ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Home duals against nationally-ranked programs Oklahoma and Maryland, as well as the annual Army-Navy Star Match highlight Navy’s 2011-12 wrestling schedule released Tuesday by 12th-year Midshipmen wrestling coach Bruce Burnett. Additionally, Navy fans will be treated to the 34th-annual Navy Classic in which the Mids have claimed the team title 18 times.
In keeping with Burnett’s coaching philosophy, the Midshipmen will spend the majority of the first half of the season competing amid the national tournament scene. The Mids kick off the season at the Eastern Michigan Open on Nov. 5, a tournament Navy has competed in each of the last seven years.
The Mids normally have a week off before playing host to the Navy Classic, but Burnett has tweaked the schedule to accommodate finals this year. Instead of wrestling at the Reno Tournament of Champions in mid-December, Navy will take part in the Second-Annual Wrestle for a Cure Duals benefiting cystic fibrosis on Nov. 12 in Harrisburg, Pa. The Mids will face Nebraska, who placed 12th at last year’s NCAA Championship, Kent State, who finished 17th at the national tournament and Buffalo all in the same day. Navy and Buffalo will kick things off at 11:00 am, followed by a 3:00 pm battle vs. Nebraska with Kent State capping the day at 5:00 pm.
“The Reno Tournament of Champions is a fine tournament and one that gave our wrestlers a great challenge, however the timing of it put a great deal of pressure on our wrestlers to get their finals completed in what was too short of a time period. It’s a good tournament, but the timing just wasn’t working for the best interest of our student-athletes.
“That said, by wrestling in the Wrestle for a Cure Duals we are still focused on facing some of the best competition. Nebraska is traditionally a top-10 team and both Kent State and Buffalo have placed well in the tournament.”
Navy will return home on Nov. 19 to play host to the Navy Classic, a tournament whose roots date back to 1978 and has seen the Midshipmen win 18 of the 33 team titles. Twenty-seven Navy wrestlers placed in the annual event a year ago, including senior Aaron Kalil (Salem, N.H.) who won the 125-pound title for a ssecond-straight year and Joe Locksmith (Kissimmee, Fla.), who took the 141-pound title in what was his rookie season.
The Mids open the month of December by taking part in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational on Dec. 2-3. Navy will also send a team of wrestlers to the Nittany Lion Open a day later. Meanwhile, Navy will wrestle a final time in the month with a Dec. 9 dual at Franklin & Marshall (7:30 pm). The Mids own a flawless 19-0 record against the Diplomats, rekindling the series a year ago after it went dormant following the 2005 season.
Navy opens the new year with an appearance at the Southern Scuffle, the Mids’ final tournament of the regular season, on Jan. 1-2. The Mids have competed in each of the last seven Scuffles and have placed among the top 10 in six of their seven appearances.
“Honestly our goal is simple, wrestle as many of the top 20 teams from the previous championship. There’s no better way to accomplish that than to take part in tournaments. At last count, I believe we’ll see roughly 23 of the top 25 teams from last year’s championship,” said Burnett. “My focus is on the national tournament and to prepare them, we need to be able to see and compete against the guys that we will see at the end of the year at the National Championship.”
While Burnett values the benefits tournaments provide during the early part of the season, he equally praises the extra practice time his wrestlers receive over the latter months of competition by competing in duals.
“We’re able to get a ton of matches in before the turn of the calendar year and that gives us time to evaluate and fine tune things in the months of January and February in preparation for the tournament. The schedule has served us well over the years.”
Burnett has put together a strong dual schedule for the second half of the season which kicks off on Jan. 7 against Oklahoma (7:30 pm), who placed 16th at the NCAA Championship last spring and crowned three All-Americans.
Navy will wrestle back-to-back road matches on Jan. 13 and 14 against East Stroudsburg and Lehigh, respectively. Navy has won 14 straight against East Stroudsburg, including a 28-12 win two years ago. Although the Mountain Hawks have gotten the better of Navy in recent years, the Mids took a 19-15 victory over Lehigh last year in Annapolis. Navy, however, is looking to score its first win over Lehigh in Bethlehem since 1995.
