Not to be forgotten is that this is a qualifying tournament for the NCAA Championships in St. Louis in two weeks: 43 automatic qualifying bids will be extended, as well as an undetermined number of at-large bids to be offered after the dust settles this weekend.
Cornell seeks to extend its record run of ten team titles in a row. Lehigh, not content with six runner-up finishes during that streak including the three highest second-place scores ever, will look to topple the Big Red from their perch at the top. Both teams have battled multiple injuries this year and the winner could well be the team fielding the healthiest lineup. The previous record streak for team wins, six, also belonged to Cornell; it ended ninety-nine years ago when Penn State first joined the EIWA.
Last year half the field was within one champion's points of third-place Bucknell. With that in mind, it looks again as though half a dozen teams could claim third place. Princeton appears to have the best combination of top wrestlers and team breadth to challenge for a higher position if either Cornell or Lehigh falters. Other contenders for third place look to be Army West Point, Binghamton, Bucknell, Drexel, and Navy.
The last time the EIWAs were held in Lewisburg, in 2011, was also the last time a wrestler from the host school won the Coaches' Trophy for Outstanding Wrestler. The worthy recipient was current Bisons' assistant Kevin LeValley, who defeated returning NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell in overtime in the 149-pound finals. It was an upset for the ages as it turned out; Dake won three more NCAA titles and that was his last collegiate loss.
The 2017 EIWA Championships will be broadcast live by Flowrestling.
The weight-by-weight preview:
125 - NCAA bids: 2
Defending Champion: Darian Cruz, Lehigh
Former All-American Cruz returns to defend his title. Two of last year's top seeds have graduated, but that doesn't mean Cruz will have an easy time of it. Josh Terao returns to American's lineup after a deferral year and is ranked near the top ten.
A talented pool of youngsters will battle for the remaining places and try to break through to the finals. Cornell frosh Noah Baughman has looked like a contender at times. Soph Steve Bulzomi of Binghamton edged Baughman in a November tournament. Bucknell's frosh Jordan Gessner pinned Bulzomi recently; Brown frosh Trey Keeley has a solid win over Gessner; Princeton frosh Ty Agaisse has a win over Keeley and narrowly lost to Baughman. American junior Tanner Shoap, 8th in 2014, has beaten Baughman and Bulzomi.
133 - NCAA bids: 4
Former Champion: Kevin Devoy, Drexel (2015)
Drexel senior Devoy returns to the weight where he won the title and made in to the NCAA Round of 12 two years ago. He'll be challenged by Scott Parker, 4th at 125 two years ago, who returns to Lehigh's lineup after a deferral year; Parker has been ranked in the top ten for much of the season. He beat Devoy in a first-semester dual and is the likely top seed. Can Cornell's Mark Grey, a 2-time 3rd-placer at this weight, make it to the top in his final season?
Other returning placewinners include Harvard's Jeffrey Ott (3-time), Princeton's Pat D'Arcy (6th, 125) and Sacred Heart's Gerald Daly (7th, 125). Esteban Gomez-Rivera of American placed 7th back in 2014 and has crafted a fine senior season, including a tight win over Devoy. Can he piece together the three wins needed to make it to the finals?
141 - NCAA bids: 5
Former Champion: Randy Cruz, Lehigh (2015, 141; 2013, 133)
Former two-time champ Cruz settled for third place last year, finishing behind two other former champions, Richard Durso and Todd Preston, in one of the deepest brackets in memory. The fourth former champ in that field, Kevin Devoy, has returned to 133. This year Cruz finds himself the only former winner in the field but that doesn't mean his task is any easier. Princeton frosh Matt Kolodzik has emerged as a contender for both the EIWA title and a high place at NCAAs; he's beaten most of the top EIWA contenders, including Cruz in overtime, and has to be considered the favorite.
Behind Kolodzik, in close order, are Cruz (an All-American last year); Army senior Logan Everett (8th in 2015); the other top EIWA freshman, Jared Prince of Navy (a win over Cruz and two over Everett); Bucknell's Tyler Smith (3rd in 2015, a win over Everett and two over Prince); and yet another good frosh in A. J. Jaffe of Harvard (a one-point loss to Kolodzik). The second consolation round is the elimination round and a lot of good wrestlers will fall short.
149 - NCAA bids: 3
Defending Champion: Matt Cimato, Drexel
Cimato has finished first and third in his two previous tournaments and made it to the NCAA's Round of 12 last season. He'll be pressed hard to repeat, as Lehigh's Laike Gardner, third last year, appears to have grown into the weight and is undefeated within the EIWA this year. Gardner has two wins over Cimato and appears to be the favorite. Jordan Laster, Princeton, is the third ranked wrestler in this weight. He's a former finalist, has a win over Cimato this season, and is certainly capable of winning it all.
Cornell soph Joe Galasso was runnerup to Cimato last year but has not duplicated his freshman success; he's been in and out of the lineup but if he's near 100% he can challenge for the title. Penn's Joe Oliva has a win over Galasso. Binghamton frosh Parker Kropman could surprise.
157 - NCAA bids: 4
Defending Champion: Dylan Palacio, Cornell
Palacio is the defending champion, a 2x runnerup at 165, NCAA 4th place last year. He should be pressed by Lehigh's Jordan Kutler, ranked fourth in the nation after a successful debut season that left him undefeated against five EIWA opponents. Palacio missed the fall semester and has wrestled sparingly since his return; Kutler has been ill and missed Lehigh's most recent four duals. Those two are favorites to make the finals if they're healthy.
