The Eastern Michigan University men’s wrestling team traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., Saturday to take on eight college squads in the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Last year, EMU took third place with four NCAA qualifiers. This season, the Eagles struggled to take eighth place with a total of 44.5 team points. The only two wrestlers to automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament this year were redshirt juniors Phillip Joseph and Nick Whitenburg.
“I was disappointed in our effort at few weight classes,” EMU coach Derek DelPorto said. “I felt like some of our guys were satisfied with simply being there and not trying to win it. You won’t go very far in this sport with that attitude.”
For the first time in 11 years, another team stepped up and took the championship title from the Central Michigan University Chippewas. The University of Missouri Tigers tallied a total of 136 points compared to CMU’s second place with 88 points.
“I thought that we would do better as a team,” DelPorto said. “I was expecting to place in the top half, but we fell too far behind in the first round and could never really gain any ground on the field.”
Joseph, an underdog in his 174-pound weight class, came from his last-place ranking to take fourth with an even 2-2 record for the day. Joseph’s first match of the day went to Todd Porter from Missouri to place him in the consolation bracket where he finished off his MAC competition.
“We won a bunch of matches in the consolation bracket, but those points are half the value of the championship side,” DelPorto said.
After being out with an injury most of his season, Whitenburg ended the day 3-1 to take third place at 197 pounds. The fastest pin of the first round went to Whitenburg as he defeated Northern Illinois University’s Parker Settecase within the first 46 seconds of the match.
Whitenburg lost his second match of the day to fall into the consolation bracket. While there, he out-wrestled Phillip Wellington from Ohio University to take third place.
“I was very pleased with [Joseph and Whitenburg’s] effort,” DelPorto said. “They went into the tournament determined to go to the NCAA tournament. Both these guys hate losing. I know that sounds obvious, but they hate it so much that they are willing to put everything out there to win. Their will earned them a spot at the national tournament.”
As of Tuesday, redshirt Aaron Sulzer still has a chance to go to the NCAA tournament.
“Aaron wrestled extremely hard, and I really hope he gets an at-large bid on Wednesday,” DelPorto said. “If there is anyone that deserved it, it is him.”
Sulzer was one match shy of getting an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament along with his EMU teammates. Sulzer lost the third-place bout at 157 pounds to CMU’s Luke Smith in overtime. Sulzer’s match put him in fourth place, still hoping for one last shot.
“[Sulzer] does everything right,” DelPorto said. “He is a great young man, a great student and as hard of worker as there is. My fingers are crossed.”
The final step of the season is the NCAA Tournament scheduled for March 21-24 in Des Moines, Iowa.
“The NCAA tournament is the ultimate grind,” DelPorto said. “Wrestling in front of 17,000 screaming and educated wrestling fans can be a little intimidating, but I feel like our guys are ready for that.”
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