Feature Articles

Bryant Bytes: From Virginia to Springfield

By Jason Bryant
Editor, Amateur Wrestling News

bryant-bytesThe Bryant Bytes has been on a short hiatus due to the holidays, travel and family time. I had the opportunity to work my 17th Virginia Duals over the weekend, so the majority of this week’s offering will focus there.

I routinely tell the story of my the first wrestling match I’d ever attended. It was a cold Wednesday night in January of 1995. My friend Terry “The Old Man” Daniels was an old Poquoson guy who got into wrestling during they heyday of Bull Island wrestling. Despite not having kids of his own, he was a wrestling fan who’d attend the state tournament just to support the school and the community. On this night, I sat in the wooden bleachers at Poquoson High watching my Islanders take on Deep Creek, coached by Steve Culpepper. Back then, Virginia was still on 13 weights. The 215-pound weight class would not be added until the next season.

Once I started figuring the scoring out, the sport grabbed hold of me. At 145 pounds, Wesley Backus picked up a fall and that was kind of the moment that told me wrestling was a sport I needed to be involved in. Two days later, I was at the Virginia Duals with Terry watching Poquoson knock off No. 18 McEachern of Georgia 27-26. Still to this day, one of the most memorable wrestling matches I’ll ever recall.

Last week, my wife, daughter and I drove 22 hours back to Poquoson to do our Christmas, since we didn’t make it back during the holiday season, we just tend to make the days leading into the Virginia Duals our family time.

Of course, there’s that monster of the Duals itself. After that 1995 dual during my sophomore year, I decided to try my hand at the sport. I was also moving into my chosen arena of expertise — broadcasting and journalism. I covered every Virginia Duals from 1996 through 2007. After a two-year hiatus during my stint with the NWCA and Wrestling 411, I returned in 2010 and don’t plan on missing another. It was also somewhat fitting to see my daughter at her first wrestling tournament — the very same “first” tournament for her proud poppa.

After managing the webcast operation again, courtesy of equipment provided by WrestlingVideoSolutions.com, a long week ended with another 22-hour drive home, split up into two segments.

From the Duals
When it comes to the wrestling, events like the Virginia Duals show the excitement that can build from a dual meet tournament. Countless times, I’d look over to the high school mats and see the match coming down to heavyweight. Only once during the high school tournaments was there a dual that came down to criteria, but the amount of tight matches and unheralded kids pulling out huge wins seemed to be commonplace at the end of each round. Quite amazing to see some of the nation’s best high school wrestlers jumping for joy when a pudgy high school heavyweight wins the match of his life. There’s a clear separation in talent level in some of those duals, but it just goes to show a team is only as strong as its “weakest” link. A tip of the cap to all those average heavyweights who battled for that big win. Some might never see the state tournament, but in a dual format, the heroes aren’t always the nationally-ranked studs.

Only once in the 33-year history of the Virginia Duals had a college team from the state of Virginia reached the championship finals. That came in 1983 when a Billy Martin Jr.-led team at Old Dominion came in second place. I would tell you who they wrestled, but for some reason, the chaps at Lunarpages shut down the Virginia Duals site midway through the tournament and allowed no option to get the site back up. Amazing, considering the traffic didn’t seem any higher than it had been in the past six years, so all the archives are currently in limbo, but more on those rants are on my Twitter account.

Anyway, Virginia upset Central Michigan to reach the finals to take on Virginia Tech in the final, assuring not only another Virginia-based finalist, but a team champion. Virginia Tech rolled in a rather uneventful final. Close bouts, a few overtimes, but nothing generally exciting. There was a good ovation from the Hokie faithful in Hampton, which was maybe a little better than expected. What’s notable about Virginia’s win over Central and their rise up the rankings comes from who wasn’t there.

The Cavs have been without Matt Nelson for pretty much the entire season, save his appearance at the Southern Scuffle. Mike Salopek has been battling injuries and heavyweight Dennis Papagianopolous was expected to have a breakout season, but he too, has been out of the lineup. Stephen Doty stepped up huge in the win over Central Michigan. Normally a 184-pounder, Doty’s win over Jackson Lewis at 197 pounds sealed the Cavaliers win, one that might have been already locked up had Donnie Corby not upset Derek Valenti earlier in the dual.

