Lehigh's Jordan Wood (285) is a three-time EIWA champion (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
In perhaps the strangest season in the EIWA's long history, America's oldest college wrestling tournament will be held off-campus for the first time ever. With the member institutions unable to host events of this size, we will gather at Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Pennsylvania on Friday, February 26, 2021. For those wondering, this will be just the sixth one-day EIWA tournament and the first since 1909 at Yale, when Eli William Howard Taft was two weeks into his Presidency. Five of last year's top seven will be among the ten teams competing.
Lehigh has won three consecutive team titles and hopes to add another to their string; but the Mountain Hawks were hit hard by graduation and have added illness and injury to their woes. Lehigh may challenge, but the Midshipmen of the U. S. Naval Academy appear to be in the driver's seat. Navy returns two champions, a veteran team, and adds a pair of freshmen who haven't lost yet during this shortened season. Army West Point was also hurt by graduation, but returns a veteran lineup that also adds two solid plebes. The Mids can't afford to falter in what looks to be a tight team race.
The Pride of Hofstra may have the most experienced lineup in the field; their best newcomer is a senior transfer. Bucknell, Binghamton, and Drexel all have a blend of old and new and could move up if the top few teams falter. Navy last won in 1990; Army won for the only time in 1987. The others are relative newcomers to the EIWA and are all seeking their first team title.
Honors extend beyond the team and individual titles. Also to be decided are the Outstanding Wrestler (determined by the coaches' vote), the Fletcher Award (most career points), and the Sheridan Award (most falls in the least time in the championship bracket). The coaches vote for Coach of the Year and the referees honor the most sportsmanlike team (the award given, this year, in honor of the late Greg Strobel, whose team received the award the first time it was presented). The EIWA has received forty-five automatic qualifying bids for the NCAA Championships at St. Louis in three weeks; at-large selections to be announced on March 9th will augment the contingent.
Due to the unusual circumstances of this season, team rosters are more unsettled than usual at the time of this writing. Season records are a whole lot thinner than usual, so expect more than the normal number of upsets.
The weight-by-weight preview:
NCAA bids: 3
The best bet for a high place is someone who's been there before; that's Gage Curry of American, three finishes in the 3rd or 4th spot, 3-time NCAA qualifier. But American lost its entire dual season to Covid stoppages, so Curry hasn't wrestled a bout. The only other returning placewinner is Hofstra's Dylan Ryder, 8th a year ago, 3-0 this season. Navy's Logan Treaster was the 6th seed last year and was 25th in the recent Coaches' Panel ranking with a 9-1 record; his loss is to Lehigh's Jaret Lane, 22nd in the CP ranking, 5-0 and down from 133 last year.
Others to watch are freshman Micah Roes of Binghamton, 4-0 in his rookie season; Brandon Seidman of Bucknell, 5-1 and making his first EIWA appearance in his junior year; and 3-3 freshman Bryce Cockrell of Long Island University.
NCAA bids: 3
For the first time in memory a weight class has no returning placewinners (hint: they all moved to other weight classes). Bucknell's Darren Miller , 4-1, has the highest CP ranking (23rd) and was seeded 5th last year. Lehigh's freshman Malyke Hines, 2-1, is ranked 32nd. Drexel senior Chandler Olson also stands at 4-1; he was 15-4 before a season-ending injury a year ago.
Army plebe Mark Montgomery is 3-3 and has a win over Miller. Binghamton's Anthony Sobotker, 3-1 this year after a 61-9 career at Nassau CC, has a win over Montgomery, as does Hofstra senior Garrett Lambert, 2-2. Navy's Jacob Allen, at 6-4, has the most wins in the field.
NCAA bids: 5
Defending champion:: Cody Trybus, Navy
Defending champ Trybus is the favorite to repeat, on the strength of a 9-0 record and a No. 10 CP ranking. Binghamton's Zach Trampe moves up from 133 where he placed 3rd and 4th; he's also qualified for NCAAs twice. He's 3-1 with the No. 25 CP ranking. Army senior Lane Peters is another 2-time placer (5th and 7th), also 3-1, CP ranking of No. 31. Vinny Vespa of Hofstra placed 5th at 133 in 2017.
Drexel soph Tyler Williams is 4-1 with a win over Vespa. American soph Patrick Ryan was 14-6 as a true freshman two years ago and 14-8 in a deferred year. Freshmen Connor McGonagle of Lehigh and Drew Witham of LIU seek to have an impact.
NCAA bids: 4
It says here that the man to beat is Army junior PJ Ogunsanya. He's already finished 5th and 6th, is 6-0, and was ranked 19th in the CP ranking before he beat No. 18, Navy's Casey Cobb. Cobb, an 8-1 senior, moves up from 133 where he had 4th- and 7th-place finishes and qualified for NCAAs. Both have beaten Lehigh's Jimmy Hoffman, 6th last year and an NCAA qualifier; he's 2-3 with a CP ranking of No. 25.
American's Kizhan Clarke is also an NCAA qualifier, placing 7th at 157 and 4th at 149 last year when he was ranked in the top 10 much of the season. Hofstra will enter Greg Gaxiola, a transfer from Fresno State who qualified for NCAAs and holds the No. 30 CP ranking. His only loss is to Drexel freshman Luke Nichter, 5-0 on the season. Bucknell's Matt Kolonia, 18-9 a year ago and 2-1 this year, could also make some noise.
