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|Notes from the fifth session of the NCAA Championships, Saturday morning|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
Hofstra's performance continues building process
For the first time in team history, Hofstra Univ. had three Div. I All-Americans in the same year. Two wrestlers reached the semifinals, No. 5 Ryan Patrovich at 174 pounds and unseeded Chris Weidman at 197 pounds. The other Hofstra wrestle to earn All-American honors is Jon Masa at 149 pounds, a senior winning his third All-American award. Patrovich placed fourth, Masa fifth and Weidman sixth, and the team was in 11th place after the wrestleback rounds.
"Weidman had a decent year, but he really stepped it up at the nationals. That is the first time I have had that happen for me here," said Coach Tom Ryan. "The expectation for the athletes in the program is to place here. When you don't, you don't do your job. That is a big step for the mentality of this program.
Hofstra hails from the Colonial Athletic Association, and is the only team from the conference this year to bring home an All-American. The Pride qualified eight wrestlers to the tournament this year. Hofstra wrestles a national schedule, taking on many of the highly-ranked programs from the larger conferences on a regular basis. Hofstra is located on wrestling-rich Long Island in New York, but recruits nationally. Ryan hails from Long Island, and did his college wrestling at national powers Syracuse and Iowa.
"This is the first year we have had a fully funded team, with 9.9 scholarships," said Ryan. "We have two great assistant coaches. Our athletic department is behind the program. We have a new facility coming. We have some great guys in the program now, and have signed some other talented guys. The future looks good for us."
Hofstra has had just one NCAA champion, when Nick Gallo captured the title in 1977 and was named Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA Tournament. In program history, the team has had nine All-American, and the addition of Patrovich and Weidman brings the total to 11. Ryan has high goals, such as getting another individual champion for the school, as well as winning a trophy at the NCAA meet by placing in the top four of the team standings.
"I wouldn't stay at Hofstra if I didn't think we could be a top five program," said Ryan. "Are there obstacles? Sure. But if you get good people, a lot can be accomplished. We come from a great area of the country for wrestling. There are a lot of Eastern boys wrestling at this tournament. We have a lot to offer."
Magnificent 7: Manotti wins 7 straight to place third
Cornell's Dustin Manotti knew he faced a long, grueling road through the consolation bracket after the No. 7 seed at 157 pounds dropped a 13-5 opening-round match to unseeded Tony Hook of Oregon on Thursday morning.
But Manotti regrouped in a big way by piecing together seven straight wins over three days in the wrestlebacks.
He capped his amazing run by rolling to an 8-2 win over No. 1 seed Trent Paulson of Iowa State in the match for third Saturday afternoon.
Among Manotti's other victims on his odyssey through the consolation bracket were No. 3 Alex Tirapelle of Illinois, No. 4 Matt Lebe of West Virginia, No. 8 Craig Henning of Wisconsin and No. 9 Joe Johnston of Iowa.
"It was pretty disheartening when I lost in the first round," said Manotti, who became a four-time All-American. "I didn't even think about coming back to get third after I lost that first match. I figured I had to focus on each match and keep winning or my career would be over."
Manotti, who moved up a class this year after competing at 149, said he became more relaxed as his victory total grew.
"This is probably the best I've ever felt at any national tournament," he said. "I was having fun and joking around, and I wasn't uptight. My weight's good and I was eating meals every day. I went to a pancake house last night. I can't complain."
Hokies turn season around through NCAA performance
The NCAA Championships are an individual tournament where team standings are determined by adding in the points that each athlete scores during the weekend. In many cases, the performance at the nationals does not reflect at all how the team did during the dual meet season. No program has shown that more than Virginia Tech, which is coached by Olympic champion and Olympic coach Tom Brands.
The Hokies had a 1-16 dual meet record, and sat out a number of talented incoming freshmen with redshirt years. The team qualified three wrestlers into the NCAA Championships through their new conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and two of them came through with All-American honors, David Hoffman, who was eighth at 141 pounds and Mike Faust, who was fifth at 286 pounds. That performance will put Virginia Tech into the top 30 in the standings, and a boost for the program which has high goals for the future.
"It is a step in the right direction," said Brands. "We are greedy and we want more. You get the young guys watching and getting more hungry. This is important to our development."
The decision to sit out their star freshman was something that Brands planned, and he can now look forward to an even more promising future as he continues building the team.
