ITHACA, N.Y. – Seven Ithaca wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Championships after Saturday’s Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference (ECWC) Championships. Six Bombers earned automatic bids by winning individual titles and the conference’s five wild-card selections included a seventh Ithaca wrestler.
Junior Seth Ecker, junior Jeremy Stierly, senior Blaine Woszczak, sophomore Derek Brenon, senior Nick Sanko and senior David Priest all won their weight class to clinch trips to the NCAA Championships, which will be held March 11-12 on the campus of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Junior Matt Mahon received one of the league’s wild-card berths. In addition, junior Max Cohen was picked as the first of three alternates (who can either replace an NCAA qualifier who’s unable to compete or be chosen by the NCAA to round out a bracket).
Ithaca’s six conference champions are the program’s highest total since 1994 when six Bombers claimed ECWC championships en route to winning the NCAA title. As a team, Ithaca scored 153 points to claim the team championship on Saturday. Ecker was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Wrestler and Marty Nichols was named ECWC Coach of the Year for the fifth time in the last 10 years.
The team title was the Bombers’ third in four years and seventh overall.
At 133 pounds, Ecker won his second career ECWC title. As he did to in 2009, he upset top-seeded Mike McInally of Rochester Institute of Technology in the final, winning this year’s crown with a 5-3 overtime decision. Ecker and McInally entered the tournament ranked fourth and third, respectively. Ecker held a 3-0 lead early in the third period and after McInally tied the score to force overtime, Ecker won with a reversal.
Ecker recorded his seventh and eighth pins of the season to advance to the final. He needed 2:36 to pin his quarterfinal opponent and 2:02 to stop the third seed. Ecker is 28-3 on the season and 74-15 as a Bomber.
Stierly defended his conference title at 141 pounds with a 2-0 win in the final. Stierly scored a second-period escape and earned the riding time point as the third period ended. The title bout pitted Stierly, ranked second nationally, against Division III’s fourth-ranked wrestler. To reach the final, he pinned his first opponent in 1:48, then recorded a 16-4 major decision against the fourth seed in the semifinal round. Stierly, who was seeded first at the tournament, improved to 19-1 with three pins this season and is now 76-16 in his career.
Woszczak, the top seed at 149 pounds, rallied for a 7-5 win in the final to claim his second consecutive conference championship. He scored the winning points on a takedown with 40 seconds to go. Woszczak, ranked second nationally, recorded a pin 5:34 into his quarterfinal bout then rallied to beat the fifth seed 9-7. He is 32-2 this winter with nine pins and extended his school-record career total to 134 victories. Woszczak, who earned a wild card bid to nationals as a sophomore, will be making his third trip to the NCAA Championships.
The nation’s top-ranked wrestler at 157 pounds, Brenon will be making his first career trip to nationals after posting a 3-2 win in the final. Brenon opened competition with a 12-4 major decision (his fourth of the year) then outscored the fifth seed 11-4. The top-seeded Brenon is 23-1 this season and 42-7 in his career.
At 165 pounds, Sanko earned his first bid to the NCAA Championships by upsetting the top seed in the final. Sanko earned an escape point in the third overtime period after his opponent was penalized a point for stalling to record a 3-1 victory. He won his quarterfinal bout by major decision after outscoring his opponent 10-2, then blanked the third seed 6-0 in the semifinals. Sanko is now 17-5 this season with four major decisions and 36-17 overall.
Top-seeded Priest will be making his third trip to nationals after winning his second career ECWC title. Priest, who’s ranked ninth nationally, cruised to an 11-2 major decision in the final, recording his 100th career win in the process, the 17th Bomber to reach that plateau. He pinned his first 174-pound opponent in 2:15, then needed 3:21 to record his seventh fall of the year. The senior is 23-3 this year and 100-29 as a Bomber.
Cohen and Mahon both recorded second-place finishes, losing to the top seed in the final.
At 125 pounds, second-seeded Cohen lost in overtime to the top seed in the final. Cohen beat the seventh seed 8-4 in the quarterfinals and edged the third seed 5-4 in the semifinal round. Cohen raised his season record to 17-8.
Mahon, who was seeded second and ranked ninth nationally, also placed second. He notched his team-leading 15th pin of the season (in 1:29) to reach the semifinals, then rallied for a 6-3 win. Mahon, who’s 20-8 this season and 64-23 in his career, used a takedown and a near fall in the final 25 seconds to beat the third seed 6-3.
Ithaca’s other two entrants were also place-winners.
At 184 pounds, fourth-seeded junior Keith Dickey placed third with a 3-1 overtime win in the third/fourth-place bout. Dickey won 3-2 to reach the semifinals before losing 6-0 to the top seed. He’s now 11-9 on the season.
Freshman Shane Bartrum, the fifth seed at 197 pounds, placed fourth. He posted Ithaca’s first upset of the tournament, knocking off the fourth seed with a 5-2 decision. He extended the top seed (who’s ranked fifth nationally) before losing 4-3 in the semifinal round. Bartrum is 10-14 this year.