By Mike Ricchione
Led over the weekend by redshirt senior Jesse Dellavecchia’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship victory at 157 pounds, the wrestling team placed fourth in the tournament and secured four automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in Minneapolis.
Dellavecchia, whose performance secured him All-MAC First Team honors, started off with a familiar opponent in Bloomsburg’s Alex Carida. This was the third meeting between the two dating back to last season. Dellavecchia won both of those previous matches and continued his dominance over Carida with a 3-0 decision in the first round.
In the quarterfinals, Dellavecchia exploded for 15 points against Buffalo’s Michael Pettite for a major decision, 15-2, that would set up a rematch with a defending All-American Larry Early of Old Dominion.
On Jan. 19, Dellavecchia got the first meeting between him and Early, 1-0, when the Monarchs and the Broncs faced off in a dual. At the tournament, Dellavecchia created a little more offense and beat Early via decision, 6-4.
No. 3 seed and defending MAC Champion at the weight, Missouri’s Jarrett Jacques defeated Clarion’s Taylor Ortz, Central Michigan’s Logan Parks and Ohio’s Zac Carson to put himself in the title match.
Dellavecchia quickly scored the match’s first and only takedown and rode out Jacques the rest of the way. Dellavecchia escaped in the second period to take a 3-0 lead before adding another point for riding time at the end of the match to complete the shutout of Jacques.
“The celebration was over after I talked to my parents right after the match,” Dellavecchia said. “A conference title is great but a NCAA title is what I’m focused on.”
Winning the MAC tournament puts Dellavecchia’s winning streak at 16. His last loss came against North Carolina State’s Hayden Hidlay, who won an ACC title over the weekend, in the Southern Scuffle finals.
“I never really remember my wins but I always remember the losses,” Dellavecchia said. “I hate losing more than anything and it reminds me to give it everything I have in those seven minutes so I don’t have to feel the pain of losing again.”
Junior Ethan Laird made it to the championship match at 197 pounds but forfeited to Clarion’s Greg Bulsak.
“Ethan [Laird] will be fine but the smart move was to rest him after he won his semi final match this past weekend.” Head Coach John Hangey said of the decision to rest Laird in the title match.
It is worth noting that Laird was dealing with chest and knee injuries late in the season but both Laird and Hangey said that Laird was at full health before the tournament.
Laird had a dominating start to the tournament with a pin of George Mason’s Ramses Montalvo in 1:22. Laird moved onto the semifinals when he defeated Edinboro’s Dylan Reynolds in overtime, 3-1. Laird was named an All-MAC Honorable Mention.
The semifinal matchup between Laird and Central Michigan’s Landon Pelham started off with an escape from each man before Laird scored a takedown in the third period to take the match.
Redshirt seniors Dean Sherry, Ryan Cloud and redshirt sophomore George Walton made it to the semifinals but got bounced there at 174, 285 and 184-pounds respectively.
Cloud punched his ticket to Minneapolis when he placed fourth after falling to Ohio’s Jordan Earnest in the third place match. Cloud avoided having to wrestle a true fourth match because he already beat Northern Illinois’ Max Ihry, who took fifth place, to get to the third place bout.
Sherry needed the true fourth after dropping his consolation semifinal match to Missouri’s Connor Flynn in one minute and 11 seconds. Sherry won the fifth place bout over the Chippewa’s Jake Lowell and had a chance at the true fourth when the Huskies’ Kenny Moore dropped third place to Flynn.
Sherry received the true fourth opportunity on the virtue of his 7-2 decision over Moore on Nov. 17 and didn’t waste it as he locked Moore in the cradle to punch the fourth and final ticket at 174-pounds given to the MAC.
Walton and redshirt junior Jonathan Tropea fell one place short of grabbing a bid to the tournament when both of them lost their third place bouts, both to opponents they faced earlier in the tournament at 184 and 125 pounds respectively.
Tropea fell to the Bald Eagle’s Luke Werner via pinfall in 4:22. Tropea rattled off four straight victories against George Mason’s Talha Farooq, Kent State’s Tomas Guiterrez, Northern Illinois’ Bryce West and Cleveland State’s Logan Heil before falling again to Werner via decision, 9-7.
Walton started off with victories against Clarion’s Luke Funck and Old Dominion’s Antonio Agee before being disqualified in the semifinals against Missouri’s Dylan Wisman.
After losing in the semifinals, Walton defeated Lock Haven’s Corey Hazel, 8-6, before meeting Agee again for third place.
Both bouts went into overtime with Walton defeating Agee in TB-1, 4-3. Agee won the third place match in TB-2, 7-6, to clinch the last allocation at the weight.
Tropea and Walton could still appear in Minnesota if they are given an at-large bid. They are the Broncs most likely for an at-large selection after falling one place short of a bid.
As a team, Rider finished in fourth, the highest among those formerly apart of the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL), behind Missouri, who won its eighth-straight title, Central Michigan, which led the MAC with three conference champions and the hosts, Northern Illinois.
The Broncs, who had four automatic qualifiers after last year’s EWL tournament, come away with the same amount in this year’s MAC tournament.
“The key to our transition was being consistent and battle tested with our schedule for the MAC tournament.’ Hangey said, “This is a great conference with very tough teams that will get our guys ready for the NCAA Championships.
On March 11 at 6 p.m., brackets for the NCAA tournament will be revealed, where Rider will learn the positions of its qualifiers. The three-day tournament will take place from March 19-21 and will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPNU.
Earlier that day NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement that the NCAA championship events will be held with, “only essential staff and limited family attendance.”
Cloud, who will be headed to the tournament for the first time, was not happy about the news.
“To add on, I’m really upset that they have decided to limit seating at the NCAA tournament. I have worked my whole life for an opportunity like this, while the tournament [at this point] doesn’t seem like it’s getting canceled, it is sad that the public won’t be able to attend. I still have a great opportunity ahead of me but I think this takes away from the experience.”