It was a historical season for the UVU wrestling program as the team produced two All-Americans and finished 21st in the NCAA tournament held in St. Louis over the weekend.
Taylor LaMont (125 pounds) and Demetrius Romero (174) finished fifth and sixth respectively in their weight classes to earn All-American status. It was the first time the Wolverine program produced two All-Americans in the same season. Both LaMont and Romero made it to the semifinals where each lost close matches sending them to the consolation rounds.
On Saturday, LaMont lost his first match but won his second match, which happened to be a rematch of his quarterfinal match against Sam Latona of Virginia Tech. As in the first meeting, LaMont showed his superiority gaining a 4-1 victory.
Romero lost his first match on Saturday in a very close 5-4 bout with Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola. But the Wolverine senior medically defaulted his next match to end up in the sixth position in his weight class. Labriola ended up third.
“Demetrius gave a great effort but injured his back during the tournament and we decided to pull him in his fifth place match,” said UVU head coach Greg Williams.
Romero also had a foot injury that has been troubling him for the past few weeks so his All-American run was a testament to the Wolverine’s toughness.
What was impressive about UVU”s team performance was it did with four qualifiers as they outpointed some traditional powerhouses in the sport like Oklahoma and Wisconsin. With the former, the Sooners actually were the co-champs in the Big 12 where UVU finished in tenth place. But at the big tourney, the Wolverines came through with some big-time performances.
UVU finished ahead of eight Big 12 rivals in St. Louis.
“I knew that we could pass up a lot of teams if we wrestled well,” said Williams. “At the end of the day, it’s not about dual meets, it’s about where you finish at nationals. The four wrestlers we took out there left it all on mat, and that’s all you can ask. I’m very pleased and proud of them. I feel good about where we ended up and where we’re heading.”
There was no drama in the team race as Iowa nailed down the title, their first since 2010. The Hawkeyes were the prohibitive favorites last season but when the NCAA pulled the plug on the 2020 tournament, Iowa desperately wanted the gold trophy to validate last year’s dominance. Iowa (129) had the tournament mathematically locked up after Saturday’s consolation round.
Penn State (113.5), coached by former Wasatch High School wrestling 4-time state champion brothers Cael (head) and Cody (assistant) Sanderson, and Oklahoma State (99.5), staged a great battle for second place.
Penn State was up on the Cowboys for most of the tournament but then in the consolation round Saturday, Oklahoma State actually passed the Nittany Lions for a short time before Penn State took a 2-point lead going into the championship finals.
Penn State had four finalists while Oklahoma State had just two but a head-to-head meeting at 133 pounds between top seeded Daton Fix for the Cowboys and Roman Bravo-Young, the second seed for the Nittany Lions, loomed large. And Bravo-Young came through for Penn State with a 4-2 sudden victory win to clinch the silver trophy for the Nittany Lions. Penn State crowned the most individual champions with four.
Rounding out the top five were Arizona State (74) and Michigan (69).
Notes: While Stanford and Fresno State are set to drop their wrestling programs, Arkansas-Little Rock recently added a program. Paul Bianchi (133) won the school’s very first match at the NCAA tournament when he beat Zach Redding of Iowa State 9-4. Bianchi went 1-2.
Kyle Parco (149) might be Fresno State’s last All-American as he placed eighth. However, the Bulldogs did drop its program only to bring it back five years ago. But some good news for UVU wrestling fans is that Parco is going to transfer to the Wolverine program giving UVU three returning All-Americans for next season.
Stanford, who finished in 17th place with 35.5 points, had two All-Americans including Shane Griffith (165), who won the title at 165 pounds. It is hoped by many that Griffith’s performance and the 12.4 million dollars (currently) raised to save the program will change the administrator’s minds at the PAC-12 institution to drop the program. And when there was a coach’s challenge at the end of Griffith’s bout, the 2,500 fans that were allowed to attend all in unison chanted, “keep Stanford Wrestling” for nearly two minutes.
In the first three bouts of the final session, which started at 133 pounds, the No. 2 seed knocked off the top seed as Bravo-Young and teammate Nick Lee (141), along with North Carolina’s Austin Connor (149), all won titles.
The quality of the field of wrestlers was arguably a bit down this year as the Ivy League sat out due to COVID-19 concerns. Cornell has emerged as a powerhouse and teams like Columbia, Harvard and Princeton also have quality wrestlers.
Usually, the best you can do is win four national titles. But since the 2020-21 year was a “free year” for NCAA athletes, it will give some athletes the rare chance to be 5-time national champions. Two freshman wrestlers in Penn State’s Carter Starocci and Oklahoma State’s AJ Ferrari won titles and can, in theory, achieve that distinction.
And there was a compelling father-son story as Iowa State’s David Carr won the NCAA title at 157 pounds. His father Nate Carr won his first of three titles, also for the Cyclones, 40 seasons ago.