Wrestling ready for NCAA Tournament at Madison Square Garden


Pennsylvania senior Zach Horan high fives teammates after his match is announced against Oregon State on Jan. 9 at McGuirk Arena. The Chippewas lost to the Beavers 26-9. 

Seven Central Michigan wresters are set to begin the NCAA Tournament Thursday in Madison Square Garden in New York. 

After finishing in second place at the Mid-American Conference Tournament on March 6 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Chippewas took a week off to prepare for the national tournament, which is being held in Madison Square Garden for the first time. 

"Taking seven guys to Nationals is nothing to not be happy about," said Head Coach Tom Borrelli after the MAC Championships. "Last year we only had three qualify (for Nationals). This year we had seven. I was really happy with the improvement we made." 

The three-day tournament ends on Saturday with the crowning of 10 National Champions. In addition, 80 wrestlers from across the country will earn All-American honors. The top eight in each of the 10 weight classes are automatically earn that honor. 

The NCAA Championships are broken down into brackets made up of 33 wrestlers at each weight class. The top 16 wrestlers in each bracket are seeded. CMU has three wrestlers who are seeded. Freshman Justin Oliver (149-pound) is a nine seed, senior Luke Smith (157) is an 11 seed and senior Mike Ottinger (174) is a 10 seed. 

The other four Chippewas competing are sophomore Brent Fleetwood (125), who is still recovering from an ankle injury, junior Corey Keener (133), senior Zach Horan (141) and sophomore Jordan Ellingwood. 

Ellingwood was the MAC Champion in the 184-pound weight class and is looking to carry that momentum into Nationals. 

"I know how good I can be," Ellingwood said after winning the MAC Championship. "I believe I should definitely be on the podium (at Nationals), if not be in the finals."

Ellingwood, along with Oliver and Fleetwood are all making their first trip to the NCAA Championships. While they have no experience on the big stage, Borrelli believes they are prepared for the moment. 

"The younger guys have been coming up big for us all year," Borrelli said. "I think they'll be ready when it's time to go. I know they can handle it."

Smith, Horan and Ottinger have been here before and know this is their last go around. 

For Horan, Nationals has become personal. The senior is a two-time MAC Champion, but finished in fourth-place this year. He said he's looking to avenge his performance a week ago.

"The guy I lost to was very controversial. He placed high in the tournament, so I hope I run into him early," Horan said. "You never want to end rivalries on a loss. This is the final time I'll get to wrestle those guys, so I'm ready." 

Central Michigan will be looking for its first All-American since 2013 when seniors Ben Bennett and Joe Roth both earned the honor. 

This is the first ever year the NCAA Championships will be held at Madison Square Garden and Borrelli said the venue only adds to the glamour. 

"The (NCAA) Championships are the biggest part of our sport and competing at Madison Square Garden only intensifies that," Borrelli said. "There have been so many great events there and we can't wait for the challenge."

Coverage begins on Thursday at noon on ESPNU and ESPN 3. Saturday's Championship matches will start at 8 p.m. on ESPN.