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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    2021-22 EIWA Awards - Some Serious; All Fun

    Patrick Glory (left) and Vito Arujau in the NCAA semis

    The 2021-2022 season was a great season for the conference, overall. A season ago, the EIWA walked away with only two All-Americans. This year, they greatly exceeded that outcome with seven. Even more eye-opening, the EIWA lost seven (yes, seven) of their nine blood round matches. Doing some quick math, the EIWA had 51 NCAA qualifiers - which means 14% of them were All-Americans, while over 27% of qualifiers found themselves in the top-12. Before we dig too deep, let's look at the seven All-Americans below.

    125lb - Patrick Glory, Princeton (2nd)
    125lb - Vito Arujau, Cornell (3rd)
    141lb - CJ Composto, Penn (8th)
    149lb - Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell (Champion)
    157lb - Quincy Monday, Princeton (2nd)
    184lb - Jonathan Loew, Cornell (8th)
    HWT - Jordan Wood, Lehigh (3rd)

    The seven wrestlers below lost their respective blood round match:

    149lb - Anthony Artalona, Penn
    157lb - Josh Humphreys, Lehigh
    165lb - Julian Ramirez, Cornell
    165lb - Phillip Conigliaro, Harvard
    174lb - Mickey O'Malley, Drexel
    197lb - Lou Deprez, Binghamton
    285lb - Lewis Fernandes, Cornell

    I like to find the silver lining in these types of moments. The positive outlook on the names listed above is that only one will be done competing due to graduation. Wood has used up all eligibility. The rest of the names will be back next season. The EIWA will have a shot at ten All-Americans, without a doubt. And possibly more!

    The team race at EIWAs was a close one. Cornell walked away with the team title in their home gym. Penn shocked many people by finishing as runner's-up. Princeton and Lehigh came in third and fourth, respectively. Well, the team race in Detroit may not have been as tight, but we saw Cornell earn another top-ten finish, ending the weekend in 7th place - just 5 points shy of the top-5. Princeton finished in 16th, leaving Lehigh tied for 25th and Penn right behind them in 27th.

    In the next section, I will try to highlight some individual achievements that I found interesting. These are all made-up awards to highlight some various moments from the season. I attempted to mimic the one and only Jagger and produce some witty, creative awards (similar to his weekly mailbag). But he's the king of Wrestling Twitter for a reason, so my D-league attempt will have to suffice. Of course, these awards are peculiar. You will not see the typical "wrestler of the year" type of awards.

    March Madness Award - Marshall Keller (Princeton - 149lbs)

    Name the last time the 16th seed at EIWAs placed in the top four to earn an automatic qualifier to NCAAs. The run Marshall made in Ithaca was complete madness. He was definitely the Cinderella Story of the EIWA championships - taking this "The only thing that matters is March" thing way too seriously. He ended the season with a 15-16 record, while picking up one victory at the NCAA Championships. Outside of his wrestling ability, he is the type of kid you want on your team. Once eliminated in Detroit, he never left the warmup area. He was busy helping teammates, Pat Glory and Quincy Monday, prepare before every match on the way to silver medals. This type of selflessness is why the Christiansburg, VA native was named a captain of the Tiger squad. Expect to see him return next season, looking to improve on his stats from this past season.

    Quote of the Year - Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell - 149lbs)

    I'm sure we've all seen it. After Yianni's semi-final match at NCAA's, on live TV, ESPN's Quint Kessenich was interviewing Yianni. Yianni was not satisfied with his victory over last season's NCAA runner-up Sammy Sasso. Quint asked him (paraphrasing) "How do you improve your performance for next match?" Yianni simply said, "Have some nuts." Well, Yianni, I'm sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that it took some nuts to say that on live TV and walk away like it was no big deal. Sure, this may come off as cocky or arrogant to some. But, he is one of the most humble wrestlers out there. Sitting in his press conference after his title, there were a bunch of incredible quotes from the 3X NCAA Champ. The one that caught my attention was when he said (with a huge smile) "wrestling is a hobby and passion. It's an art. There is always something to learn." You can see him live this out when he wrestles. Everything is graceful, and effortless, yet effective. Poetry in motion is how I would describe his abilities on the mat.

