CLEVELAND -- The wrestler can dance.
When the buzzer sounded to finish off Joey Davis’ 72nd consecutive college win Saturday night at Cleveland Public Hall, Davis put his arms at his side and put his body into a rocking motion.He pointed at the hundreds of screaming Notre Dame (Ohio) fans in the balcony and began a celebration that really went on for nearly two more hours at the NCAA DII Wrestling Championships.
Davis, a sophomore from Compton, Calif., won his second national championship by defeating Adam Walters of Findlay 4-1 in the 174-pound final. The victory was the 39th consecutive for Davis this season after also going unbeaten with a national title in 2012-13 at 165 pounds.
As excited as Davis was about that, he jumped around the Public Hall floor yet another time less than 15 minutes later when teammate Garrett Lineberger won his match at 184 pounds with the only fall of the night.
“Unbelievable!” Davis yelled as he ran toward Lineberger and gave him a crushing hug.
While Notre Dame’s season will forever be connected with Davis’ unbeaten streak, the night also belonged to his teammates. Four Notre Dame wrestlers won national titles in consecutive matches, leading the Falcons to their first national championship in NCAA DII. Notre Dame moved to the division from the NAIA just last year.
“It means a lot personally and for the college because the kids tried really hard,” said head coach Frank Romano, his voice cracking with emotion as he stood on center stage holding the national championship trophy. “We had so much support. We really did. Very, very important for the team and for the college and for the program in general.”
The Falcons won the tournament with 99.5 points, dominating the rest of the field. Two-time defending champion Nebraska-Kearney finished second with 64.5 points and Maryville was third with 58.5 points.
Notre Dame didn’t lose any championship-bracket bouts Saturday and it was the only school to have multiple titlists. Joining Davis and Lineberger as national champs were Jonathan Rivera at 157 pounds and Eric Burgey at 165 pounds.
“I can’t say enough about how hard the kids wrestled,” Romano said. “They really wanted to win and they were prepared. They did it the right way.”
“We worked so hard for it,” Davis said. “In our hometown. Now we get to go out and have some fun and celebrate.”
While Cleveland isn’t home for Davis, the Notre Dame campus in South Euclid is just a 20-minute drive from downtown Cleveland.
Davis was voted the tournament’s most dominant wrestler and it wasn’t until after his close match was over with Walters that he fully realized that his two-year win streak had reached 72.
“I’m just overwhelmed right now,” he said. “That’s hard to deal with. It didn’t hit me until right here. Wow. I’ve been in college two years and I’ve been to two finals. I’m just overwhelmed.”
“We never talked about it [the streak] once,“ said Anthony Ralph, an assistant coach who works closely with Davis. “It’s never been brought up.”
Davis has a reputation of working hard in practice, pushing himself and others around him. He wrestled against Lineberger every day, which was one reason for his delight following Lineberger’s win.
“Every day in the wrestling room, he works harder and harder. He coaches our other guys,” Ralph said.
“Hard work. You’ve got to keep focused. If you get too arrogant, you’re not going to like yourself,” Davis said. “I work so hard, that’s why I like to show out, you know? I put five to six hours into wrestling. I study. Nobody knows how it feels.”
Among his wins this season, Davis had seven technical falls and three pins, including two falls in the national tournament. He won tournament championships at Michigan State, Cleveland State and Indianapolis in addition to the NCAA Super Regional title that qualified him for the nationals.
Still, there were some important words from Romano and Ralph in a hallway prior to Davis stepping onto center stage Saturday night.
“They kept me tunnel visioned,” Davis said. “They let me know back here, you worked so hard for this all year. Remember all those times you didn’t want to practice, you didn’t want to run, you didn’t want to lift, you didn’t want to wake up at 7 in the morning. This is the time to let it out.”
And that is exactly what Davis did. For the 72nd time.