The Midshipmen return home the following weekend to play host to Maryland (Jan. 20) at 7:30 pm. Having met every year since 1951, Navy owns a 48-11-3 series advantage. That said, fourth-year head coach Kerry McCoy has the Terrapin program moving in the right direction and has led them to four-straight narrow wins over the Mids.
Navy will close out the month with three-consecutive duals on the road, including a Jan. 22 match at Rutgers (2:00 pm). The Scarlet Knights have won just five matches all-time against the Midshipmen, however fifth-year head coach Scott Goodale has led Rutgers to three-straight wins over Navy and has put the Scarlet Knights back on the map.
Meanwhile, the Mids will wrestle back-to-back duals at North Carolina (1:00 pm) and Campbell (7:00 pm) on Jan 28. The Mids have won eight of the last nine duals against the Tar Heels, including a 21-19 decision last year which marked Burnett’s 100th-career victory. While Campbell has participated in the Navy Classic in recent memory, the Jan. 28 date will mark the first dual between the two programs.
After claiming the All-Academy Championship team title a year ago by more than 30 points over second-place The Citadel, the Mids will defend their title on Feb. 5 when Air Force plays host to the 18th installment of the All-Academy Championship. Navy has been the dominant team in the tournament, winning 10 of the 17 championships including seven of the last eight. Navy has won 64 individual crowns in All-Academy Championship history, including 38 of the 80 titles over the last eight years. The Mids won the team title in 1995, `97, `99, `04, `05, `06, `07, `09, ‘10 and ‘11, while they have claimed five or more individual titles in 1997, `99, `04, `05, `07, `08, ‘10 and in ‘11. Last year, five Midshipmen won individual crowns, while three others placed second.
Just 12 days later, on Feb. 17, the Mids will play host to Army in the annual Star Match. Navy won seven of the 10 bouts a year ago, including the last four, to secure a 24-9 victory over the Black Knights at Christl Aren in West Point. In addition to owning a 45-5-5 series advantage, the Mids have won 11-straight matches over their service academy rival.
The month of March is dedicated to a pair of championships, the EIWA Championship and the NCAA Championship. Princeton will serve as the host institution for this year’s EIWA Championship set for March 3-4 in Princeton, N.J. Anchored by the efforts of four NCAA Championship qualifiers and eight overall placewinners, Navy finished sixth out of 13 teams at the 107th EIWA Championship. A year ago, Bryce Saddoris (Spring Creek, Nev.) and Matt DMichiel (Whitesboro, N.Y.) each qualified in their respective weight classes (157 & 174) by wrestling in the championship bout, while 2011-12 team captain Aaron Kalil and two-time NCAA qualifier Luke Rebertus (Gloucester, Va.) punched their tickets via third and fourth-place finishes, respectively.
“The EIWA right now is probably the second-best conference in the country,” said Burnett. “The Big 10 is still dominating, but the EIWA had three teams finish in the top 10 of last year’s Championship (#2 Cornell, #5 American, #8 Lehigh). We are up to the challenge, but we have to wrestle to the best of our ability every time we step onto the mat.”
The 2011-12 NCAA Championship will be held March 15-17 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Four Navy wrestlers helped lead the Midshipmen to a 37th-place finish at the 2010-11 NCAA Championship at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., including Saddoris who earned his second All-America citation in what was his senior year. Two-time NCAA qualifiers Kalil and Rebertus return to the mat for the Mids this season in their senior years.
Due to the renovations of Halsey Field House, Navy will utilize two venues for its home matches this season. Navy will wrestle its dual match against Oklahoma (Jan. 7) at the Wesley Brown Field House, as well as the Blue/Gold Challenge Matches (Oct. 29) and the Navy Classic (Nov. 19). Meanwhile, the Mids will face Maryland (Jan. 20) and Army (Feb. 17) at Alumni Hall.
The first glance at the 2011-12 Midshipmen squad will be Oct. 29 when Navy holds its annual Blue/Gold Challenge Matches slated to begin at 7:00 pm.
Courtesy of Navy Sports Information