NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis will look to repeat as EIWA champion (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
The nation's senior college wrestling tournament debuts at Binghamton University this weekend. This is the first time in more than fifty years that the EIWA has enjoyed consecutive first-time hosts; Hofstra hosted a year ago. At Hempstead Lehigh broke Cornell's record run of eleven consecutive team titles, a string equal to the next two longest winning streaks combined. The Mountain Hawks hope to defend their title while the Big Red seek to reclaim the top perch. The two teams sport multiple new faces, not due to graduation so much as to injuries that have unsettled both rosters. Both teams have managed to patch together quality lineups so it's unlikely that another team can contend for top honors.
The Black Knights of Army West Point may be in the best position to claim third place, possibly moving higher if things break right. Army returns seven veterans from last year's tournament, all of whom could return in 2020 as well. The likeliest challenge comes from Princeton; the Tigers feature more stars but less balance and, as with Army, we'll see their team again next year. Other contenders for the top positions are the host Binghamton Bearcats, the Diplomats of American University, and the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy.
Beyond the team and individual titles, awards will be presented for outstanding wrestler, most career points, and best pinner; the coaches will choose the top coach and the referees will honor the most sportsmanlike team. The EIWA tournament holds forty-seven automatic qualifying bids for the NCAA Championships to be held in Pittsburgh in two weeks; wrestlers not receiving those bids hope to receive the at-large selections to be extended next week.
The weight-by-weight preview:
NCAA bids: 4
Returning champion: None
This class looks to be dominated by freshmen. Leading the way is Cornell's Vitali Arujau, who began the season at 133 and made the cut in December. Arujau pinned Princeton's top newcomer, Patrick Glory, in their dual meet matchup. In other seasons Penn's Carmen Ferrante or Hofstra's Dylan Ryder might win top freshman honors at this weight. Columbia's Joe Manchio and Navy's Jacob Allen are the other top first years.
Not to say that there aren't some older wrestlers still making the lightest weight. Harvard senior Nolan Hellickson looks to improve upon last year's seventh place. Army junior Trey Chalifoux (fifth, sixth) and American sophomore Gage Curry (fourth) also look to make the youngsters wait their turn. Binghamton will send out soph Audey Ashkar; Ashkar ended Ryder's 11-dual winning streak. Brown's Trey Keeley (wins over Manchio and Ryder) and Bucknell's Jakob Campbell could also figure in the medals.
NCAA bids: 4
Defending champion: Scott Parker, Lehigh
This is the first of three weight classes where the defending champion won't be present. Scott Parker's hopes of a third title were derailed by a shoulder injury, suffered last season, that prevented him from completing his career. The other 2018 finalist, Chas Tucker of Cornell, took control of this weight and has held the EIWA's top rankings all season. American's Josh Terao, a finalist at 125 two years ago, and Lehigh's Brandon Paetzell appear to be the challengers for the other finals position, with Navy's Casey Cobb also in the picture.
No shortage of past medalists at this class: Princeton soph Jonathan Gomez was fifth last year; Army soph Lane Peters was seventh and beat Cobb in the Star Dual; Bucknell's David Campbell was eighth. Binghamton's freshman Zack Trampe missed the fall semester but he's won eight straight EIWA duals and wants to stand on the podium at home. Matt Kazimir (Columbia) and Doug Zapf (Penn) are two more freshmen who could go home with hardware.
NCAA bids: 3
Defending champion: Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell
Graduation and injuries resulted in heavy turnover in this weight. The two returning 2018 medalists are champion Yianni Diakomihalis and fourth-place Nicholas Gil of Navy, 25-5 this year. Yianni won NCAAs as well, despite a torn ACL that hampered him in Cleveland; regardless, he was the first to win both the EIWA's Freshman of the Year and Wrestler of the Year awards in the same season. Both men have been ranked all season and seem the likely finalists.