NCAA bids: 5
There appears to be a clear top four at 157. Army's Markus Hartman placed 3rd last year, is 5-1, and is the CP No. 14 ranked wrestler. But he was pinned by No. 20 Holden Heller of Hofstra, who's 5-0. Drexel senior Parker Kropman, 4th and 7th at 149, is 4-0 and No. 21. Navy freshman Andrew Cerniglia is 5-0, CP No. 26. Four wrestlers with one loss between them means that there's only the one head-to-head result.
From Bucknell we'll see 4-4 freshman Nick Delp. Lehigh freshman Luca Frinzi is 2-1; Sacred Heart senior Nick Palumbo moves up from 149.
NCAA bids: 5
Defending champion:: Tanner Skidgel, Navy (2019, 2020)
Two-time champ Skidgel, 9-1 on the season, should be the clear favorite here. But Bucknell's Zach Hartman, 6-0, is 7th in the CP rankings to the Mid's 14th. Skidgel prevailed in the EIWA finals a year ago, 4-2, the only time the two have met. We could see a repeat of last year's championship match.
Other contenders for high places are 5-0 Ricky Stamm of Hofstra, Drexel's 4-1 Evan Barczak, and 4-0 Binghamton freshman Brevin Cassella. All have CP rankings; Stamm has two EIWA places already, Barczak was nationally ranked two years ago.
NCAA bids: 5
Last season Drexel freshman Michael O'Malley finished 4th in a deep weight class. As a sophomore he's 5-0, ranked 15th, and has defeated No. 30 Ross McFarland of Hofstra, the only other ranked wrestler at the weight. McFarland may not enter, as he's being pressed for Hofstra's spot by Reece Heller.
Two sophomores -- Binghamton's Jacob Nolan, 4-0, and Bucknell's Vince Andreano, 4-1 -- have had good seasons. Navy senior Dean Caravela, 7-3, will be at his first tournament. Lehigh freshman Jake Logan is 2-4 but has a win over Caravela. Another sophomore, American's Tim Fitzpatrick, was 8th last year at 165. A newcomer is Army plebe Ben Pasiuk, just 2-0 this season, with the wins by major decision over Caravela and Logan.
NCAA bids: 6
Defending champion:: Lou DePrez, Binghamton
Binghamton junior DePrez has the inside shot here; he won last year, is a 2-time NCAA qualifier, and is ranked 4th in the Coaches' Panel. Navy plebe David Key is ranked 18th and boasts a 7-0 record. Army senior Taylor Brown has made the unusual jump from 157 pounds without appearing to give away much size to his opponents; he's 4-2 and is ranked 32nd. Hofstra's Charles Small is 4-1; he's not ranked but he holds the only past place not belonging to DePrez.
Sacred Heart senior Joe Accousti moves up from 174 last year; he's 3-2 at the higher weight. LIU junior James Langan moves up from 174 this year. Lehigh senior Dylan Ammerman won a three-way wrestleoff for the right to wrestle at Manheim.
NCAA bids: 5
Four former placewinners figure to contend for the top spot here. Lehigh's John Jakobsen earns first mention as a two-time placer and NCAA qualifier. He's 4-3, ranked 19th, and beat Army's JT Brown (20th) this season. Brown is 5-1 this year, has the highest past place (4th, which earned him an NCAA berth), and has beaten Navy soph Jacob Koser (4-2, CP No. 16, 8th a year ago). Koser, in turn, has beaten Jakobsen. Drexel's Bryan McLaughlin, who hasn't wrestled any of them this year, brings a 4-1 record and the No. 21 ranking to the party; he was 6th last year and received a spot at NCAAs.
Hofstra junior Trey Rogers is 4-1 and has beaten Sacred Heart junior Robert Hetherman, who's 2-1. Hetherman has a win over Bucknell's Mason McCready, a 3-4 sophomore. Any of them could move up if a spot in the top four opens up.
NCAA bids: 4
Defending champion:: Jordan Wood, Lehigh (2018, 2019, 2020)
There's never been a four-time champion at the tournament's highest weight. Lehigh's Wood, 4-1 with a No. 7 CP ranking, plans to be the first. Those most likely to challenge are Navy soph John Birchmeier, 5-0 with the No. 24 ranking; Army senior Bobby Heald, 3-2 with the No. 29 ranking; and Hofstra junior Zachary Knighton-Ward, 4-2 with the No. 33 ranking and 4th place at last year's tournament.
Others to look for are Drexel's Sean O'Malley, no results this year, the No. 8 seed a year ago; Bucknell freshman Dorian Crosby, 3-3; and Binghamton's Joe Doyle, 0-0 this year but 5th and 6th in the past two tournaments.
Pre-seeds will be announced late Monday, February 22nd. With COVID still causing issues for some teams, the coaches can make changes right up until their meeting Thursday night, a change for this year only. With everyone hoping for a return to normal, we expect that the 118th EIWA tournament will be held at a college campus to be determined on the weekend of March 4-6, 2022.
Fans can watch the tournament on FloWrestling. Live bout results will be shown on Flosports Arena. Information about seeding, results, and awards will be posted on the EIWA website.