Quack Quack Quack, Mr. Clayton
With my apologies to Gordon Bombay, the Stevens Tech Ducks were mighty in their championship run in the American College Division. An Iowa native, head coach Mike Clayton wrestled at the Naval Academy and had coaching stints at the Newport News Apprentice School and Army before landing at Stevens Tech, which is just across the river from New York City in Hoboken, N.J.

The Ducks, a Division III program, opened up with a win over Division II Anderson before dispensing with Central Florida, an NCWA program. In the finals, Stevens rolled out to a big lead before topping Division III rival Brockport.

Clayton was instrumental in starting the American College Division when he was the head coach at the Apprentice School. He also finally has a decent haircut.

Springfield, not Shelbyville
Matt Groening fans will catch the reference, but since no one’s trying to scam Springfield, Ill., into buying a monorail, we’ll just stick with wrestling things.

The NWCA hosted the first leg of its NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals in Springfield over the weekend, the Multi-Divisional portion, pitting teams from Division II, Division III, NAIA, NJCAA and WCWA in five different events.

What was most telling about the event was the parity in Division II, where fourth-seeded St. Cloud State topped seventh-seeded Notre Dame College 17-15 in the finals.

St. Cloud State has risen up the ranks since Steve Costanzo arrived from Dana College and Notre Dame is making its first appearance at the Division II level after sitting in wrestling purgatory after making the reclassification from the NAIA. High school wrestling fans know how good Notre Dame’s Joey Davis was, but now the college world is seeing what he can do. The Iceman remains unbeaten on the year and is ranked No. 1 in Division II.

But we started out by talking about parity. Well, No. 1 Nebraska-Kearney was upset in the first round by UW-Parkside and No. 2 Newberry was ousted in the quarterfinals. With bracketing, that meant the No. 1 vs. No. 2 match wouldn’t happen in the finals, it would happen in the second round of the consolations. Newberry topped Kearney 20-11 and wrestled back to place fifth.

One of the top matchups came at heavyweight, where past NAIA champion Orlando Scales of Notre Dame fell to two-time Division II runner-up Jake Kahnke of St. Cloud State. It was also the bout that decided the team title.

In Division III, it wasn’t a surprise Wartburg won the championship, they’d done it on six previous occasions, but for the first time since the multi-divisional format was created, it wasn’t a matchup between Wartburg, Augsburg or UW-La Cross. This year, it was Elmhurst College standing across the mat from Jim Miller’s Wartburg Knights.

The end result was more of the same as Wartburg won yet another National Duals title, the final one for retiring coach Miller.

Perhaps the biggest shock was Augsburg not failing to reach the finals (they were bracketed to see Wartburg in the semis anyway), but was the Auggies loss to Johnson & Wales in the consolations to miss placing in the top eight. Augsburg was upended by Centenary (N.J.) in the quarters.

A key match came at 133 pounds where Johnson & Wales’ Justin Colon knocked off Augsburg’s Toosaporn Suparat 4-2.

Grand View repeated as champions, getting a fall from returning NAIA champion Eric Thompson at heavyweight to pull past Southern Oregon 20-18. Thompson, formerly of Iowa State, pinned another former Division I wrestler, Bubba Owens, formerly of Oregon State.

Simon Fraser ended Oklahoma City’s run of championships in the Women’s division. Simon Fraser, a school in British Columbia, had the aid of two experienced American women to help push the Clan (yes, their nickname) past the stars.

Victoria Anthony, a multiple-time Junior World Champion, tech falled Oklahoma City’s Brianna Rahall at 109 pounds, while Helen Maroulis, a silver medalist at the 2012 Women’s World Championships, pinned Brieana Delgado in just under a minute at 130 pounds.

One promising thing about Simon Fraser is its presence in NCAA Division II. SFU and King College are Division II schools with women’s college wrestling programs. A few more and we can finally get women’s wrestling listed as an emerging sport.

Labette rolled to the NJCAA title, losing only three individual bouts en route to the title.

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