"We took a step here. We talked to the administration about this plan. It was necessary. It is not to say we could have done this another way. That was our decision. We knew we brought in the right guys. We felt the best thing with our youth is to develop them, to get them used to our program. Next year, we have these young guys, watching this tournament and getting fired up. We want more than this. We want to be champions here. I want to also give credit to my staff. Their focus working individually with the guys is paying dividends," said Brands.
Cooperman ends career with third-place victory
Senior Cory Cooperman of Lehigh finished a strong wrestling career with a third-place finish at 141 pounds. Although he fell short of his goal of winning an NCAA title, something he believed he could do, Cooperman takes pride in being able to end his career with a big win, an 8-0 major decision over No. 6 Ryan Lang of Northwestern.
"I have dreamed of being national champion for the last 15 years. It hurts," said Cooperman. "I felt great wrestling today. Scoring bonus points was important. There was no other way for me to go out."
Winning matches and scoring extra team points was a big motivation for Cooperman, one of the team captains.
"Our team is struggling. I had to step it up. Coming in today, the mood was down. I hope this stepped it up for the team. We could still finish in the top 10. We has real mixed emotions," said Cooperman.
He gave great praise to his coach Greg Strobel for believing in him. Cooperman transferred to Lehigh after starting his career at Minnesota. Then, in the only season he did not earn All-American honors, Cooperman missed weight at the NCAA Tournament, perhaps the lowest point of his wrestling career.
"Coach Strobel is a great coach and a role model," said Cooperman. "Some people would have thrown me off the team after missing weight at the nationals. Because of him, I am a three-time All-American. This is all because of him."
Don't be surprised if you keep hearing the name Cooperman in wrestling circles for a long time. Cory Cooperman is not done, not in the least bit.
"I don't just want to sit around. I feel I'm better in freestyle than folkstyle. In a few years, I think I can be one of the guys on the ladder for the United States," said Cooperman. "In some way, I'll give back to wrestling, which has given me so much. I have seen so many places and have had so many opportunities open up for me because of this sport. It may be as a coach or as an athlete. It is only fair that I give back after it what wrestling has done for me."
Hazewinkel is the king of Saturday morning
The king of Saturday morning wrestling might just be Oklahoma's junior Sam Hazewinkel, who has now placed third in the 125-pound division for the third straight time. Hazewinkel has won six straight Saturday morning bouts, to end his tournament on a strong note each and every time. In the consolation quarterfinals, Hazewinkel defeated Chad Mendes of Cal Poly, 7-4, and in the third-place bout, he stopped No. 1 Nick Simmons of Michigan State, 6-2. The fans gave Hazewinkel a rousing ovation after his win, a testament to his character and ability to rebound from his semifinal loss the night before.
"It gets harder every year," said Hazewinkel. "When I was in senior year in high school, I went to the High School Nationals and lost in the quarterfinals. I was wrestling to win, and was bummed, and I stopped wrestling. I placed like seventh. It was the worst feeling in my life. I knew I was better than some of those guys ahead of me."
Hazewinkel also understands how much his success in the wrestlebacks helps his team in the quest for an NCAA team award.
"We are right in the team race," said Hazewinkel. "My teammates reminded me that I needed to battle. I feel much better than if I had lost today. And I have one more year left to win this."
More short notes
The six-match winning streak for Oklahoma State's 125-pounder Coleman Scott ended in the consolation semifinals, when No. 1 Nick Simmons of Michigan State won a very close battle by a 7-4 margin.
There were 12 sets of brothers coming into the NCAA Championships. None were able to win side-by-side titles, but two sets of brothers were able to be All-Americans, the Simmons of Michigan State and the Paulson of Iowa State. Nick Simmons placed fourth at 125 pounds and Andy Simmons placed fifth at 141 pounds. Trent Paulson placed fourth at 157 pounds and Travis for fifth/sixth at 165 pounds. The other sets of brothers in the tournament are the Churellas (Michigan), Simmons (Central Michigan), Hurleys (Cleveland State), Tirapelles (Illinois), Schlatters (Minnesotas), Pienaars (Slippery Rock), Simpsons (Army), Larsons (Oregons), Clums (Wisconsin, Wyoming) and the Pitsches (Arizona State and Oregon State).