The verb “to sweep,” coming from the Middle English root swepen, has a long list of definitions according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary edition. The second from the top reads, “to destroy completely,” while another down around the middle of the pack states, “to win an overwhelming victory.” It is safe to say that the wrestling team swept its EIWA Regionals championship meet this weekend, earning five individual titles, eight overall automatic NCAA bids, the EIWA Coach of the Year Award and the EIWA Coaches’ Award (the meet’s equivalent of the MVP award) en route to bringing the EIWA crown back to East Hill for the fourth season in a row.
For at least some members of the team, however, the weekend’s results did not come as much of a surprise.
“We all felt really good,” said senior Troy Nickerson. “Kind of like with the Ivies, we really expected to go in there and dominate. And for the most part, everyone wrestled really well.”
And head coach Rob Koll’s countdown keeps ticking in its place of honor along the back wall of the Friedman Wrestling Center, counting down the days — only nine left now –– before the team travels to Omaha, Neb., for the national championship competition.
Nickerson continued his stellar run as lead off for the Red at 125 pounds, dispatching his opponent by fall in 5:44 to win. Junior Mike Grey followed this performance up with dominating 8-2 decision at 133. Next up for the Red was the No. 1 nationally-ranked freshman Kyle Dake, wrestling at 141 pounds. With 1:26 in riding time, Dake finished off his opponent, 9-2.
At 149, junior Cory Manson finished in eighth place after closing out his day with a loss, and at 157, an inexperienced sophomore Derek Schreiner failed to make it into the placement rounds. Junior Mack Lewnes was next for the Red in the finals at 174 pounds. This was Lewnes’ third EIWA championship bout. Three takedowns later, and Lewnes had another title under his belt, as well as the eventual Coaches’ Award, as voted on by the coaches at the end of the tournament.
Lewnes had his own thoughts on who should have been awarded the plaque, however.
“Troy [Nickerson] pinned his wrestler in the finals,” Lewnes said. “I though he should have gotten it. Maybe they just didn’t want to give him everything.”
Nickerson received the senior award for most career points in the tournament.
Wrestling in his second straight EIWA tournament in as many seasons with the Red, sophomore Cam Simaz earned his second straight title at 197 with a close, 3-1, win that hinged on a quick takedown in the first period, and an escape in the second. Junior Justin Kerber qualified for the NCAAs at 165, and ended the day with a fourth-place finish, and sophomore Steve Bosak placed fourth as well after being edged out in his 184 bout during the waning seconds of the match.
Finishing out the Sunday was senior Josh Arnone, also an NCAA qualifier, who scored a dramatic takedown near the finale of the first period. It would prove to be the deciding two points, as Arnone narrowly walked away with the 4-3 win.
Yesterday, the team received a much-appreciated day off from practicing, a break “we all needed,” Nickerson said, “especially getting back from the long weekend.”
Today, however, the team will be back on the mat, preparing for Omaha. Although only 10 wrestlers will be starting in the tournament, Nickerson explained that the non-starters have a vital role to play in his and his starting teammates’ workouts this week.
“At this point in the season,” he said, “the hay’s in the barn. We’ll be doing a lot of short, intense workouts, and scouting our opponents.”
As a way to train for different potential opponents, Nickerson said his teammates will wrestle in a variety of different styles opponents may use against them in the competition.
As far as predictions go, both Lewnes and Nickerson –– NCAA veterans at this point –– said they had never felt better going into the tournament.
“With the exception of maybe my freshman year, I feel the most prepared we’ve ever been. We’re all pretty healthy, pretty fresh,” Nickerson said.
Lewnes echoed his teammate’s comments.
“I’m pretty excited. We’re all pretty excited. As a team we’ve go nothing to lose. Individually, we all just want to go out there and win our matches.”
Although perennial powerhouse Iowa may be the favorite going into the competition, “I feel like we have the second-best shot,” Nickerson said. Not too bad for the Ivy League.