HERSHEY, Penn. -- Since stepping inside the wrestling room at Williams for the first time, Jorge Lopez continues to establish new standards for a program not necessarily known for grappling greatness.
But that is quickly changing because of him.
Already, the junior 157-pounder is the first freshman NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships qualifier, the only two-time regional champ and, after Friday night's impressive 48-second pin of sixth-seeded Richie Jasinski of Ursinus in the national quarterfinals at the Giant Center, the Ephs' first to be a three-time All-American in three years.With another two victories tomorrow, Lopez (27-1) very well could become Williams' first national champion. Instead of running from expectations, the junior wholeheartedly embraces his place in his program's history.
"It would be awesome for the sport and awesome for the school," Lopez said. "To bring one home for Williams would be awesome.
"There's certainly pressure but it's good pressure," he continued. "It motivates me to work hard in the room."
Lopez' performance in his first two bouts ranks among the most impressive across any of the brackets. Hours after taking apart TCNJ's Antonio Mancella via a 12-4 major decision in the first round, he made short work of Jasinski, an eighth-place performer in 2014, to set up a rematch with second-seeded Reece Lefever of Wabash.
Last March, Lopez and Lefever traded takedowns, reversals, and escapes before the former caught the latter on his back in the third-place match at 157, enabling the Williams standardbearer to improve upon his sixth-place showing as a wide-eyed rookie in 2013.
Now Lopez is well aware of what might await him Saturday. Shortly after concluding an interview, he said he would review film from last year's bout against Lefever, a scouting mission he hopes will help deliver him from the semifinals into his bracket's title bout.
"I won't be satisfied unless I'm on top of the podium," Lopez said. "I feel like this is my time."All of the wrestlers heading into the semifinals have a sense of the possibilities awaiting them in just 24 hours, even if some are more superstitious about discussing them. Baldwin Wallace's standout Jesse Gunter moved a step closer to improving upon his third-place performance 12 months ago, slithering away from No. 6 seed and returning All-American Paul Bewak of Johns Hopkins with one second remaining in the tiebreaker in one of Friday night's most exciting contests.
However, Gunter barely reflected upon repeating as an All-American. Instead, the third seed set his sights on winning a gold medal, just like the other 39 semifinals remaining in the event's 10 brackets.
"Of course it means something," Gunter said moments after improving to 6-1. "But I'm chasing something bigger."
Before chasing a championship, though, Gunter must overcome his recent history against No. 2 Lucas Malmberg of Messiah, having lost each of their four previous bouts.
"Hey, it doesn't mean I can't beat him," Guntner said. "I know I can."
Confidence is not lacking in 141-pound top seed and defending champion Kaleb Loht of Messiah either. Whie he never quite got going during his first-round victory, a dominating 12-1 major decision against McDaniel's Alvontae Drummond in the quarters helped him improve to 37-0 heading into a semifinal showdown with No. 5 Cary Palmer of Hunter (33-1), who eked out a 5-4 victory against No. 4 Brandon Jones of New York University.
"I'm just trying to keep taking more and more shots," Loht said. "If I don't get one, I'll get another."
One top seed and three second-seeded grapplers succumbed on Friday night. The biggest upset, at least by seeding, came at 285 as No. 8 Terrance Jean-Jacques of Rhode Island College (33-1) overcame cramping in the third period to outscore No. 1 Cody Lovejoy of Ohio Northern for a 13-2 major decision.
Of the 40 grapplers still vying for a national championship, six are unseeded. Waynesburg's Sam Guidi keeps looking stronger and stronger. He got through to the semfifinals by eking out a 3-2 triumph againt Lycoming's sixth-seeded Nolan Barger at 165 after previously ousting No. 3 Dylan Foley of Springfield 3-1 in sudden victory, in the first round.