photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
Head Coach Derrick Nelson 2nd year
Previous Team Previews
There is not a team in Division II with a better mascot than the Coker University Cobras. There are so many ways you can go with that, the Karate Kid and Dodgeball are just two examples. “Strike first, strike fast, no mercy!” “We are, we are, the Purple *clap clap* Cobras!” There is even the Cobra Commander option and as an 80s baby, I am a huge fan of that. I am also a fan of second-year head coach Derrick Nelson. He took over the program in March of 2018, returning to the University he competed for and coached just the fourth national qualifier in program history. They will return a national qualifier and their senior leader, Ramon Correa, to a lineup that should send even more athletes to the national tournament this March.
There is quite a bit left to shake out in this lineup, but one thing is for sure, it will be better than a year ago. The Cobras won just two dual meets in a region that is only going to get better with the addition of new programs like Lander. They also are competing against the historical power in the south University of North Carolina Pembroke and the surging Newberry College. I expect that the talented transfers they have added, as well as their returners, will be ready to show that the Cobras are very happy in their environment down south. I am sure there will be Division I fans that know a couple of the names below. What could be the most interesting part of the early season for coach Nelson may be seeing what wrestlers are headed towards redshirts. I love seeing programs be successful below the Mason-Dixon line and Coker can be part of that resurgence.
125: John Watts (So) Willacoochee, GA
Arty Walsh (R-Jr) Leesport, PA
I know what you are thinking right now Pennsylvania fans, Arty Walsh? Not only is he still eligible, but he has also found a new home at Coker University. He still has two years of eligibility left which means the former Lehigh and Messiah student-athlete could be a Cobra for the next two seasons. Working in his favor beyond experience is an “old man” strength which he should have in spades. Want to hear something really crazy, head coach Derrick Nelson wrestled him in high school. John Watts had by all standards a successful freshman year leading the Cobras in wins and finishing 19-8. He had some good wins including one over national qualifier Melvin Rubio (Queens). The arrival of Walsh could mean a redshirt for Watts, but if not, I expect him to be an improved wrestler with the new workout partner at his disposal. He won the King Open, went 3-2 at the Hokie Open, and 2-2 at the Midwest Classic.
133: Chris Poland (So) Hastings, MI
Omar Armengol (Fr) Hialeah, FL
Chris Poland’s and Omar Armengol’s hometowns are 1,400 miles apart as the crow flies. Poland will be a sophomore and after finishing his true freshman year with a 12-8 record, there is room for growth. His best win last season was against Alexis Soriano (Mercyhurst) who enters this season ranked sixth in the country. Omar Armengol will challenge for his spot in the lineup, and the Mater Lakes Academy graduate will bring his strong neutral wrestling skills to Coker. He is fresh off a state finals appearance in Florida where he fell just short of a title. If Poland wins this spot, I think it makes the Cobra’s a stronger team. His experience against the best this weight has to offer will make him invaluable.
141: Pat Wunderlich (R-Fr) Myrtle Beach, SC
Zach Van Alst (R-Fr) Prattville, AL
Pat Wunderlich wrestled at the Georgia Open last season finishing 2-2 on the day. The South Carolina state finalist in 2018 saw limited action a year ago, but he could be called upon to spot start at times this season. Why would he not have the job full-time? Zach Van Alst is on campus. The six-time Alabama state champion is back from an injury that kept him out of the Air Force Academy lineup and brought him closer to home. He is an immediate upgrade to this lineup at a weight where the highest-ranked returner in the regional is 11th-ranked Sha’mun Smith (Limestone). Van Alst will fight with him and Ronnie Pietro (UNC Pembroke) for a place in the finals and a berth at the national tournament. His background as a two-time Fargo Greco All-American will give opponents trouble this season and could spell big-time bonus points for coach Nelson.
149: Alex Miller (So) Helena, AL
Matt Kieta (Sr) Sevierville, TN
There will be limited experience in the lineup that comes from wrestlers who began their career as a Cobra, but Matt Kieta is part of that group. The two-time Tennessee state champion has spent time as a starter in the past with limited success, but I expect that he will benefit from the addition of some very good workout partners. Alex Miller looks to have grown out of the 141 weight class and after starting for the Cobras in three duals last year. His 2-1 mark against Division II wrestlers includes a victory over ninth-ranked Jon Miller (UNC Pembroke). Miller beat him by a 17-6 major decision in their only meeting. Kieta may be the frontrunner here, but Miller has shown he is ready to wrestle against top athletes. We will probably see them both entered at the Pembroke Classic the second weekend in November.