    The "Anytime, Anywhere" Award - Army West Point

    There are teams in the country that claim they will wrestle any team, at any time, in any location. We all know this is mostly talk - for the most part. But a team like Army backs up their words with action! During one point in the season, this team was 0-6. Many would look at a record like that and think something like "Oh, wow. I thought Army was a better team." But, looking at these losses, one would think Coach Ward was a little crazy for creating a schedule like this. These losses include: Penn State (#1), Iowa State (#5), Iowa (#2), Rutgers (#15), Pitt (#24), and Cornell (#8). Yeah, these guys wrestled the best of the best. To make matters worse, all matches mentioned before were on the road. They ended the season with wins EIWA wins over a very solid Bucknell squad and previously ranked Lehigh. Coach Ward and company were very adamant about competing with the best teams the NCAA has to offer. Off the record, what is Coach Ward doing with all of those airline miles and hotel points that he racked up? Asking for a friend…

    The Let It (Fly Eagles) Fly Award - Luke Nichter & Mickey O'Malley (Drexel - 149lbs & 174lbs)

    This award is specifically for these two Drexel Dragons. These guys are fun to watch! Nichter is not afraid to go upper body and stick you on your back if you try to challenge him. Same thing with O'Malley - which is where he makes his living on the mat. O'Malley has honestly said in interviews that when he gets to an upper-body position with his opponent, he is "testing their gangster." If Mickey comes out with a hip-hop album, that will be the name of it. O'Malley lost in the round of 12 to Kemerer of Iowa. Nichter was injured most of the year, but in the few matches he wrestled, there were fireworks from start to finish. Both guys will be back next year for the Dragons. When these guys are wrestling, do not leave the arena. You will miss something exciting. Drexel is excited to have them back next season to let it fly. O'Malley will be competing in freestyle this off-season, where he has been very successful in the past.

    The Gritty Award - CJ Composto (Penn - 141lbs)

    Sticking to the Philadelphia sports theme, the Gritty award is given to the wrestler from a Philly school who just showed grit and battled all year. CJ started the year slow after coming off injury. He was not even the starter at the beginning of the year because of this. He really made a name for himself in December when he made the finals of the Matmen Open. Once in the rankings, he never looked back. At the conference tournament, he came in as the second-seeded wrestler, ultimately losing to the top-seeded wrestler of Columbia, Matt Kazimir, in the final. Entering NCAAs as the 12 seed, he squeaked out an overtime win over fifth seed Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado. He was in a similar situation in the blood round against 2021 Olympic participant, Stevan Micic, of Michigan. In a wild match, he gutted out another OT victory to find himself on the podium. Everything CJ did from battling back from injury, earning his spot in the line-up, securing a spot in the rankings, and winning close matches in March, has earned him the award. A "gritty" win is not always pretty, but it gets the job done. The Philadelphia wrestling community is a gritty type of wrestling atmosphere, and he fits this mold to a tee.

    The "How Did He Do That" Award - Jordan Wood (Lehigh - 285lbs)

    One of the most entertaining bouts of the tournament, especially at the heavyweight division, occurred in Wood's semifinal bout against Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State. Wood was in on a leg and somehow manned up and lifted all of Schultz's 275lb body off the mat. The entire arena had to pinch themselves to make sure this was not a dream. He was not in an advantageous position whatsoever. Once up in the air, Wood slammed Schultz to the mat. Hanging on to a tight head pinch, Schultz used this momentum to roll the Mountain Hawk over, ending the match with a takedown of his own. I hate that Wood came away defeated in this match, but this was some incredible strength not many people are capable of doing from the position he was in at the time. Wood took home a bronze medal, earning his 100th win in the process. Expect to see him wrestle at the senior level, representing the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club. To top it all off, he became the conference's first (and possibly only) 5-time EIWA Champion. He'll go down in the history books.

    The Social Media Team of the Year Award - Princeton Tigers

    Be sure to follow them on all platforms. If you do follow them, you will see great promo videos for events, highlights from previous matches, and some good family fun Taylor Ham vs pork roll debate. But they really went above and beyond in the postseason. If you saw this team at EIWAs, you'd think they were taping a multi-million-dollar Hollywood movie. With numerous cameras for video and photos, every second of their weekend was caught from every angle. The celebrations, the defeats, and everything in between. Sure, this type of exposure is not for everyone. But, the program really sets the standard for promoting their own brand and hyping up their guys. The coaching staff at Princeton knows how to create an experience with their team. The way the program is on the rise, it's pretty easy to see how effective it can be. If you have not yet, check out their social media accounts for their little video documentary series named "The Experience" which highlights their time in Detroit. The laid-back type of camaraderie this team has is very special, and it works.