At this weight there's no shortage of ranked wrestlers, as no fewer than eight additional EIWA grapplers appear in current rankings. Moving down by class, they are senior Jack Mutchnik (American); juniors Anthony Sparacio (Binghamton) and Ryan Pomrinca (Lehigh); sophomore Wil Gil (Franklin & Marshall); and freshmen Corey Shie (AWP), Danny Fongaro (Columbia), and Marshall Keller (Princeton). In other years it would be tempting to bet the field.
NCAA bids: 5
Defending champion: Matthew Kolodzik, Princeton
Junior Matt Kolodzik is the only two-time returning champion in the 2019 tournament; ranked third in the nation, he's the favorite in this field. If anyone can mount a challenge, it should come from Penn freshman Anthony Artalona, ranked 15th, or Navy junior Jared Prince, twice third in this tournament. But that assumes no surprises, like those provided by the host's Frank Garcia a year ago; he beat three higher- seeded wrestlers on his way to the finals, where he gave Kolodzik a handful. Or those by Lehigh senior Cortlandt Schuyler, fourth last year, who sandwiched a loss to Prince at EIWAs between wins in their dual and at NCAAs. Prefer your surprises more recent? Drexel's Parker Kropman, seventh two years ago with Binghamton, recently upset Kolodzik in their dual. Or maybe you like American's Michael Sprague, a two-time medalist, who just upset Prince in their dual and also holds a win over Kropman.
Cornell's Jonathan Furnas was sixth two years ago and that red singlet is always dangerous; Harvard's Brock Wilson was seventh last year as a freshman but has been out of the lineup recently with injuries. Others? Maybe Cole Corrigan, yet another Columbia freshman, with eight straight EIWA dual wins. Or Hofstra newcomer Holden Heller, who has put together a good campaign and could survive the blood round.
NCAA bids: 6
Returning champion: None
Top returnee Mike D'Angelo took the year off from Princeton, leaving three freshmen as the top contenders. The young trio -- Bucknell's Zach Hartman, Lehigh's Josh Humphreys, and Princeton's Quincy Monday -- have been in the rankings most of the year. Hartman and Monday haven't met, Humphreys edged Monday early in the season, Hartman turned a scoreless duel against Humphreys into a pin with a Navy ride to a cradle. That could settle the top three seeds right there.
Five additional wrestlers appear in the national rankings, so it's not a done deal that the new faces will sweep the top places. Army junior Lucas Weiland was fourth in his first EIWA last year, Harvard junior Hunter Ladnier was fifth at 149 last year after a second place in 2017. Hofstra senior Ryan Burkert was eighth last year at 149. Columbia senior Dan Reed came back for his finest season after taking last year off; he was eighth at 149 two years ago and recently upset Hartman. There's no easy path to the medal round, with at least a half dozen other solid wrestlers in the field.
NCAA bids: 4
Defending champion: Jon Jay Chavez, Cornell
Last year's champ, Jon Jay Chavez, has missed the season with injury and weight issues; his absence throws the class wide open. Leading contenders are Brown senior Jon Viruet, sixth twice, riding 12 straight dual wins; and Drexel junior Ebed Jarrell, seventh last year. Half a step back is Lehigh senior Gordon Wolf, twice fifth at this weight but nagged by injuries throughout the season. Making their first EIWA appearances are Army junior Cael McCormick (dual win over Wolf) and Navy soph Tanner Skidgel (Star Dual win over McCormick), both of whom are in the rankings.
Others looking to make a statement are Bucknell senior DJ Hollingshead, Columbia junior Laurence Kosoy, Cornell newcomer Andrew Berreyesa, Sacred Heart senior Brandon Levesque, soph Ricky Stamm of Hofstra, and Leonard Merkin or Dale Tiongson of Princeton.
