PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Sophomore Bryce Saddoris (Spring Creek, Nev.) was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler after winning his first EIWA title, while senior Joe Baker (Poway, Calif.) earned his second consecutive EIWA crown to lead the Navy wrestling team to a fifth-place finish at the 105th EIWA Championship held at The Palestra in Philadelphia. While Saddoris and Baker have earned automatic berths to the 2009 NCAA?Championship slated for March 19-21 in St. Louis, Mo., so, too, did rookie Luke Rebertus (Elkton, Md.), who placed fifth at 174 pounds.
With four individual winners, Cornell easily earned its second straight EIWA title with a 35-point advantage over second-place Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks crowned two champions and were unchallenged for the second position. Though it did not finish with an individual champion, Bucknell made the loudest noise on Sunday, jumping from fifth place into a tie for third with Penn, who also was without a champion. The Mids finished in fifth place with 70 points, nine behind Bucknell and Penn and two points ahead of sixth-place American.
The Mids sent five wrestlers into the semifinals on Sunday, as well as a pair into the consolation bracket, however Saddoris and Baker were the lone wrestlers to place among the top four. It’s the third consecutive year Navy has captured at least two of the individual titles. The last time the Mids were able to achieve that feat was in the mid-90s (1992-93, 1993-94, 1994-95) when the late Doug Zembiec and heavyweight Dan Hicks won back-to-back titles.
Meanwhile, freshmen Prescott Garner (125) (West Linn, Ore.)?and Rebertus, along with sophomore Matt DeMichiel (165) (Whitesboro, N.Y.) captured fifth place and senior Casey Caldwell (184) (Liberty, Ind.) concluded the tournament in sixth.
“The day started out a little rocky, but we finished strong. I believe we won five of our last six matches and that is exactly the way you want a tournament to end,” said ninth-year Navy head coach Bruce Burnett, who has put seven wrestlers atop the EIWA podium in the last three years. I’m disappointed that we only have three wrestlers who qualified for the NCAA Championship, but there is an outside chance that perhaps Prescott or Casey could get a wildcard later this week.”
Baker was the second wrestler of the evening to pick up a championship and the first for Navy, as he clipped second-seeded Mike Grey of Cornell, 5-3. Heading into the final period, things looked bleak for top-seeded Baker who faced a 2-0 deficit after Grey was awarded a point for Baker’s second stall warning. Baker, though, sliced the lead in half just three seconds into the period and then took a 3-2 lead with 1:23 to go on a takedown. Twelve seconds later, the Grey evened the score with an escape. With just 20 seconds remaining in the match, Baker took Grey down to the mat to earn the 5-3 win.
“I can’t put into words how great I’m feeling right now,” said Baker, who has battled through multiple injuries this season. “To come back after being down in that match and win is just amazing. Quite honestly, I didn’t know I had been called for stalling twice, so I was taken aback by the score.
“In the second period there was a crazy scramble between Grey and myself that lasted what seemed close to a minute. I felt like I willed myself not to get taken down and after getting through that, I felt confident. I saw that he was tired and I?wasn’t, so I just went for it.”
Baker seized the opportunity to become only the 25th wrestler in school history to win two EIWA titles, while also earning the distinction of just the fifth wrestler in Navy history to qualify for the NCAA?Tournament all four years.
“It probably won’t sink in until I”m much older and wiser, but I’m honored an thankful for the opportunity,” added Baker. “I do want to thank the coaches and the training staff for helping me get back this year. It was important to me to get back out on the mat.”
Baker’s championship bout was set up by a huge 8-3 win over rival David Marble of Bucknell. The two have exchanged wins over the last few seasons and it was Marble who Baker upset in last year’s title match to win his first EIWA crown.
“I don’t get nervous. I didn’t even get nervous at nationals last year. But going into that match with Marble, I felt that knot in my stomach and I?started talking to myself and trying to breath and get through it. I was confident in my ability and the shape that I was in, but I really hadn’t been tested up until that point, so I?think that was part of what made me anxious.”
“Bryce Saddoris and Joe Baker wrestled in two of the most exciting matches I’ve seen in quite some time,” remarked Burnett. “Joe just kept getting better and better each match he wrestled in. I am so proud of what he has been able to accomplish. To come back after all of these injuries, it really took a great deal of heart to win. I’m just so happy for him.”
Just two matches later, it was Saddoris’ opportunity to become the Mids’ second EIWA champion of the evening, but it would be a tall task. Not only was it the most talented weight class among the field, Saddoris was facing a foe he had lost to twice in recent weeks, Academy rival Matt Kyler of Army. Saddoris dropped a 4-2 decision to Kyler in the championship bout of the All-Academy Championship on Feb. 7 and then lost a 2-1 match in the annual Star Match just two weeks ago.
