Greco champion, brought UCF back into the lead at 17-16 with a 22-7 technical fall at 174, and Dobler’s match followed for a 23-16 lead. Tyrell Walker scored a takedown with six seconds left in the 197 match to win 3-2 for a 26-16 lead, the celebration on the Knights’ bench began.
Grand Valley won the 235 match as Harun Bogdanic scored in sudden victory for a 3-1 win over UCF’s Angel Perez, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. With UCF having clinched the title with a 26-19 lead, Grand Valley forfeited the 285 bout.
“One of our goals at the start of the season was to win the national championship, and this (Duals) championship in particular,” UCF head coach JD Robbins said. “This is a big win because we’re hosting the championships in March, and this goes a long way toward winning that one.”
UCF, which placed fourth last year, rolled through the tournament’s early rounds, outscoring its opponents 150-12 in its first three matches before topping Florida, 42-6, in the quarterfinals. The Knights’ coaches said their best match was a 43-3 win over Apprentice in the semifinals. UCF won two matches by fall and had a major decision and a default in the runaway.
“We’re known as a gun-slinging team,” Robbins said. “We come out and get after it. We had that edge against Apprentice. But we were a little conservative against Grand Valley. They put us on our backs and we fell behind a few times, to Grand Valley’s credit. Once we got settled, we became us again.”
Timothy Sakow (125), Troy Worthen (149) and Jahel Francis (157) won early matches to get UCF back to a 12-12 draw.
The National Duals’ streak of not having a back-to-back champion stayed intact for a seventh consecutive season. Defending champion Liberty, a two-time champion and a three-time finalist, settled for third place following a 27-15 win over Apprentice.
It was a shining tournament Grand Valley State, which beat Liberty 29-22, in the semifinals in a match that wasn’t that close. With the match clinched, GVSU forfeited the last three matches. The Lakers surged back into title contention, reaching the finals for the first time since 2009 when they beat UCF to win the first NCWA National Duals.
“It was the first time that we’ve been battle-tested with this lineup,” GVSU head coach Rick Bulhuis said. “We had new guys to the team, and guys wrestling at new weights. I was really pleased with our effort and the progress that we made.”
NCWA newcomer Emmanuel College beat Florida, 39-15, in the fifth-place match. Florida’s sixth-place finish marks the highest that an NCWA Division II program has ever finished in the tournament. Penn State-DuBois beat Maryland-Baltimore County, 31-18, for seventh.
But the day belonged to UCF.
“We’ve had unfinished business here for a while,” said Jay Balma, a former UCF head coach and now assistant coach. “We finally got this win off our backs.”
Robbins credited this win as one of the best in his career that includes Olympics, collegiate national titles and high school state titles.
“What’s great about this win is that this is the first time that most of these guys have won something this big,” Robbins said. “They weren’t state champions and didn’t wrestle on state-title teams. To watch them bond as a group, come together and work hard to earn this, is tremendously rewarding. This ranks up there among my wins, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with them.
“They earned it.”
CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH BOXSCORE
Central Florida 32, Grand Valley State 18
125 lbs. – Timothy Sakow, UCF, def. Brendan Hazelton, GVSU, by fall 1:19
133 lbs. – Mitchell Hrnyak, GVSU, def. Nicholas Anthony, by fall 3:36
141 lbs. – Zach Cooper, GVSU, def. Matthew Seymour, by fall 1:18
149 lbs. – Troy Worthen, UCF, def. Jake Sobeck, 6-3
157 lbs. – Jahel Francis, UCF, def. Gabe Stepanovich, 6-5
165 lbs. – Austin Geerlings, GVSU, def. Michael Seymour, by major 8-0
174 lbs. – Geordan Speiller, UCF, def. Bailey Bischer, by tech fall 22-7
184 lbs. – Chandler Dobler, UCF, def. Eric Dietz, by fall 1:48
197 lbs. – Tyrell Walker, UCF, def. Dan Tomasello, 3-2
235 lbs. – Harun Bogdanic, GVSU, def. Angel Perez, 3-1 SV-1
285 lbs. – Jesse Gaudin, UCF, wins by forfeit