Back-to-Back Regional Titles for Hilltopper Wrestling
West Liberty Qualifies 8 Wrestlers for NCAA D2 Nationals in St. Louis
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The No. 4-ranked West Liberty wrestling team ran away with its second consecutive NCAA Division II Super Region 3 title here at the ASRC on Saturday and qualified eight wrestlers for next month’s NCAA Division II Nationals in St. Louis.
"This was a great day from start to finish for us," head coach Danny Irwin said. "Our guys just smashed the pedal to the floor from the opening whistle and never took their foot off the gas. I've never had a team qualify eight wrestlers for the nationals. We can't wait to get to St Louis."
Six Hilltoppers powered their way to the championship match in their respective weight classes and four of them walked off the mat as regional champions on Saturday night.
Cole Laya (125), Ty McGeary (174), Connor Craig (184) and Francesco Borsellino (285) are West Liberty’s 2022 regional champions while Tyler Warner (141) and Jordan Watters (149) placed second in the region. They’ll be joined in St. Louis by Chase Morgan (165) and Logan Kemp (197), who won third-place matches to punch their ticket to nationals.
The Hilltoppers racked up 142 team points to easily outdistance the rest of the Super Region 3 field and claim their second straight regional crown. Ashland was a distant second at 111.5 with Lake Erie third at 104. Findlay and Tiffin tied for fourth place with 88 points each.
In a correction to earlier releases, this is the fourth regional championship of the NCAA era for the tradition-laden West Liberty program and it’s also the second time the Hilltoppers have gone back to back. The Black and Gold won consecutive regional titles in 1996 and 1997 – WLU’s first two seasons as an NCAA affiliate – under legendary Hall of Fame head coach Dr. Vince Monseau.
"You want to win trophies because of they symbolize the great moments, the great memories, the great people that played a part in it," Irwin said. "A month from now, a year from now, 10 years from now, you can look at that trophy and all those things come flooding back like it was just yesterday. These trophies are special now. They'll always be special."
Here’s a quick look at how it happened in Saturday night’s place matches:
·Ranked No. 1 in the nation and seeded No. 1 in the region, Laya improved to 23-3 on the season as he pitched a shutout against No. 2 seed Manuel Leija of Davenport (Mich.) in the 125-pound final. Laya will be seeking his second straight national championship in St. Louis.
·Warner, a two-time defending national champion at 133 who has battled injury issues all year, locked horns with Findlay’s Branson Proudlock in a high-tension defensive struggle at 141. Proudlock, ranked No. 3 in the nation, scored in the waning seconds to eke out a 3-2 decision.
·Watters, a fast-rising sophomore who will be making his first trip to nationals, came within a few seconds of doing so as a regional champion. Top-seeded Craig Cook – ranked No. 9 in the nation at 149 – had to come from behind in the third period to hand Watters a frustrating 6-4 setback.
·At 157, Hilltopper senior Christian Rivera came up just short of a trip to nationals for the second straight year. Rivera lost his opening match to eventual champion Chance Esmont of Ashland but fought his way to the third-place match with three straight wins in the wrestle-backs only to come away on the short end of an 8-6 count to Lake Erie’s Tyler Swiderski.
·Chase Morgan earned a return trip to nationals at 165, advancing by injury default in the third-place match after Tiffin’s Bryan LaVearn suffered a first-period injury and could not continue. Morgan just missed a berth in the finals, falling to Lake Erie’s James Penfold – the nation’s No. 4-ranked 165-pounder – by a 6-4 count in overtime.
·McGeary, a sophomore, earned his first trip to nationals with an impressive run through the 174-pound field. McGeary (21-1) avenged his only loss of the year in the championship match when Ashland senior Daniel Beemer – ranked No. 5 nationally – was hurt at 4:19 of the second period and unable to continue, giving McGeary the nod by injury default.
·Craig had no problem remaining undefeated as he breezed through the 184-pound bracket. Ranked No. 1 nationally, the three-time All-American and former national champion shut out Glenville’s Cole Houser, 6-0, in the championship match to improve to 10-0 on the season.
·Trailing in the third period of his third-place match at 197 pounds, senior Logan Kemp came storming back to pull out an 8-5 win against No. 10-ranked Jordan Williams of Glenville State. Kemp’s win touched off one of the loudest roars of the night as it made the WLU veteran a rare four-time national qualifier.
·Top-seeded 285-pounder Francesco Borsellino added the perfect exclamation point to a spectacular performance by the Hilltopper squad in the final match of the night. Undefeated and ranked No. 7 in the nation, Borsellino improved his season record to 17-0 in the title match by pinning Tiffin’s David Henson at 1:41 of the first period. It was the third win by fall in as many matches for Borsellino on the day.
"What a tournament atmosphere we had in the building today," Irwin said. "Our guys were awesome supporting their teammates but the fans really turned out and we had tons of wrestling alumni back on campus cheering us on. It was electric in here and we really appreciate the support. I think we'll be seeing some of those folks again in St. Louis."
The 2022 NCAA Division II Nationals will be held March 11-12 at the Chaifetz Center in St. Louis.