Two seniors are next on the list. Army's Russell Parsons has finished 4th and 5th and is nationally ranked; he holds a major decision over May Bethea. Bucknell's Victor Lopez has three places, including two 4ths, at 149, is also nationally ranked, and has a win over Parsons. Penn's Bethea was 6th last year, has beaten Lopez, and has split decisions with Mike D'Angelo of Princeton.
165 - NCAA bids: 4
Returning Champion: None
Cornell soph Brandon Womack grabbed his team's starting spot in the fall and hasn't let go; he's undefeated within the EIWA at this weight. Lehigh made a late decision to go with frosh Cole Walter, who's beaten several ranked wrestlers. Columbia's Tyrel White has finished 4th twice and may be ready to move up.
Army will be represented by Andrew Mendel, 5th a year ago. Penn will mat Brooks Martino, 5th at 157 two years ago. Navy junior Drew Daniels has split bouts with Mendel.
174 - NCAA bids: 6
Defending Champion: Brian Realbuto, Cornell (2016, 174; 2015, 157)
Former Champion: Jadean Bernstein, Navy (2015)
Brian Realbuto of Cornell seeks his third title and his second at this weight; he's a 2-time All-American and former NCAA finalist. He'll be pressed by Lehigh soph Ryan Preisch, 3rd at 165 last year, who's right behind Realbuto in the national rankings. Jadean Bernstein of Navy won in 2015 and took 3rd last year.
Casey Kent of Penn has never made it to the EIWA finals but managed 4th at NCAAs last year. Juniors Josef Johnson of Harvard and Jonathan Schleifer of Princeton have also been in the national rankings. Schleifer took 5th at 165 in 2015; Johnson managed 6th at 174 last year and has a recent win over Schleifer.
184 - NCAA bids: 7
Defending Champion: Gabe Dean, Cornell (3-time)
Can a weight class be both one-sided and deep? Cornell's Dean is the 3-time defending champion at this weight and the 2-time defending champion at NCAAs. He's been ranked first in every poll since the preseason. But ten different wrestlers are ranked either in the second NCAA Coaches' Poll or the first RPI. Steve Schneider of Binghamton has been ranked in the teens most of the year and is the most likely second finalist.
Army senior Samson Imonode finished 5th last year, one step ahead of Schneider, and has beaten the Bearcat this season. Michael Coleman of the Naval Academy (8th at 165) has beaten Imonode twice. After him, in no particular order, come Sacred Heart's Edward Antler; Brown's Christian LaFragola, Bucknell frosh Garrett Hoffman, Drexel's Alex DeCiantis, F&M's Anthony Mancini, and Lehigh frosh Kyle Gentile.
In two weeks Dean has the opportunity to join Ed Perry of Pittsburgh, Mike Caruso of Lehigh, and Kyle Dake of Cornell (4) as EIWA wrestlers who have won three NCAA titles.
197 - NCAA bids: 4
Defending Champion: Brett Harner, Princeton
Senior champ Harner will try to win his second title in a wide-open field where everyone's taken turns beating each other. Tom Sleigh of Bucknell will also be seeded high; he looks to improve on his 5th and 7th places. Cornell will send out Ben Honis, who recently edged Harner.
Others looking to challenge include American's Jeric Kasunic, 5th last year; Steban Cervantes of Navy, 8th in 2015, who has the only EIWA win over Sleigh; Army's Rocco Caywood, who beat Cervantes; and Penn's Frank Mattiace, a two-time placewinner . Look for upsets in all rounds.
285 - NCAA bids: 4
Returning Champion: None
Both finalists from last year have graduated, leaving another open weight. The top two seeds will probably come from the trio of Doug Vollaro of Lehigh, 4th two years ago; Joey Goodhart of Drexel, 7th last year; and three-time medalist Ray O'Donnell of Princeton. Vollaro, who has overcome two major leg injuries in his career, has a win over O'Donnell this year; but has lost two close decisions to Goodhart. O'Donnell has beaten Goodhart and Cornell's Craig Scott.
5th-year senior Scott has wrestled sparingly this year after a career of injuries but he's the only EIWA wrestler with a win over Columbia's Garrett Ryan. Ryan, 6th two years ago, has wins over Goodhart and O'Donnell. Want to bet on an outside shot? Tyler Greene of Bucknell, 8th at 197 last year, put together an eight-meet dual winning streak late in the year, seven against EIWA opponents. And he's a senior wrestling at home for the last time.
For those looking ahead, the 114th EIWA tournament will be hosted by Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, March 3rd and 4th, 2018. The 115th tournament will be held at Binghamton University, dates to be announced.
EIWA Championships schedule
Friday, March 3
- 11 a.m.: Championship First Round
- 2:15 p.m.: First Round Wrestlebacks
- 6 p.m.: Championship Quarterfinals
- 7:30 p.m.: Wrestleback Quarterfinals
Saturday, March 4
- 10 a.m.: Semifinals
- 12:45 p.m.: Wrestleback Semifinals
- 1:35 p.m.: 7th-Place Matches
- 4 p.m.: 1st, 3rd, and 5th Place Matches
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