The 20th-ranked Navy wrestling team (5-1, 2-0 EIWA) won four of the final six matches, including a match-clinching 14-3 major decision by 157-pound freshman Andrew Cerniglia, to capture a 20-13 victory over Army (2-3, 2-3 EIWA) Friday evening at Christl Arena in the annual Star Match. Heavyweight John Birchmeier broke the 7-7 tie and sparked the Mids' run after scoring a takedown with just three seconds left in his bout to earn the 6-4 victory over Bobby Heald who had never lost a match to the Mids.
"Even with not having fans at the match, you could feel the energy in the arena from both teams," said first-year Navy head coach Cary Kolat. "It was important to contain the excitement and make sure our guys were not drained mentally or physically. As exciting of a match as it was, I'm looking forward to having fans in attendance at next year's match."
Navy, who now leads the all-time series 50-10-5, claimed its first Star Match victory since defeating the Black Knights 19-17 on Feb. 20, 2016. Meanwhile, it was the Mids' first win at West Point since Kolat's mentor, Bruce Burnett, guided them to a 22-10 win on Feb. 24, 2013. The Mids also cut into Army's lead in the annual Army-Navy Star Series presented by USAA in which the Black Knights now hold a narrow 4-3 advantage with the men's and women's indoor track competitions slated for Saturday.
The see-saw match saw the two teams trade wins in the first four bouts. Navy got on the scoreboard first with an 11-2 major decision by 12th-ranked Tanner Skidgel at 165 pounds that featured a four-point near fall in the opening period by the two-time defending EIWA champion. Army promptly answered with a major decision of its own when rookie Ben Pasiuk earned a 12-3 major decision over Navy senior Dean Caravela at 174.
Navy freshman David Key built a 3-0 advantage in the first two periods and held off Taylor Brown's rally in the final minutes to score a 5-2 victory at 184 pounds and give the Mids a 7-4 lead. Army, however, leveled the match at seven apiece when junior JT Brown upset 18th-ranked Jacob Koser 9-4 at 197 pounds.
Birchmeier stepped to the mat having experienced several high pressure situations during his young career, clinching multiple match victories for the Mids as a rookie. The second-year starter found himself in a 3-1 deficit going into the final period, but after an escape he took his first lead in the match with a takedown with 55 seconds remaining in the bout. The lead was short-lived, however, as Heald wiggled free just seven seconds later and knotted the score at 4-all. Birchmeier zeroed in on Heald's right leg and completed the match-winning takedown with only three ticks left on the clock to give Navy the lead for good.
Senior 125-pound Logan Treaster made it two in a row for the Mids as he earned a 6-2 win over Ryan Chauvin in what was his final appearance against the Black Knights.
"Certainly the turning point of the match was at heavyweight," added Kolat. "Birchmeier's match came down to the wire and he was able to provide us with a big win. It shifted the momentum in our favor and Logan was able to feed off that. Logan is one of the most composed wrestlers we have on our team and he was steady. His opponent didn't come after him in the match, but at the same time you can't make a last second mistake. He kept his focus and got the win."
Sophomore Jacob Allen gave way to Mark Montgomery by a 6-3 count at 133 pounds, as Army trimmed the Mids' lead to three at 13-10. However, team captain and 11th-ranked Cody Trybus answered the call and scored a 5-1 decision over Lane Peters at 141 to push Navy's lead back to six.
Army was unwilling to break, however, and with two bouts to go, it appeared the Black Knights saved their best two wrestlers for last. Twentieth-ranked P.J. Ogunsanya handled Navy senior Casey Cobb 8-4 at 149 pounds and once again, the match was within reach for Army as the Mids held a three-point edge going into the final bout.
Cerniglia, who won back-to-back (2019, '20) PIAA Class 2A state titles and was ranked as high as #3 in the country as a high school senior a year ago, anticipated he would be facing 18th-ranked Markus Hartman. Instead, Cerniglia learned at weigh-ins that Hartman was injured and in turn he met sophomore 157-pound Christian Hunt. Knowing the match was on the line, Cerniglia was on the attack early and often as he built a 10-0 lead before giving up points to Hunt in the third period. He went on to seal the team victory by way of a 14-3 major decision.
"Andrew is a game day kid. He's wrestled in some big duals as a Pennsylvania high school wrestler and I felt good about him going into the match. If there was anyone on this team that I would want to be in the position that he was in tonight, a position where the match was on the line, it would be Andrew Cerniglia."
Navy, who closed out the dual season by winning five in a row and outscoring those five opponents 163-25 (Clarion 41-3, Lehigh 21-9, Cleveland State 37-0, George Mason 44-0, Army 20-13) will have the next two weeks to prepare for the EIWA Championship slated for Friday, Feb. 26 at Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Pa. The Mids placed fourth a year ago at the championship and crowned a pair of individual champions in Tanner Skidgel and 165 pounds and Cody Trybus at 141.
165 | #12 Tanner Skidgel (NAVY) major Will Lucie, 11-2 // Navy 4, Army 0
174 | Ben Pasiuk major Dean Caravela (NAVY), 12-3 // Navy 4, Army 4
184 | David Key (NAVY) dec Taylor Brown, 5-2 // Navy 7, Army 4
197 | JT Brown dec #18 Jacob Koser (NAVY), 9-4 // Navy 7, Army 7
285 | John Birchmeier (NAVY) dec Bobby Heald, 6-4 // Navy 10, Army 7
125 | Logan Treaster (NAVY) dec Ryan Chauvin, 6-2 // Navy 13, Army 7
133 | Mark Montgomery dec Jacob Allen (NAVY), 6-3 // Navy 13, Army 10
141 | #11 Cody Trybus (NAVY) dec Lane Peters, 5-1 // Navy 16, Army 10
149 | #20 P.J. Ogunsanya dec Casey Cobb (NAVY), 8-4 // Navy 16, Army 13
157 | Andrew Cerniglia (NAVY) major Christian Hunt, 14-3 // Navy 20, Army 13