Wrestling finishes NCAA Tournament with no All-Americans, optimistic for next year
Following a dominating regular season, the Central Michigan wrestling team's season ended on the second day of the NCAA Championships at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
Sophomore Justin Oliver outlasted the rest of his teammates in their respective brackets but fell to Virginia Tech's Soloman Chishko by major decision in the 149-pound weight class while fighting for an All-American honor.
The Chippewas sent nine wrestlers to the NCAA Championships, but all of them were eliminated by day two of the three-day event.
CMU finished with a dual-meet record of 9-3 and 6-2 in conference play.
In the NCAA Championships during the weekend, CMU finished 19th out of 69 teams. No Chippewa finished in the top eight of their bracket to earn All-American honors.
Head coach Tom Borrelli said he expected more from his squad heading into postseason competition but was still pleased with the way his team competed.
"Getting nine guys (to the NCAA Tournament) was good for the program," he said. "We wanted to come away with one or two All-Americans and have a better tournament, but we wrestled hard."
CMU finished third behind Missouri and Northern Iowa — two of the three teams to top the Chippewas this season — at the Mid-American Conference Championships earlier this month.
Eight Chippewas finished in the top five of their weight classes at the MAC Championships. Those eight include senior Corey Keener (4th), freshman Mason Smith (3rd), Oliver (3rd), junior Colin Heffernan (2nd), junior CJ Brucki (3rd), junior Jordan Ellingwood (3rd), senior Austin Severn (5th) and junior Newton Smerchek (5th).
After the first day of the MAC Championships, Borrelli said he wasn't pleased with how CMU was wrestling.
"We picked a bad day — first day of the MAC Tournament — to probably wrestle as poorly as we've wrestled all year," he said. "Some days you are on and some days you're not as sharp as you want to be. You just have to wrestle through it."
The lone Chippewa to make it to day two was Heffernan, who lost his final match fighting for first place.
The regular season was highlighted by a six-meet win streak following the loss to Missouri on Jan. 22.
CMU capped the season with multiple dominating victories. The Chippewas had four dual-meet wins where they scored 20-plus more points than their opponents.
One of the biggest victories came when CMU upset then-No. 10 ranked Michigan, a team that was thought to be the most talented team in the state.
After a back-and-forth meet in a packed McGuirk Arena, it came down to one match between two Wisconsin natives.
Heavyweight wrestler Newton Smerchek tallied a 1-0 decision victory against Michigan's Ayoola Olapo to lift CMU to its highest-ranked victory of the season against the Wolverines. CMU was ranked No. 17 when the match began.
Borrelli said the Michigan match gave the team some much-needed confidence going into the end of the year.
CMU's two conference losses came when it faced Northern Iowa and Missouri — both teams who finished ahead of them in the MAC Championships.
In the meet against UNI, CMU dropped the dual on a tie-breaker since both teams were tied 16-16 after 10 matches. Since Northern Iowa scored more match points than CMU, UNI was awarded the win.
Against Missouri, CMU was handled in seven individual matches to drop their second dual-meet of the season.
"There is always room for improvement," Borrelli said. "We finished 17th in the country and had a dual-meet record of 9-3."
Three CMU wrestlers finished the year with 30 or more wins.
Oliver finished with a record of 32-9. Though he did not repeat as an All-American, he finished third at the MAC Championships with a major decision victory against Northern Illinois' Steve Bleise.
Heffernan was bothered with a knee injury for most of the season, but he said it did not affect his performance. He finished with a record of 30-9. In the MAC Championships, Heffernan finished second in the 157-pound weight class. He was seeded 10th in the NCAA Championships.
The 174-pounder Brucki was the third Chippewa to finish with 30 wins on the year at 31-10. In the MAC Championships, Brucki earned a third-place victory against Buffalo's Muhamed McBryde. Brucki was seeded 16th in the NCAA Championships and won one match before falling to Oklahoma State's Kyle Crutchmer.
Severn competed in his final year with the Chippewas. He posted a regular season record of 21-8.
Despite not having an All-American this season, Borrelli said the program was in good hands moving forward.
"I am happy with the direction our program is going, but we have a lot to build on," he said.
Keener is listed as a senior this year, but applied for a medical redshirt and received an extra year of eligibility. It is not confirmed if he will return for his sixth year in Mount Pleasant or not, but if so, CMU would only lose one of its 10 starting wrestlers.
Starters Smerchek, Logan Parks, Brent Fleetwood, Smith, Heffernan, Oliver, Ellingwood and Brucki will all return.
"Things are looking good," Borrelli said. "As long as we have a good spring and summer, it could be really exciting next year."