NCAA bids: 5
Defending champion: Jordan Kutler, Lehigh
Returning champion: Brandon Womack, Cornell (165)
Defending champ Jordan Kutler heads the only weight with two former champions and All-Americans. He's been ranked in the top five all year. Cornell's Brandon Womack, third last year, was the 165 champion two years ago. Two-time placewinner Ben Harvey, Army, would like to crash the finals party, as would Navy junior Spencer Carey, in his first tournament.
A mix of old and new look to move up; also ranked are Binghamton senior Vince DePrez, with more than 90 wins in his career, and Princeton freshman Travis Stefanik. Columbia's Max Elling bumped up from 165 and the higher weight seems to agree with him, as his six EIWA dual wins suggest. Drexel freshman Bryan McLaughlin or Bucknell soph Frankie Guida could surprise.
NCAA bids: 6
Defending champion: Ryan Preisch, Lehigh
2018 champion Ryan Preisch, winner of the Outstanding Wrestler and Sheridan awards, should be a shooin for the title .... except that Cornell sophomore Max Dean was the EIWA's All-American at this weight .... except that Binghamton freshman Lou DePrez has a win over Dean (and many others); De Pre Three ended the regular season with a dozen straight wins. All three have been in or near the top ten in the rankings all season, making this one of the EIWA's best chances for multiple A/A's. Top man this weekend? We should know by 5:30 pm Saturday.
Five more wrestlers are ranked: American soph Tanner Harvey, Army junior Noah Stewart (with a win over Harvey), Brown senior CJ LaFragola (fifth last year), Bucknell junior Kyle Inlander, and Princeton junior Kevin Parker. Unranked but looking good are Navy's Anthony Cable and Sacred Heart's Kyle Davis. Looking for a dark horse? Maybe Columbia soph Brian Bonino, who seems to keep things close.
NCAA bids: 6
Defending champion: Ben Darmstadt, Cornell
Ben Darmstadt is the third missing champion. His brilliant inaugural season ended with All-American status and a lower back injury. Rest was the best medicine, and so .... he's not here. The EIWA has been well-represented at the top of the rankings, though, with both Princeton soph Patrick Brucki (fifth last year) and Army senior Rocco Caywood (seventh) appearing in the top 5. Don't write that finals matchup down in ink just yet, though; in recent duals Caywood lost to Bucknell's Drew Phipps (eighth at 184), and Brucki dropped a tight decision to Cornell's Ben Honis (third two years ago). Drexel senior Stephen Loiseau, in the meantime, finished higher (third) than any of them at last year's tournament; he dropped a sudden victory decision to Caywood in their dual.
Lehigh is still deciding between Chris Weiler, sixth last year, and John Jakobsen; both have been ranked Top 25 this season. Navy's Josh Roetman has support in the rankings; Brown's Tucker Ziegler grabbed eighth place and wouldn't mind a higher spot on the podium in his senior season. Seniors Phil Robilotto of F&M and Nezar Haddad of Hofstra have their work cut out for them if they want to score placement points.
NCAA bids: 4
Defending champion: Jordan Wood, Lehigh
Jordan Wood became a rare freshman heavyweight champ last year, the first in Lehigh's long history. Wood doesn't believe in sharing, so anyone wanting to wrest the title away will need to come prepared. Those most likely to do so are Drexel senior Joey Goodhart, second two years ago; Cornell senior Jeramy Sweany, third last year; and Army plebe Ben Sullivan, the best of the Point's platoon of 285s.
Brown senior Ian Butterbrodt was eighth last season and has won 11 straight; anyone who's seen F&M senior Antonio Pelusi leap into his coach's arms after clinching his two trips to NCAAs hopes for an encore. Navy senior Thomas Ott, Hofstra senior Omar Haddad, and Binghamton soph Joe Doyle might have the best chances for the remaining medals. Add American freshman Niko Camacho, with wins over Sullivan and Ott, to the list of potential surprises.
For those planning ahead, the 116th EIWA tournament will return to Stabler Arena at Lehigh University on March 7-8, 2020.