Bellarmine Blasts Into First; Liberty Hopes Its Depth Can Catch Up
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Bellarmine surged into the lead at the 26th annual National Collegiate Wrestling Association Championships by advancing a tournament-high five wrestlers into the finals with another three still alive in the placing rounds.
Bellarmine, taking advantage of the opportunity to wrestle in the NCWA’s postseason while it transitions to NCAA Division I next season, has 156.5 team points and an 11.5-point cushion over four-time champion Liberty. The Flames, who led after the first day, have three finalists with another nine in the placing rounds. Apprentice broke through with a strong morning session to take the lead at one point, but now sits in third at 124.5 points. Grand Valley State (117 points) and Springfield Tech Community College (Mass.) (112) round out the top five.
Apprentice led the standings early in the afternoon with Liberty and Bellarmine just behind within two points. But from the start of the semifinals, Bellarmine began to stand out from the pack.
Among the stories that color the finals matches that begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Puerto Rico Convention Center are Liberty 235-pounder Jeff Allen seeking to become the association’s first four-time NCWA champion, the tournament’s last undefeated wrestler having to face a teammate in the national title match, a handful of schools seeking their first individual champion, and Liberty looking to tie its 12 All-American count from last year that is the fourth-best total in NCWA history.
In the women’s division, Ottawa Arizona has pulled away from the field with its 101 points and looks sure to win the team title. The Spirit have six finalists and two others in consolations. Only two other teams – Grays Harbor College and MIT – have two finalists. Grays Harbor is second with 67 points followed by Big Bend CC (Wash.) with 34.
Wrestling begins Saturday with the women’s finals at 1:30 p.m. along with a single men’s consolation round. The men’s finals begin at 6 p.m. on the center mat. The top eight men and top four women achieve All-American status.
Full results and videos from the tournament can be found at https://arena.flowrestling.org.
Below is a weight-by-weight recap of Friday’s men’s results.
125 pounds – Jack Parker got Bellarmine’s surge started with a third-period pin over Dylan Beddow of Springfield Tech in the semifinals. It was Parker’s (28-13) third pin of the tournament with another win by tech fall. Parker faces Apprentice’s Bruno Alves (18-4) in the final. Alves topped Liberty’s Dante Mininno, the defending national champion at 125, in the semifinals with a 6-2 decision. Beddow, a three-time All-American, and Mininno, now a two-time All-American, move into the third-place mini-bracket.
Alves and Mininno each have teammates in the placing rounds in Liberty’s Chase Arnestad and Apprentice’s Caleb Olgers. Avian Martinez is only the second All-American at Treasure Valley Community College (Ore.). Dubuque Wrestling Club’s Tanner Higa rounds out the bracket.
133 pounds – The top two seeds held form in the bracket with Apprentice’s top seed Dillon Messick (31-8) facing second-seed Kaden Blair (29-4) of Toledo in the final. Blair buoyed the Rockets as the lone finalist among four wrestlers still alive for sixth-place Toledo (83.5 points). Messick, a two-time All-American, topped fellow two-timer Michael Gonzalez of STCC 12-1 in the semifinals. Grand Valley State’s Gabriel Martinez survives into the third-place mini-bracket after losing to Blair in a narrow 2-1 semifinal. Others still alive are Bellarmine’s Michael Schiffhauer, Dubuque’s Jesus Sanchez, Ohio State Wrestling Club’s Caleb Hernandez and Liberty’s Blake Schmitt.
141 pounds – Grays Harbor College sits in seventh place with 78.5 points and has Elijah Gandert (27-5) in the final here. Gandert, the two-seed, faces fifth-seeded Alfonso Vargas (15-2) of Florida in the final. Vargas advanced with a 10-8 come-from-behind win over Texas A&M’s Scott Kilian in the semifinals. Kilian was one of only two semifinalists with an undefeated record and surprised the field Friday morning with an 8-6 decision over top seed Parker Watson of Ohio State in the quarters. Gandert defeated Kalil Shabazz of STCC in the semifinals. Also alive are Apprentice’s Jordan Robins and Ian Campbell of Grays Harbor.
149 pounds – Bellarmine struck again here with top-seeded Zac Cowan bolting into the final with a third-period fall over Grand Valley State’s Joey Murphy in the semifinals. Cowan (28-8) has advanced with two falls and two tech falls thus far. He’ll face last year’s NCWA champion at 141, UCF's Thomas McCane (9-2), in the final. McCane, who won last year’s title wrestling for Florida, topped Apprentice’s Zachary Ortega in the semifinals by sudden victory. It was a big loss for the Builders as it cost a shot at a potential victory over Bellarmine. Also alive are Grand Valley State’s Caden Jacobs, now four-time All-American Charles Hudson of Liberty, Allen University’s Drevon Wallace and Jacob Grogan of Texas A&M. McCane toppled Hudson in the quarters, 6-4.
157 pounds – Rowan University has never had an NCWA champion but has its hopes set Saturday on Joseph Miranda (10-1), who surprised Toledo’s Ezekiel Burkholder in the semifinals with an overtime fall. On the other side of the final is James Lunt (23-2) of STCC. Lunt beat last year’s third-place finisher, Nicholas Martino of Fresno State Wrestling Club, in the semifinals. Miranda, seeded 17th, shocked the field Thursday as well with a 7-5 decision over top-seed and returning national champion Ian McIlhenny of Liberty.
