Junior Chris Tan, seniors Derek Arnold and Alex Kramer took gold. As a team, Ursinus placed second.
After missing out on last year’s Centennial Conference championship due to the dreaded norovirus, legendary head coach Bill Racich and his squad of feisty Bears had this weekend’s championship bout circled on their calendar for months.
Although the Bears did not pin down their 12th Centennial Conference championship, the Bears showed why they are among the most talented teams in all of Division III.
“We have a few guys who are ranked among the top wrestlers in the nation, which in of itself speaks to the quality of the wrestlers on our team,” said junior Chris Tan.
Led by individual champions Chris Tan, Alexander Kramer and Derek Arnold, who all took first in their individual weight classes, the Bears racked up 79.5 points and finished second. Stevens Institute of Technology, their hosts, piled up 95.5 points—crushing the field in their third consecutive conference championship win.
The Bears came into the conference bout with high expectations, off of a 15-3 regular season that included a 6-1 mark in conference matches.
Tan, who qualified for the NCAA Division III National Championships last season, looks to be on track to make another appearance. The junior navigated through his bracket, capturing the title in the 125-pound weight class with ease.
“My expectations were to execute my plan and to really focus on doing the small things right,” said Tan. “Doing the little things right sets a habit for excellence and eventually translates into the big things like winning matches.”
Tan began his title run with a bang, posting a 17-1 tech fall against Connor McGee. A tech fall is defeating an opponent by a margin of 15 or more. Tan then defeated Ricky Cavallo of Johns Hopkins 7-4 to advance to the championship match: a rematch with Rob Murray of Stevens Institute, who dealt Tan his only regular season loss in conference matches. Tan got his revenge in a big way as he went on to blast Murray 11-3.
“It does not help me to worry about who I may have to wrestle,” said Tan. “Ultimately, every wrestler on our team has bigger goals to worry about than just a single competitor.”
Like Tan, senior Derek Arnold is also looking to get back to the national tournament. Arnold easily worked his way through the 157-pound tournament, laying claim to his third Centennial Conference championship. In his first two matches, Arnold made it look easy by racking up the points in his first match (16-0) and then advancing to the final by pinning Erik Beshada. The final posed a stiffer challenge, as Stevens’ Thomas Poklikuha is recognized as one of the top wrestlers in the country at 157 pounds.
Although not nearly as impressive as his first two victories, Arnold bested Poklikuha 7-1 and captured the gold. According to the Ursinus Athletics webpage, Arnold is the 25th three-time champion in conference history.
Alex Kramer made some history of his own on Saturday when he captured another gold medal for the Bears. Kramer came into the conference championships with an incredible regular season record of 32-5 and only one blemish on his conference record, which came at the hands of Zach Wilhelm of Stevens. Kramer easily won his first two matches, recording technical falls over both his first two opponents.
In the final, Kramer faced a familiar foe in Wilhelm. Much like Tan, Kramer got his revenge by felling Wilhelm in a close contest with a score of 7-5—another gold medal for Collegeville.
Along with the trio of gold medal winners, the Bears saw plenty of other success throughout the tournament.
Junior Cody Richmond placed second in the 184-pound tournament to Merchant Marine’s Patrick Rooney with a score of 11-6. This marked the junior’s first loss to an in-conference foe; he had been perfect coming into the championship matches.
Senior Matan Peleg placed third in the 285-pound bracket. This was a bit of a surprise since Peleg came into the tournament ranked 10th in the nation and was the top seed in the conference. Peleg easily handled the third place match, defeating his opponent by a score of 8-1. Although Peleg fell short of his goal, he is confident he can bounce back and make it to the national stage once again.
“I feel the success I’ve had otherwise this year still means a lot in and of itself,” said Peleg. “I have confidence in my ability to continue to improve and make my way to a third trip to the NCAA tournament.”
The Bears rounded out their 2017 conference championships with a few respectable finishes.
Alfred Corradetti, Jarret DiGiantomasso, and Corey Markovitch came in fourth in the 141, 165, and 174-pound weight classes, respectively.
While the Bears expected to win the conference this year, there are still some very big matches left on their schedule. Up next for the Bears are the NCAA East Regional Championships, which will be contested over Feb. 24 and 25 at Ferrum College. The Bears can extend their season from there by finishing among the top three teams in the regional tournament and thus qualifying for nationals.
“Every wrestler on our team strives to be the best that they can be, and it really translates into our performance and rapport as a team,” said Tan. “Nothing builds a close team better than a shared goal, the drive to achieve it, and support for one another.”
With that talent on their roster, the next few weeks for Ursinus wrestling could be very exciting.