Early in Sunday’s championship bout, it looked as though Saddoris might succumb to Kyler a third straight time as the Army junior had built a 3-0 lead after the first two periods. But in one of the most spectacular matches of the evening, Saddoris fought his way back into the match. Eight seconds into the final period, Saddoris trimmed the lead to two with an escape. And just 13 seconds later, Kyler was hit with his second stall warning of the match and the lead was down to one. With under 10 seconds to go in the match, Saddoris was able to score the takedown to take the 4-3 lead, but Kyler was cut loose at the buzzer for the tying point, sending the match into overtime.
After a scoreless sudden victory period, two 30-second tie breakers were put into place. Kyler was down first, but Saddoris was able to ride him out, setting himself up for the win if we could escape. And he did just that, taking the 5-4 TB win.
“Winning the EIWA Championship was amazing,” said Saddoris, who became only the fourth wrestler in program history to reach 40 wins in a season. “It’s the hardest I’ve worked and the best I’ve ever done. From the beginning of the season, my mindset was to win the EIWA Championship and go to qualify for the NCAA?Championship. When you fulfill a goal, sometimes you just can’t describe how great it feels. I’m so excited.”
Not only did Saddoris become a first-time EIWA Champion, he was also rewarded by being named the Most Outstanding Wrestler.
“I’m really honored,” added Saddoris, who admitted he thought they were actually playing a joke on home when his name was announced. “The other nine champions are amazing wrestlers, so this is just a great honor. I’m truly thrilled to have received this honor. In accepting this, I want to thank the coaches, especially Coach Antonelli who has focused in on helping me all year. I think there were probably about two days in the last few weeks that I didn’t wrestle Coach Antonelli. He threw everything at me and really helped me achieve this today.”
Saddoris will make his second appearance in the NCAA Tournament after qualifying as a freshman a year ago. He was bounced after suffering back-to-back losses, including a 6-1 decision against Lehigh’s Trevor Chinn. Ironically, it was Chinn who Saddoris beat in this year’s EIWA semifinals to punch his ticket into the championship bout.
Garner lost his semifinal match to eventual 125-pound champion Troy Nickerson of Cornell and was unable to get the win he needed to put him in that all-important third-place match. Instead a 9-4 loss against Brown’s Greg Einfrank sent him to the fifth-place match where he turned in a 10-6 win over eighth-seeded John McDonald of Lehigh. On a side note, Garner’s attention in the match against Einfrank may have been elsewhere, as the rookie lost a tooth in his scramble with Nickerson.
DeMichiel, meanwhile, fought off a knee injury to earn a fifth-place spot in the championship. Lehigh’ Mike Galante pinned DeMichiel in the consolation semifinals, however, the 165-pound sophomore came back to fend off American’s Christopher Stout, 9-4.
With perhaps another second on the clock, Navy would have put three in the finals on Sunday evening, however, a late takedown by Rebertus would not be counted. Rebertus, the fourth seed, had a tough semifinal battle on his hands facing undefeated Mike Cannon of American. As time was winding down, Rebertus got Cannon on the mat, but was unable to lock the hold for the points, succumbing to the eventual 174-pound champion, 4-3.
Rebertus failed to make the third-place round after Bucknell’s Shane Riccio dealt him a 3-1 loss, however, he captured a 5-2 win over Penn’s Scott Giffin in the fifth-place match. It was a solid win for Rebertus who lost by major decision to the Quaker at the Virginia Duals in early January.
“I really thought Luke was going to get Cannon at the last second, but he was unable to score the points at the buzzer,” said Burnett. “He was certainly capable of winning the next match, but his focus wasn’t there. It’s difficult to lose a tough one like that in the semifinals and then come back and be mentally prepared in such a short time.”
Finally, Caldwell dropped out of the championship bracket following a major decision by eventual 184-pound title winner David Craig of Lehigh. He went on to lose back-to-back matches against Brown’s Matt Gevelinger (4-1) and David Thompson of Bucknell (5-1)?to place sixth.
In the morning, senior Philip Neese (Lexington, S.C.) lost his quarterfinal consolation match against Columbia’s Lou Miller in sudden victory, 6-4, to close out his wrestling career.
Final EIWA Team Standings
Pl Points Team Champions
1 138 Cornell 125 – Troy Nickerson; 157 – Jordan Leen; 165 – Mack Lewnes; 197 – Cam Simaz
2 103 Lehigh 141 – Seth Ciasulli; 184 – David Craig
3 79 Bucknell
5 70 Navy 133 – Joe Baker; 149 – Bryce Saddoris
6 68 American 174 – Mike Cannon
7 50 Army
8 48.5 Harvard
9 47.5 Rutgers
10 43 Columbia HWT – Ryan Flores
11 34.5 Brown
12 15.5 East Stroudburg
13 8.5 Franklin & Marshall
14 3 PrincetonSpecial Awards
The Coaches Trophy (Most Outstanding Wrestler) – Bryce Saddoris, Navy
Fletcher Award (Most career points at EIWA Championship) – Steve Anceravage, Cornell
Sheridan Award (Most falls) – Troy Nickerson, Cornell
Coach of the Year – Pat Santoro, Lehigh
Good Sportsmanship Award – Lehigh