Still alive here are Bellarmine’s Alex Rivera, Georgia’s Kyle Romano, Stony Brook’s Wayne Lamont and Grand Valley State’s Elijah Kidder, still riding a wild journey through the consolation bracket. Kidder (21-14) fell to Romano in the round of 32 but came back to win five consolation matches to reach All-America status. His last two wins Friday came against two-time All-Americans – he’ll take their place on the medal stand Saturday.
165 pounds – Bellarmine strikes big here with top-seeded Colen Nance (32-12) commanding the bracket following two losses by Apprentice in the semifinals. Nance’s first three wins came by fall and he added two major decisions Friday to advance to the final, including a key 16-3 major over Apprentice’s Ethan Baker in the semi’s. On the final’s other side is Talon Pisarchuk (22-4), who seeks to only the fifth national champion in the Williamson College of the Trades’ history and its first since 2000. Pisarchuk beat Apprentice’s Landon Kissell in the semi’s 9-2.
Earlier in the day it was Kissell who sparked Apprentice’s chances with an 8-7 win over Liberty’s All-American David Over in the quarterfinals. Baker and Kissell now wrestler in the third-place mini-bracket. Also alive in the placing matches are Jolan Martori of STCC, Liberty’s Over, Charles Roche of UCF and Ohio State returning All-American Yuri Pozdneev.
174 pounds – This is about the spot where Bellarmine could clinch the tournament given successful results earlier in the finals. If so, this bracket is in the hands of Devan Hendricks (25-4), the top seed who has rolled through with bonus points in each of four wins. Hendricks topped Ohio State’s returning All-American Blake Blickle in the semi’s with an 18-3 tech fall. On the other side is Grand Valley State’s second seed Josh Kenny, who has also found success in the lower half with three falls and a tech among his four wins. He beat Liberty’s Zachary Kaminski in the semi’s with a first-period fall. Besides Blickle and Kaminski, also alive are John Podsednik of Alabama, Florida’s returning All-American Riley Hackworth, Slippery Rock’s Keith Brubach and Akron’s Derrick Andolsek.
184 pounds – The Rutgers Wrestling Club will get its second NCWA champion Saturday in this bracket. That’s assured, as the teammates will face each other. But will it be returning All-American Ben Liss (27-3) with the raised hand or teammate Nicholas Franco (13-0), who now sits as the lone undefeated wrestler in the tournament? Franco was the third seed based off his 3-1 win over Liss, seeded fifth, for the Mid-East Conference title three weeks ago. Either of them will be Rutgers’ first national champ since Javiair White in 2018.
Franco edged second-seeded Kennedy Wyatt of Bellarmine in one semi, 3-1, while Liss took out top-seeded Michael Jackson of Allen in the other, 4-3. Still alive behind those four are Gabriel Hayes of Liberty, Stefano Magny of STCC, Aaron Whear of James Madison and Ohio State’s Graham Carson.
197 pounds – Liberty’s trio of finalists begins here with Josiah Murphy (17-1) as the top seed. Murphy advanced with close 5-2 and 3-1 decisions Friday, including the win over Slippery Rock’s Derek Yingling in the semi’s. He’ll face second-seeded Seth Konynenbelt of Grand Valley State in the final. Konynenbelt was the national runner-up in this class a year ago. He beat third-seeded Matthew Abraham, Toledo’s returning All-American who placed third in this bracket last year, 8-2 in the semi’s.
Liberty’s chances at a team title will require a championship here and in the last two brackets. But they can pick a few extra points from Seth Gillespie too, as he’s still working in the placing rounds. Also alive are Andrew Nanai of Connecticut, who lost to Murphy in the round of 16 but has won three matches since, Matthew Micale of West Chester and STCC’s Davyn Peterson.
235 pounds – An historic match awaits Jeff Allen and Liberty in this bracket. Allen, the three-time national champion in this class and now a four-time All-American, has made easy work of the top half of the bracket thus far. Now one has ever won four NCWA titles and now Allen is one win away from being the first. The top seed pinned STCC’s Shawn Conniff, the four-seed, in the semi’s. Allen (29-2) is undefeated against NCWA competition the past two seasons but will have an opponent bent on revenge in the final.
Utah Tech’s Zeke Alleman (21-3) lost to Allen by sudden victory in last year’s semifinals – just about the closest that anyone’s come to defeating Allen recently – and has had to wait a year to wrestle him again. Alleman’s taller build could give him an advantage, but how do you pick against a three-time defending national champion? Alleman topped Allen’s Liberty teammate Seth Ellsmore 7-0 in the semi’s. Also alive in the placing rounds are UCF’s Aaron Sacca, Joseph Pineda of Dubuque, Jeffrey Worster of Maine Maritime Acadamy and Landon Gray of East Carolina.
285 pounds – Liberty’s stronghold on the heavyweights remains in this class too. Frederick Weaver proved it again in the last semifinal of the night, earning a first-period pin over Jacob Meek of Toledo, the four-seed. Weaver’s got three pins and an 8-2 decision in the tournament and a confidence that is booming. If the team race is a tight one, it might be decided here. Weaver will face Bellarmine’s Thaddeus Huff (29-7) in the final. Huff, seeded third, pinned second-seed Peter Cortapasso of Apprentice in the semi’s. Cortapasso, a returning All-American, was last year’s national runner-up to Weaver. Also in the placing rounds are Michael Morales of UCF, Brett Boudreau of Grand Valley State, Dustin Uribes of Apprentice and Caleb Corrigan of Rowan, whose undefeated season stopped at 9-0 with a loss to Weaver in the quarters.