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Wrestlers Honored At Annual Team Banquet

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Several members of the Army wrestling team were recently recognized for their achievements during the 2008-09 season as the squad celebrated its annual awards banquet.

Junior 197-pounder Richard Starks and junior 149-pounder Matt Kyler were both recognized as winners of the Mike Natvig Award, which honors the team’s most outstanding wrestler. Senior 141-pounder William Simpson, sophomore 141-pounder Casey Thome, freshman 165-pounder Michael Gorman and freshman 149-pounder James Rafferty were also honored during the evening’s events.

I though we had another solid year with a lot of strong performances,” said Army head coach Chuck Barbee. “I am especially proud to send off our seniors. Competing at the Division I level for four years is a tough road to go down and each of them gave it everything they had, every day. They are winners and will forever be a part of the Army Wrestling Program.”

Kyler compiled a 40-7 record, including a spotless 18-0 dual meet mark, on his way to the fifth-highest single-season win total in Academy history. Ranked as high as sixth nationally during the season, he won individual titles at the New York State Championships and the All-Academy Championships, while also finishing runner-up at the Oklahoma-Gold Classic and the Body Bar Invitational. Kyler’s second-place finish at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships nabbed him his third-straight appearance at the NCAA Tournament. His 114-27 record over the last three years ranks fourth in Academy history and is only 20 behind three-time All-America Black Knight Phillip Simpson, who compiled a program-best 134-19 career mark before graduating in 2005. Kyler’s team-best 18 falls this season give him 38 for his career, which is the third-highest total in the history of the program.

Starks rolled to a 33-6 record this season while putting together a 15-3 dual meet mark. He wrestled his way to first-place finishes at the New York State Championships and the All-Academy Championships, while taking second at the Oklahoma-Gold Classic, the Body Bar Invitational and the Las Vegas Invitational. Starks also wrestled to the championship match at the EIWA Championships, but suffered a knee injury that not only kept him from competing for the conference title, but also prohibited him from competing in the slot at the NCAA Championships he had qualified for. Starks’ will enter his senior year with a three-year mark of 79-21.

Simpson garnered the Carl R. Arvin Memorial Award, which is presented to the member of the senior class that distinguished himself in leadership, scholarship and commitment to Army Wrestling. The team co-captain stepped into the starting 141-pound spot late in the season and qualified for his second appearance at the NCAA Championships after wrestling to a fourth-place effort at the EIWA Championships. His 19-10 mark included a third-place showing at the New York State Championships and a fifth-place effort at the Body Bar Invitational. Simpson upset 10th-seeded Michael Thorn of Minnesota during the NCAA Tournament.

Thome was named the team’s Most Improved Wrestler after totaling a 25-11 record and a 13-5 dual meet mark. His season included winning performances at the New York State Championships and the All-Academy Championships, along with a fourth-place effort at the Body Bar Invitational. The Black Knights’ top 141-pounder performer for most of the season, he suffered a torn ACL in the Navy dual meet that ended his season and prevented him from wrestling for a conference title and a slot in the NCAA Tournament. His two-year personal record stands at 58-27.

Gorman lauded the Crum Memorial Award, recognizing the most courageous wrestler from the freshman class. He took over the top spot at 165 pounds early in the season and spent the majority of the year wrestling as the starter. His 11-18 record included a fifth-place effort at the Binghamton Open, while he also competed a the Oklahoma-Gold Classic, the Body Bar Invitational, the Las Vegas Invitational and the All-Academy Championships.

Rafferty landed the Leroy Alitz “Mr. Intensity” Award, which honors the most dedicated worker on the squad. Rafferty compiled a 14-13 mark while notching a runner-up effort at the Long Island Open and a fourth-place showing at the Edinboro Open. His season also included matches at the Oklahoma-Gold Classic, the Binghamton Open, the Body Bar Invitational, the Ted Reese Invitational and the Shorty Hitchcock Invitational.

The seven members of the senior class were also recognized, including Simpson, co-captain Whitt Dunning (133), David Mason (125), Brock Epps (157), Brian Rowan (157), John Drew (165) and Michael Sprigg (285).

Army finished with a 10-6-2 dual meet mark before taking seventh place at the EIWA Championships in March. Three Black Knights (Kyler, Starks, Simpson) qualified for the NCAA Championships, marking the fourth year in a row that at least three Black Knights have been selected to compete in the national field.

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