The Colorado State club wrestling team sought redemption when it hosted the most significant meet of the season Saturday, the NCWA Great Plains Tournament.
The national qualifying conference tournament – hosted in the Glenn Morris Field House on the north northeast end of the CSU campus – included Wayne State, Air Force Preparatory Academy, Iowa State, Iowa, Winona State Missouri University of Science & Technology and in-state rival Colorado, who just two weeks ago defeated the Rams in the same gym.
“I think the competition was a little tougher,” CSU assistant coach Berry Bernstein said. “But we wrestled better. You get a year older and year smarter.”
The Rams wrestled exceptionally better than last year, when they sent four individuals to nationals in Kissimmee, Florida.
This year, the Rams placed fourth overall out of the eight teams, and were able to qualify 11 wrestlers for the 2016 NCWA National Championship.
“After the CU meet, we tweaked what we did in practice,” Bernstein said. “It translated into better wrestling today.”
Future president of the club Mike Brungardt entered the day with high expectations. Just a year ago, Brungardt placed third in his weight class and squeezed his way into nationals.
Saturday, Brungardt put on a show for his friends and family. He won his first three matches in dominating fashion, including a pin in the third match. Brungardt held an 8-7 lead in the 125-pound weight class final with under 20 seconds remaining, but freshman Nick Gonzalez (Wayne State) was able to get the best of him and win the match. Brungardt finished the day in second-place finish is enough to earn an appearance at nationals for a second consecutive year.
“I went 3-1, so that feels great,” Brungardt said. “The one loss is heartbreaking, but what can you do? (Gonzalez) was a really tough opponent, and a really nice guy. I’ll see him at nationals.”
CSU junior Andrew Gilles was also seeking back-to-back Nationals appearances in the 235-pound weight class, but lost both of his matches.
“I don’t think my head was in it right,” Gilles said.
However, due to many of the qualifiers from Iowa State not being able to attend the national tournament, Gilles was awarded a spot.
Among the numerous outstanding performances by the Rams today, there were a few that stuck out to head coach Kendall DeJonge.
“I’m really pleased, especially with Mike (Brungardt) and Mitch (LeRoy),” CSU head coach Kendall DeJonge said. “They’ve both been leaders on the team and each wrestled really well today.”
LeRoy, club president for the past two seasons, qualified for nationals for the first time as a senior.
The other exceptional performance noted by coach DeJonge was of junior Mike Hattel II.
“I had a very tough bracket, so to be able to go to Nationals is a privilege,” Hattel said.
Joshua Haug, Hattle’s first opponent on the day, entered the meet ranked No. 20 in the nation in the 197-pound class. It didn’t get any easier for Hattle, as his following opponent, Matthew Wagner of Air Force, was ranked No. 4.
Hattle dropped both of his first two matches. In order for him to qualify, he had to take down teammate Trevor Encinas (who also eventually qualified in the men’s 197).
“You feel a little bit more prepared in terms of what you are expected when facing a teammate.” Hattel said. “At the same time, he has the same advantage on you, so it can be difficult.”
The remaining six CSU wrestlers who qualified for a spot at nationals in Kissimmee, Florida were Kamele Sanchez (freshman) in the women’s 136-pound class, Ben Peterson (freshman) in the men’s 165-pound class, Blaine Larson (freshman) in the men’s 184-pound class, Jaysen Yakobson (sophomore) in the men’s 141-pound class, Luke Engler (freshman) in the men’s 174-pound class and Carrol Conley (senior) in the men’s 149-pound class.
Wayne State took first place in the team standings.
CSU’s improvement from an individual standpoint as well as from a team standpoint leaves them feeling optimistic about winning the conference next season.
“We have a young team full of freshman and people who are motivated to come back,” Brungardt said. “We will do even better next year.”
The NCWA National Championship will be held March 10-12 in Kissimmee, Florida. Seeding is yet to be determined.
Collegian Sports Reporter Eddie Herz can be reached at email@example.com.