Blue Raiders place 2nd at NCWA Mid-Atlantic Conference Tournament
When the smoke cleared at this weekend’s NCWA Mid-Atlantic Conference tournament in Johnson City, TN on the campus of ETSU, the story wasn’t the same as it had always been. Perennial MAC powers Liberty University and The Apprentice School had placed in the top 2 since Liberty’s entry into the field three season’s ago, with an era of Apprentice School domination prior to that. However, by the tournament’s end this season, the shorthanded MTSU Blue Raiders, who were without a scorer in three weight classes, had secured a 2nd place finish– the highest in team history– overtaking Apprentice by 9.5 points, but finishing behind Liberty by 70 as the Flames claimed their 3rd straight MAC title.
In the 125lb bracket, Senior Anthony Patnode and Junior Shane Shaffner both entered the day seeded 4th and 6th respectively. Patnode, wrestling in his final NCWA MAC tournament, defeated host school ETSU’s Ian McKinley with a first period 17-1 tech fall, while Shaffner fell 14-4 to Liberty’s Tim Nordan. Shaffner would fight back to the Consolation semifinals, punching his ticket to the NCWA National Tournament along the way, with a bye followed by a pinfall victory over Cody Byrd of Southern Virginia in 38 seconds. In the championship round semifinals, Patnode faced off against The Apprentice School’s top seeded Jacob Michael. Michael defeated Patnode in last season’s NCWA Mid-Atlantic 125lb Semifinals and this season’s NCWA Collegiate Cup National Duals with both victories coming by 1 point, however this time it would be Patnode’s hand raised after a tight 8-5 decision that advanced the senior captain into the Conference finals. Michaels would get a small measure of revenge with a 7-1 victory over Shaffner in the consolation semifinals that would drop the Blue Raider into the 5th/6th place match. Shaffner responded with a dominant 18-1 tech fall over Jeremy Beale from Liberty University to claim 5th place in the tournament, his lowest MAC finish. Patnode would claim the 2014 NCWA Mid-Atlantic Conference 125lb championship by default after Liberty’s Nordan was forced out of the tournament due to a concussion he suffered in the Semifinals.
Last season’s MAC 133lb runner-up, Junior Eric Feuerbacher, entered the day with a 2nd seed, and Freshman Jason Singleton drew the unenviable task of facing top seeded 27-0 Ryan Diehl of Liberty University in the 2nd round following an impressive 10-3 decision over Tennessee’s Nick Johnson in what would be Singleton’s best match of the season. However, Diehl would prove to be as good as advertised in the next round as he would send Singleton to the consolation bracket with a 29 second pinfall. Feruerbacher would advance to the conference finals for a second straight season with a 2nd period fall over Steven Byrd of Tennessee Temple and a hard fought 2-1 victory over Jacob Paull of Liberty. In the finals, Diehl would against prove why his perfect 27-0 season was no fluke as he picked up the very rare pinfall victory over Feuerbacher to claim the conference title, leaving the Blue Raider wrestler with a runner-up for the 2nd straight season. In the consolation bracket, Singleton fought to the finals with another impressive victory, this time a 3rd period pinfall victory over The Apprentice School’s 133lb scorer, Derek Burhenn. The MTSU Freshman would then finish in 4th place following a 1st period loss by fall to Liberty’s Paull.
Blue Raider Freshman Carlos Garcia had spent most of the season ranked at the top of the 141lb NCWA Scoring standing and entered the MAC tournament with a top seed, and former West Creek Coyote Gerard McQueen, dropping from 149lbs, was given the 7th seed in the 141lb bracket. Both MTSU wrestlers would advance past the first round with dominant victories; Garcia with a destructive 24-9 tech fall in the 2nd period and McQueen with a first period pin. In the 2nd round, McQueen would lose a 10-5 decision to 2nd seeded TY Watkins from the Apprentice School, but Garcia would advance to the semifinals with a medical forfeit from Liberty’s Zach Scott. In the consolations, McQueen would answer his loss with a 2nd period pinfall victory over Bridgewater’s AJ Dobzenieck before losing a 9-3 decision to James Madison’s Steven Cotnoir in the consolation quarterfinals, forcing the Blue Raider into the 7th/8th place match. McQueen would earn a wildcard entry into the NCWA National tournament with a 1:43 pinfall victory over East Carolina’s Steven Bass to claim the 7th place finish. Meanwhile, Garcia would become the 2nd Blue Raider to advance to the conference championship match with another dominant tech fall victory, this time against Liberty’s Josh Sanders. In the finals, Garcia became the 2nd MTSU wrestler to claim a MAC Conference title this season after a medical forfeit sealed the match against Liberty’s Colin Lewis at the close of the 1st period.
With no MTSU Wrestler in the 149lb bracket, Freshman Jordan Russell looked to carry the Blue Raider momentum into the 157lb bracket, the tournament’s only 32-man bracket. Russell, the 4th seed, opened the tournament with a 1st round bye, but claimed an 18-10 victory over Brandon Driggins of Longwood to advance to the quarterfinals where he would pick-up an injury forfeit at the 6:16 mark against East Carolina’s Darien Peele to advance to the Semifinals and to guarantee an automatic qualifying spot for Nationals. In the semifinals, Russell would lose to eventual champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler Chase Boontjer of Liberty in an 11-1 decision. The loss was too much for the former Ooltewah Owl to overcome and was followed with losses to Kyle Lowry of The Apprentice School, 8-0, in the Consolation semifinals, and a fall loss to Will Hays of James Madison giving Russell the 6th place finish.
