WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The Navy wrestling team won seven of the 10 bouts, including the first three of the night, to secure a 22-10 victory over arch rival Army in the annual Star Match held Sunday afternoon at Christl Arena in West Point, N.Y. The Midshipmen have won 13 consecutive matches against the Black Knights, including eight in a row at West Point, and boast a 47-5-5 advantage in the series.
"I want to congratulate Army on its effort and how hard they wrestled," said Navy head coach Bruce Burnett, who has never lost to Army in his 13 seasons. "While we had some guys that wrestled from start to finish, I think we got caught up in the fact that it was the Army-Navy match and we wrestled more to win the match as opposed to just wrestling. The last few weeks we've done a phenomenal job of keeping our nose to the grindstone and wrestling and wrestling and wrestling for bonus points, so I think this is something we need to correct moving forward. We did have some guys who were able to get some bonus points and who wrestled hard, but as a whole I don't think we wrestled our best."
The Mids built an early 9-0 lead after taking victories in the first three matches of the afternoon, including the opening bout featuring senior heavyweight Dan Miller (Berlin, Md.). Miller easily defeated Army's Bryce Barnes, 8-2, who was wrestling in his first collegiate Star Match, while Miller closed out his career against the Black Knights having won all three of his matches in the series.
Navy took a 6-0 lead in the match when sophomore Patrick Prada (Laurel, Md.), riddled with injuries throughout the season, stepped in and took a 3-1 win in sudden victory over Army sophomore Hunter Wood at 125 pounds. Prada, whose last competition was January 26 where he dropped an 8-5 decision to Rutgers' Joseph Langel, came into the match 0-4 in dual action this season and had lost four straight matches.
Sophomore 133-pound Colton Rasche (Plano, Ill.), meanwhile, defeated Army senior Jordan Thome for a second time in the last three weeks by scoring an early takedown in what ended in a 3-1 decision. Rasche, who has won five of his last six bouts including four in a row, finished with a 4-3 mark in dual meets this season.
Trailing 9-0 in the match, Army was able to put together a run of its own by winning three of the next four matches. Senior Connor Hanafee controlled his match against Navy junior Joe Locksmith (Kissimmee, Fla.) and gave the Black Knights their first win (8-5) at 141 pounds. Army closed to within a decision at 9-6 when Army senior Daniel Young returned to the mat and scored a 13-5 major decision over the Mids' Raymond Borja (Virginia Beach, Va.). Young has fought off injury throughout much of the season and had been sidelined since the Virginia Duals in mid-January.
Navy senior Bobby Barnhisel (River Forest, Ill.) was able to turn the match back in the Mids' favor when he held Army junior John Belanger scoreless in a 14-0 major decision at 157 pounds. Barnhisel, who is ranked 14th nationally and fifth in the EIWA, owns a team-best 28-5 record including a 4-1 dual record this season. Meanwhile, with the return of Young to the Army lineup, Belanger was pushed up to 157 pounds from 149 where he had put together a 5-2 dual record.
Army, though, kept fighting its way back into the match and once again closed to within three points when junior Paul Hancock dealt Navy junior Peyton Walsh (Glen Allen, Va.) his first dual loss of the season. Walsh was riding an eight-match winning streak that included five consecutive dual victories before Hancock bested Walsh on Sunday. It was retribution for Hancock who was over agreesive in his match against Walsh at the All-Academy Championship just a few weeks ago where Walsh got Hancock in the air and pinned him in under two minutes.
Navy held a narrow 13-10 advantage going into one of the most anticipated matches of the afternoon. The 174-pound weight class featured Navy freshman Mathew Miller (Edgewood, Md.), ranked 12th nationally and No. 1 in the EIWA, against sophomore Cole Gracey from Army, who had a stellar rookie season and owned a 7-2 dual record going into Sunday's match. Gracey got in on Miller's legs early and scored a takedown for the quick lead. Miller took a few looks before he powered Gracey to ground and got him to his back for a five-point move which would prove to be the difference in a 5-3 Miller win. The Navy rookie is now 22-4 on the year, which has featured wins in each of his last seven bouts.
The win by Miller provided some breathing room, but Navy could not let down its guard. Senior Mason Bailey (Fairmont, W.Va.), ranked 19th at 184 pounds, stepped to the mat to face Army junior Ryan Tompkins who entered the afternoon with a 4-3 dual record. Behind a 4-2 win, Bailey was able to clinch the win for the Mids, putting Navy up 19-10.
While the final match didn't matter in terms of the overall team score, it certainly was one of pride for senior team captain Oscar Huntley (Stafford, Va.) who was in search of his third straight win over Army in the Star Match. Surprisingly, Army moved senior Collin Wittmeyer to 197 pounds to face Huntley who held Wittmeyer scoreless in last year's Star Match. Wittmeyer spent the majority of the season wrestling at 184 pounds, but was bumped up to heavyweight for the All-Academy Championship. Wittmeyer proved to be little match for Huntley, however, as the Navy senior scored his seventh straight victory by way of a 10-4 win and improved to 26-8 on the year. In dual action, Huntley finished the year 6-1.
"I can't say enough about our seniors this year," added Burnett. "I am really proud of them and the way they stepped up and competed tonight. They've shown great leadership throughout the year, but it was big tonight."
Navy will use the next two weeks to prepare for the 109th EIWA Championship which will be held at Rutgers on March 8-9.
285: Dan Miller (N) dec. Bryce Barnes, 8-2
125: Patrick Prada (N) dec. Hunter Wood, 3-1 (sv)
133: Colton Rasche (N) dec. Jordan Thome, 3-1
141: Connor Hanafee (A) dec. Joe Locksmith, 8-5
149: Daniel Young (A) maj. dec. Raymond Borja, 13-5
157: #14 Bobby Barnhisel (N) maj. dec. John Belanger, 14-0
165: Paul Hancock (A) dec. Peyton Walsh, 9-5
174: #12 Mathew Miller (N) dec. Cole Gracey, 5-3
184: #19 Mason Bailey (N) dec. Ryan Tompkins, 4-2
197: Oscar Huntley (N) dec. Collin Wittmeyer, 10-4