157: Ryan Camp (So) Canton, GA
Eli Crum (Fr) Tallahassee, FL
Ryan Camp is 1-0 in his MMA career, but he will be putting that on hold for at least another year as he has enrolled at Coker University. The sophomore last wrestled for Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa in 2017-18. The Georgia native returns closer to home and I may be biased towards loving Iowa, but I can understand a young man from Georgia not feeling like it was the right fit. The talented sophomore may wait until the second semester to make his Cobra debut which means true freshman Eli Crum will get the start early on. The Lincoln High school graduate moves north from his Florida home to try and earn the starting spot. Crum is a fundamentally sound wrestler who was a two-time Florida state qualifier who was never able to find his way onto the podium. He is the type of wrestler who is going to get better in college, and if he is not the full-time wrestler this year for coach Nelson, it is only a matter of time before he is.
165: Bret Shurina (Sr) Unionville, VA
Corey Christie (So) Lower Burrell, PA
Bret Shurina was the definition of “utility man” for Coker University wrestling last season. He wrestled matches at 157, 165, and 174 pounds and his 18 wins were second on the team. Shurina finished 3-2 at the Super Regional wrestling at 157 and just missed qualifying for the national tournament. He will be a senior leader for this team and maybe the most essential wrestler for the Cobras, as he goes so will go the second half of this lineup. This spot belonged to Corey Christie last season and now the sophomore will have to try and defend his realm from Shurina’s incursion. Christie earned a dozen wins a year ago highlighted by his seven-match win streak to open the season. He went 7-0 between the King and Georgia Opens, notching a win over Emmanuel All-American Kevin Almond. Christie still has a redshirt available, and if I were him, I would use it this season. A year working in the room would prepare him to take over the 165 spot next season and still have three years left.
174: Jhavon Innocent (Jr) Spring Valley, NY
The first of two junior college All-Americans who will be added to the Coker roster in 2019-20, Jhavon Innocent was the first in the history of SUNY Sullivan last season. Innocent finished eighth at the junior college national tournament and now he brings that All-American experience to a team looking for the second in its history. I am excited about what this lineup will be capable of between 165 and 184. It will be weird looking at the lineup for a college in South Carolina and seeing so many wrestlers from up north.
184: Corey Perkins (R-Jr) Chicago, IL
David Alvarez (Fr) Argyle, TX
Corey Perkins is not only a Michigan Community College Athletics Association Champion, but he was also an NJCAA All-American last year. The Muskegon Community College transfer will fit right in this lineup with the rest of the newcomers. If nothing else, he should enjoy the weather more than Michigan. Perkins is an explosive athlete who should thrive under the tutelage of assistant head coach Robert Parland. If the Cobras require another wrestler to man this spot, true freshman David Alvarez out of the Lonestar State could be the answer. Alvarez comes to Coker from one of the premier Texas parochial schools and has been part of a winning tradition there. He will need a season or two to develop, but with Perkins and Innocent as training partners he has a very high ceiling.
197: Marco Mason Jr (Sr) Stafford, VA
Matthew Strong (Fr) Neptune Beach, FL
We may see a true freshman at this weight for Coker University. Matthew Strong does not just have a great wrestling name, he is also an outstanding athlete from the Atlantic coast of Florida. If Marco Mason stumbles this season, I expect the freshman to get a serious look from coach Nelson. Mason struggled to get going last season losing eight matches in a row to start his junior year. He found a bit of a groove winning five straight dual bouts heading into the Super Regional, but his momentum ended there. A below .500 record cannot happen for anyone in this lineup this season, Nelson needs to build winning psychology to have a team that can challenge Newberry and UNC Pembroke. How Mason starts off this coming year is going to be very important and I expect that he put in the work this offseason to make the necessary improvements.
Hwt: #7 Ramon Correa (Sr) West Olive, MI
Ramon Correa will be the leader of the Coker Cobras this season. He is their only returning NCAA Division II national qualifier and will be the only wrestler ranked to begin this year. Heavyweight is a deep weight class, but Ramon will be the favorite to win this Super Regional this season. His only challenger should be Daniel Bland (Limestone) with whom he split the season series 1-1 a year ago. Correa is a Muskegon Community College product and was integral in adding Corey Perkins this season. If there is a knock against his wrestling, it is that he can give up big points. Correa gave up five falls last season while only earning five himself. If he can clean that stat up, he will help Coker win significantly more than two duals.