By Mike Ricchione
Missouri’s Jarrett Jacques scored a last-second takedown, but it was not enough as graduate student Jesse Dellavecchia captured his second-straight Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship at 157 pounds to headline the Broncs wrestling team’s performance at the MAC tournament on Feb. 26 and 27.
As a team, Rider placed nine at the podium, qualifying five wrestlers for the NCAA tournament which begins on Mar. 18.
The Broncs qualified four wrestlers for the NCAA tournament on day one, when redshirt sophomore Richie Koehler, freshman McKenzie Bell, senior Ethan Laird and Dellavecchia reached the finals.
Dellavecchia started with a 10-3 decision over Buffalo’s Michael Petite in the quarterfinals after a first-round bye and followed up by pinning Edinboro’s Peter Pappas at 4:44 in the semifinals before defeating Jacques, 3-2, for the title.
“Feels good. It’s been a weird few weeks, a little over that, like a month,” Dellavecchia said. “It just feels good to be wrestling and competing again so it was fun.”
Laird also had a first-round bye in the heavyweight bracket and punched his ticket to the NCAA’s with a pair of 3-2 decisions over Northern Illinois’ Max Ihry and Missouri’s Zach Elam before falling to Central Michigan’s Matt Stencel, 7-2, in the finals.
Stencel became the MAC’s ninth four-time champion and the first ever to do so at heavyweight.
Bell started his tournament at 141 pounds with a 13-2 major decision over Kent State’s Avry Mutschler in the first round. Bell put up double-digits once more in his quarterfinal victory over Edinboro’s Gabe Willochell, 10-5.
To reach the finals, top-seeded Allan Hart of Missouri was standing in Bell’s way. Bell started with a six-point swing to lead 6-1 after one round. Bell won 8-6, upsetting the top seed. Bell fell to Central Michigan’s Dresden Simon in the finals, 12-5.
Koehler, who went unseeded in the 133-pound bracket, won with decisions over Central Michigan’s Andrew Marten and Northern Illinois’ Bryce West before pinning Bloomsburg’s Cole Rhone in the semifinals. Koehler fell to Missouri’s Matt Schmitt in the finals, 9-6.
Two other Broncs reached the semifinals but lost. There were also the coach’s challenges in both matches that didn’t end up going Rider’s way.
Redshirt senior Jonathan Tropea and Central Michigan’s Drew Hildebrandt were battling along the boundary when both were close to a takedown at 125 pounds.
Tropea, who was leading 2-1 at the time, almost added to his lead with a near-takedown. But Hildebrandt scored a takedown for the 3-2 lead which was challenged by Head Coach John Hangey but the call stood and the score as well and led to a Tropea defeat.
At 184 pounds, redshirt senior George Walton was close to a takedown in the third period of his bout with Missouri’s Jeremiah Kent, which would have given him a 7-6 lead.
After review, there was no takedown, giving Kent a 6-5 decision and a ticket to the NCAA’s.
“I felt strongly that they should’ve gone our way, but I have a biased opinion,” Hangey said. “The public opinion also was in agreement with me for the large majority but I’m not those officials.”
Tropea secuured his trip to St. Louis with a 7-3 decision over Lock Haven’s Luke Werner in the consolation semifinals.
Walton did not fare so well in the consolations, falling to Clarion’s Max Wohlabaugh in overtime to fall to the fifth-place match. The redshirt senior lost the fifth-place match to Edinboro’s Ethan Ducca to take sixth.
Graduate student Matt Correnti fell one place short of qualifying for the NCAA tournament, falling in the third-place match to Clarion’s Greg Bulsak via major decision, 10-2, at 197 pounds for fourth.
Redshirt sophomore Jake Silverstein took fifth at 165 pounds. Sophomore Wyatt McCarthy took sixth at 149 pounds.
As a team, the Broncs placed third with 120.5 points. Hangey was named MAC Co-Coach of the year with Missouri’s Brian Smith.
“I’ve surrounded myself with good people,” Hangey said on winning the award. “From a coaching staff and in particular [Assistant Coach] Nic Bedelyon. When I went out with my health issue, he stepped up and took this program and made sure, he’s like ‘Hangey don’t worry about anything.’ [We] did all that we needed to do and as a result, we kept moving forward.”
Next up is for all the marbles at the NCAA championships March. 18 to 20 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.