The 165lb bracket was stacked again this season. 19 wrestlers battled for one of the 6 automatic qualifying spots, including MTSU’s Everett Colbert who entered the tournament as the 4th seed. Colbert would follow a 1st round bye with a 17-2 tech fall victory over Austin Kirtlan of Liberty to advance the semifinals. A 3rd period fall over Chris Kennedy of The Apprentice School would advance Colbert to the semifinals and guarantee an automatic qualifying spot to Nationals. In the semis, Colbert would lose a 15-3 major decision to top seeded Josh Ferenczy of Liberty before a 13-6 decision over former TSSAA State Runner-up from Ravenwood, Tanner Reynolds of Tennessee, in the consolation semifinals advanced the Blue Raider to the consolation finals. Colbert would finish in 4th place following a 11-5 decision loss to Spencer Buettner of Virginia Military Institute and earned his 3rd trip to Allen, Texas for the NCWA’s championship tournament.
MTSU entered no wrestler into the 174lb class due to both registered wrestlers missing the Spring semester. In order for the Blue Raiders to continue their rise up the team standings, a good showing in the 184lb bracket was needed. 2nd seeded MTSU Blue Raider Jonathan Roberts, who placed 3rd last season, was up for the challenge. He advanced to the finals in a show of force, pinning Dan Bowen of Virginia Military Institute in 1:37 during the first round, Daniel Pitts of Longwood at the :18 mark in the quarterfinals, and Mathew Reynolds of Liberty in the semifinals in 1:49. In the finals, Roberts would face off against 2012 NCWA 184lb National Runner-up and 2013 NCWA All-American Royal Brettrager of Liberty. Roberts was injured early in the first period but fought on before falling to Brettrager in the 2nd period to finish in 2nd place.
For the third time of the day MTSU was without a scoring wrestler in a bracket. 197lbs had been a strength of the team for years, but left the Blue Raiders without any points during the tournament this season. Needing points in the 235lb bracket to stay alive in the team standings, Adam Wells advanced from the 1st round with an 11-5 victory over Charlie Hancock of Liberty before a close 4-3 loss to Ryan Rowe of Bridgewater forced the MTSU Junior to the consolation rounds. Wells needed two more wins to claim one of the 6 235lb automatic qualifying spots and would answer with a :55 second pinfall victory over Bradyn Tuttle of Southern Virginia and a 5-3 decision over Tuttle’s Southern Virginia teammate JD Drasbeck to qualify for Nationals. This time, however, simply qualifying wasn’t enough for Wells. A 16-8 major decision over Josh Travers of Liberty punched him into the Consolation finals where he would eventual claim 3rd place following an injury default victory over Ryan Rowe at the 3:34 mark, avenging his 2nd round loss earlier in the day.
In the 285lb bracket, 2nd seeded Blue Raider Rashied Rayford followed a first round bye with a close 5-2 decision over Jace Grimmett of The Apprentice School to advance to the finals against longtime rival, defending MAC Champion, and returning 3rd place All-American Ian Jones of The Apprentice School. Jones had defeated Rayford in each of the last three meetings, with all matches being decided by last minute takedowns, overtime periods, and penalties. The 2nd place spot in the team standings would come down to this match. Heading into the contest, MTSU was holding a slim margin that would be overtaken by The Apprentice School should Jones pull out a 4th victory over Rayford. After a scoreless 1st period, Jones chose down to start the 2nd and escaped Rayford, giving him a 1-0 lead. With no other points scored, Rayford chose down to start the 3rd and quickly escaped the larger Shipbuilder wrestler. During their match at the NCWA Collegiate Cup National Duals, it was a locked hands called that gave Jones the slim 1 point victory, but this time the margin of victory would come when Rayford was awarded a point due to an illegal hand to the face. The closing 30 seconds saw Jones open up his offense in flurry after flurry, but Rayford successfully defended each burst and nearly scored on a takedown in the closing moments, holding on to the 2-1 victory, giving himself the 2014 NCWA 285lb Mid-Atlantic Conference and securing the 2nd place team finish for MTSU.
With 3 Conference champions, 2 runners-up, and 11 wrestlers qualified for the NCWA National tournament in two weeks, the 2014 NCWA Mid-Atlantic conference was the Blue Raiders most successful haul to date. The 5 wrestlers in the finals is a new team record, as is the 3 conference champions and the 2nd place team finish. First year MTSU head coach Steve Smith and his staff now have two weeks to refocus the team to follow up this successful outing with another in Allen, TX at the NCWA National Tournament.
FINAL TEAM STANDINGS
|2.||Middle Tennessee State University||149.0|
|3.||The Apprentice School||139.5|
|4.||James Madison University||65.0|
|5.||Southern Virginia University||61.5|
|6.||East Tennessee State University||46.5|
|7.||Virginia Military Institute||43.5|
|8.||University of Tennessee at Knoxville||37.0|
|10.||College of William & Mary||31.5|
|10.||East Carolina University||31.5|
|12.||Tennessee Temple University||29.5|
|13.||University of Memphis||19.5|
|15.||Wake Forest University||3.0|
|16.||University of South Carolina||0.0|