This Saturday, January 27th, 2018 marks the 24th annual All Academy Championships. Teams representing the five United States service academies, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine Academy will travel to South Carolina where The Citadel will play host to this year’s tournament. VMI and Norwich will join their brethren to round out the eight-team field. Before the action begins, here are five things to watch for this weekend.
1) Can Army make it a three-peat?
A year ago, Army edged Navy by 5.5 points to win back-to-back All-Academy titles for the first time in program history. It may surprise some to learn it was just the fourth time the team from West Point had lifted the championship trophy, but with Navy having taken top honors 13 times, there just hasn’t been a lot of room for others to get in there. Kevin Ward’s squad returns 2017 All Academy champion Trey Chalifoux (125) as well as finalists from last year in Austin Harry (moving up from 133 to 141), Andrew Mendel (165), and Ben Harvey (174). With a strong Navy crew intent on taking the top spot away from their rivals, Army will need strong performances by wrestlers such as Lane Peters (133), Luke Weiland (157), Noah Stewart (184), and Rocco Caywood (197), all of whom are capable. The winning total last season was 103.5 and the took three champions, eight finalists, and nine top-four finishers. Another championship will require the entire team to perform well.
2) Navy are the favorites.
Despite Army having won the last two, Navy look to be the best team heading for McAlister Field House this weekend. They are led by a trio of ranked wrestlers, number 15 Nic Gil (141), Jadaen Bernstein (174), who sits 11th, and Michael Coleman (184), who is ranked 17th in the country. Also returning are All Academy champions Drew Daniels (165) and Steban Cervantes (197), who won alongside Bernstein, Coleman, and Jared Prince a year ago. Prince will not go at 149 pounds with the Midshipmen opting for Corey Wilding instead. He too is a strong competitor who comes in 17-7 on the season. Frontline strength should not be a problem for Joel Sharratt’s bunch, though, with the small field, they’ll need their rank and file to come through. In 2017, they won five weights and placed nine in the top four, but still fell short. That means the performances of Aslan Kilic (125), Cody Trybus (133), Zack Davis (157), and Austin Faunce (285) will be crucial. Davis has been flirting with the bottom of the rankings all season. Look for him to come up big.
3) Air Force is back!
After the government shutdown briefly brought Air Force athletics to a halt and caused the Falcons’ dual against Cal Poly to be canceled, it is good to see that the squad will be able to compete this weekend. They finished just 10 points behind Army in 2017, third overall. They did lose three of their four finalists from that team, bringing back only runner-up Anthony McLaughlin at 197. Sam Barber’s crew does return bronze medalists Alex Mossing (157), Michael Billingsley (174), and Zen Ikehara (184). If they are to challenge the top two in 2018, though, they need Tony DeCesare (125), a fifth-place finisher at the Southern Scuffle, Isaac Jimenez (133), who upended Scott Parker (Lehigh) there before finishing eighth, Dane Robbins (149), and Alex Lopouchanski (165), a third-place finisher at this tournament two years ago, to do well. It will be difficult for anyone to take down Navy, but the three teams we’ve discussed so far should be the top three again this time around.
4) Defending the home turf.
The only 2017 All Academy champion that did not hail from Army, Navy, or Air Force was Ty Buckiso (The Citadel) who won his second title at this event. In three appearances at the All Academy Championships to date, the senior has lost just once, to Logan Everett (Army) in the 2016 semifinals. Now, he gets to face his challengers in his home gym as he searches for a third crown. He has already beaten Dane Robbins (Air Force) this season and topped Corey Wilding (Navy) in last year’s competition. Look for him to give the home crowd something to cheer about. He’ll be pushed in the final, but he is the favorite to go out on top.
5) DIII scrapping.
While the Division I schools will dominate the podium, the Coast Guard, Merchant Marine Academy, and Norwich will be doing their best to get their licks in where they can. Coast Guard is ranked 22nd in DIII as a team and was the highest placing team from that division here last season, earning a pair of fourth-place finishes. One of those, Nick Remke (165) will try to do even better this season. Chris Sullivan (157) is ranked 10th in DIII for the Bears while AJ Aeberli is eighth at 174. Merchant Marine Academy’s Blake Bunce (197) was also fourth and returns for another go around in 2018. Keep an eye on those guys as the tournament gets underway. With this small bracket format, any upset of one of the DI contenders could determine the team champions.