The Eastern Michigan University men’s wrestling team is sending off two wrestlers to the NCAA tournament March 21-23. Redshirt juniors Phillip Joseph and Nick Whitenburg will head to the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, to compete against some of the best wrestlers in the country.
“The NCAA tournament is about 10 percent wrestling and 90 percent health, luck, bracket placement and toughness,” EMU coach Derek DelPorto said. “If you are at the tournament, you are a good wrestler. Now it comes down to how bad you want to win.”
Last year, the Eagles sent four wrestlers including redshirt senior
Aaron Sulzer and Joseph from the 2012-13 roster.
This year’s trip will mark the eighth straight year EMU has sent at least one wrestler and the fourth consecutive year DelPorto has sent two or more to the tournament.
Last year, Joseph fought his way to a second place finish at the Mid-American Conference tournament to receive an automatic bid at 174 pounds to the national tournament.
At the 2013 MAC tournament, Joseph took fourth place, which was still enough to allow him to continue his competition.
Last season, his trip ended early when he was knocked out of the competition after three matches. Joseph lost his first match 7-6 against No. 6 Ryan DesRoches from California Polytechnic State University. He redeemed himself in the consolation bracket against Dave Foxen from Brown University only to get eliminated by his loss to Rutgers University’s Greg Zannetti.
“Phillip has stuck to his guns about descending down to 174 [pounds] and it paid off,” DelPorto said. “I love that kind of determination and confidence in the plan.”
Coming back from an injury that cut his season in half, Whitenburg made a huge comeback to finish his regular season 17-10 and an undefeated 3-0 in the MAC. Whitenburg went on to the MAC tournament and pinned Northern Illinois University’s Parker Settecase within the first 50 seconds of his first match.
His third place finish at the tournament allowed him to automatically qualify for the national tournament and send him on his first trip to the NCAA championship tournament.
“Nick has battled through a season that most people would have laid down and quit,” DelPorto said. “There is no quit in ‘Whit.’”
EMU grapplers will open with matches against Northwestern University. Joseph will take on Leroy Munster while Whitenburg begins round one with Alex Polizzi.
“This may be the first time since I have been coaching here that we didn’t draw a seeded wrestler,” DelPorto said. “That’ a good start. I feel like both these guys have a great chance to prove
themselves. Both wrestle a very hard pace and [are] good at what they do.”
DelPorto hopes their advancement to the NCAA tournament will positively affect the rest of team.
“We will have three returning NCAA qualifiers on our team next year, [with Germaine qualifying in 2012],” DelPorto said. “That experience can linger through our team and the will to return to the tournament is contagious. I hope the others catch it.”
ESPN is set to air every session of the 2013 championships on their family of networks. The first and second round can be viewed Thursday on ESPN3. The quarterfinals can be viewed on ESPNU/ESPN3, and ESPNU will showcase the semifinals on Friday. The medal round and the finals will be split between ESPNU Saturday morning and ESPN in the evening.
“No matter what happens out there, I am very proud of both these guys,” DelPorto said.