    Amish Country Workhorse of the Year - Wil Gil (Franklin & Marshall - 141lbs)

    This award goes to Wil for putting his foot on the line each and every match this year when called upon. After missing the opening weekend, due to off-season shoulder surgery, he went on to have a phenomenal year, eventually earning his 100th win - not missing a match again (except for when the school shut down wrestling for a few weeks due to COVID). If you know anything about me, you'll know Wil is one of my darkhorses since the beginning. He came into conferences as the seventh seed, and went on a streak at the right time to earn third place and qualify for NCAAs. Even though he was winless in Detroit, it was a pleasure to watch him this season (and previous seasons). He was always wrestling with some sort of ailment because the team needed him. He was a true leader of this team. He will be missed at F&M.

    Bridge of the Year - Jack DelGarbino (Princeton - 285lbs)

    Labeling this as an upset may be an understatement for this one. DelGarbino strolled into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and stuck third-ranked Tony Cassioppi after being taken down and turned to his back only to roll through and stick the Hawkeye. DelGarbino's bridge (which sounds like a bridge one would cross to get into a New York borough) was a display of strength that many heavyweights have failed to show in the past over an opponent like Cassioppi. This match would most likely win "Upset of the Year" as Delgarbino finished the year with a losing record while Cassioppi ended his campaign up as an All-American in seventh place.

    The Bitten by the Injury Bug Award - Yara Slavikouski & The Lehigh Mountain Hawks

    Man, what a bummer for the Crimson and Yara. He went down for the year with a torn ACL in the finals of the Cliff Keen in December. This is a guy who never got to compete at NCAAs and show how talented he truly is. The bronze medalist at the Senior level for his home country of Belarus, finished second in the EIWAs in 2020 before the NCAA Championships were canceled. He missed the entire 2021 season, along with the rest of the Ivy League schools. Then, as I mentioned, this year tore his ACL and did not compete in the postseason. The biggest issue here is that he has now run out of eligibility in the Ivy League, so will need to transfer to another conference in order to finally get the opportunity to compete at NCAAs.

    Before his injury, he was a top-12 ranked wrestler and would have been in the conversation to be on that podium. It is a bummer for the Crimson program, which is looking for its first All-American since 2012.

    The Lehigh Mountain Hawks had a down year (by Lehigh's high standards). One NCAA All-American may be a goal for many schools, but not for Lehigh. The team started the second semester knocking off Cornell in a home match at Grace Hall on Lehigh's beautiful campus. They were looking very tough! Once late February rolled around, some of the team's highest-ranked wrestlers were sidelined with injury. Jaret Lane at 125lb was (in my opinion) a dark horse to All-American, being ranked in the 12-20 range. He was a late scratch and withdrew the week of EIWAs. Similarly, returning EIWA Champion, Malyke Hines, had to injury default both matches at conferences to earn a wild card to Detroit at 133lbs. It was evident he was still banged up, with a heavy tape job on his leg. I understand injuries are part of the sport, but the timing of these two injuries was brutal for the Mountain Hawks. They will have some large shoes to fill (literally and figuratively) at heavyweight, now that they lose Jordan Wood (the conference's first 5-time champion). They have a bunch of young studs waiting, and a great recruiting class incoming. The Hawks will be back next year.

    Rivalry of the Year - Pat Glory, Princeton vs. Vito Arujau, Cornell (125lbs)

    It's not very often we see a rubber match in the NCAA semifinals. This season, Glory won the series 2-1. When it comes to the overall lifetime series at the NCAA level, Glory leads 3-2. The first matchup this season was in a dual at Princeton in early February. This was a difficult one to gauge with many stoppages. No wrestler could really get in a groove. It ended 11-9 in favor of Glory. The second matchup occurred in the EIWA finals. Vito's blowout win 19-6 was something nobody saw coming, shocking a vast majority across the nation. He looked lights-out in this match. Many thought the outcome would repeat the following matchup between them. This set the rubber match for all the marbles in Detroit. Glory walked away with a 13-5 match. One scramble type of exchange was the difference for Glory in that one. What's next? Does Glory move up to 133lbs like some rumors are mentioning? If I had to bet, I think we see them both stay at 125lbs and continue to battle it out. Get your popcorn ready.

    Other Awards Worth Mentioning:

    Best Postseason Mustache - Coach Bryan Pearsall, Penn
    America's Team Award - Navy Wrestling with a 22-9 win over Army
    Screw Job of the Year - Lou DePrez of Binghamton - NCAA Quarterfinal Match

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