GRANTHAM, Pa. -- Four student-athletes won individual titles to lead the Stevens Institute of Technology wrestling team to the Southeast Regional title Saturday at Hitchcock Arena.
Freshman Kyle Slendorn, senior Troy Stanich, junior Brett Kaliner and sophomore Michael Dooley each won the gold medal in their respective weight classes. Graduate student Thomas Poklikuha, senior Dylan Van Sickell and sophomore Akhil Vega finished in the top-three in their respective weight classes as a program-record seven Ducks advanced to the national championship tournament.
As a team, the Ducks finished first among the 20 competing teams, totaling 163.5 points to win the regional title over Washington and Lee University by 33.5 points. Hosting Messiah College placed third with 123.5 points, while Washington & Jefferson College (80.5) and Ferrum College (78) rounded out the top-five. The regional championship is the second in program history.
Head Coach Joe Favia was named the Southeast Region Coach of the Year prior to the tournament, while assistant coach Anthony Bonaventura was named the region's top assistant coach. Kaliner was named the regional's Most Outstanding Wrestler.
"It was a strong finish on day two," Favia said. "Everyone who competed this weekend contributed to our team's ability to distance ourselves from the pack. This morning, we set the tone, putting six into the finals and the guys never looked back."
"Bruce showed no quit, wrestling hard for sixth," Favia continued. "Tom and Dylan dropped their matches in the finals, but put forth the effort necessary to build on going into the NCAA's. The four champions left no doubt as to why they are the best in their class and Akhil showed a level and desire that I've been waiting for him to unleash for two years. Akhil is a true student of the sport and when he puts that fight into his skill set, it's a deadly combination. All in all, we have put ourselves in the position we needed going into the championships. We'll take the weekend to recover then make our final push towards Cedar Rapids."
Slendorn captured his first regional championship at 133 pounds. The Howell, New Jersey native began his day with a third-period pin of Ferrum's Levi Englman. Slendorn was ahead 4-2 through two periods before scoring an escape and a takedown in the first 25 seconds of the third period. The takedown led to a four-point nearfall just prior to the pin. Slendorn closed out afternoon with a hard-fought 6-4 victory over Delaware Valley's nationally-ranked Kordell Rush in the championship bout. Rush scored the first points of the bout with a takedown in the opening minute, only for Slendorn to escape. Slendorn scored a reversal to account for the only scoring in the second period, before each side scored two points in the third. Slendorn added the riding time point to account for the final margin of victory.
Stanich scored a major decision and a pin to capture his third regional title. Stanich began his day with a 17-2 major over Washington & Lee's Bryce Crew to advance to the championship. The Ducks' 141-pounder accumulated 15 of his 17 points over the final two periods. In the championship bout, Stanich scored a takedown of Greesboro's Hai Slu in the final minute of the opening period, before scoring the pin six seconds later.
Kaliner captured his third regional title with a pair of dominating technical falls. The West Chester, Pennsylvania native scored a 26-7 victory over Lycoming's Joe Santomarco when the bout was stopped in the final period. Kaliner was even more impressive in the 149-pound championship, building a 20-2 lead over Washington & Jefferson's Michael Heinl at the time of the second-period stoppage. Each of Kaliner's 26 wins have come with bonus points.
After capturing silver in his first season on Castle Point, Dooley advanced to his second straight national tournament after topping the field at 197. The Phillipsburg, New Jersey native began his day with his third straight major decision with a 10-0 shutout of Washington & Jefferson's Alex Donahue. Dooley captured the championship with a first-period pin of Alvernia's Tonee Ellis. Dooley allowed just five points over his four matches
Van Sickell advanced to the 157-pound championship with a first-period pin of Lycoming's Trevor Corl. The Little Silver, New Jersey native scored a takedown in the opening seconds of the match and then turned Corl just over 90 seconds in, scoring a four-point nearfall just prior to the pin. In the championship, Washington & Lee's Ryan Luth scored a four-point nearfall in the final minute of the opening period to take a 6-0 lead. An aggressive Van Sickell scored three takedowns in the final period, but Luth totaled four escapes to prevent Van Sickell from scoring additional points en route to a 15-8 decision victory. Van Sickell placed second to reach his third national championship.
Poklikuha advanced to the national championship tournament by beginning his day with a 15-1 major decision over Washington & Lee's Shane Connors. The West Creek, New Jersey native compiled a 10-0 lead through two periods before Connors scored an escape in the final minute of the third period. His run to a regional title ended in the championship bout with a 10-2 setback to Johns Hopkins' Dominick Reyes. Poklikuha advances to his third NCAA championship.
Needing to win three matches to reach his first national championship tournament, Vega posted a pair of decision victories and a technical fall to qualify for nationals. Vega began his day with an 8-6 victory over Ferrum's J.D. McMillin, accumulating five points in the opening period to claim the victory. The Cupertino, California native posted his second tech fall with a 23-4 victory over Washington & Jefferson's Emmanuel Dovshek; Vega was leading 23-4 at the time of the second-period stoppage. Vega closed out his remarkable run through the consolation bracket with a 9-5 decision over York's Jared Kuhns. Vega used a pair of two-point nearfalls to take a 6-1 lead after the first period.
Parola opened his day against the 184-pound bracket's top seed, Rexx Hallyburton of Washington & Lee and fell via a hard-fought 5-3 decision. A takedown in the first minute of the third period proved to be the difference in the match. The Moscow, Pennsylvania native dropped a pair of decisions to finish in sixth.
Up Next: Wrestling opens the NCAA Division III Championship on March 13.