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2014 Southeast Conference Championships: Shorter Rolls

03/05/2014 -

Fourteen teams gathered for the 2014 NCWA Southeast Conference Championships held in Orlando, Florida at the University of Central Florida, but one team clearly distanced itself from the rest of the pack.

With 219.5 points, the Hawks (ranked #3 in the February 25th Coaches Poll) entered ten wrestlers and all qualified for the National Championships with six winning individual conference championships themselves. Ben Smith (#6 in NCWA points at 125 lbs), Brandon Dyer (141 lbs), Wally Figaro (#8 - 165 lbs), Dalton Lane (#3 - 174 lbs), Terrance Smith (#2 - 184 lbs), and Marlen Morgan (#10 - 285 lbs) all placed first in their weight classes while none of their teammates placed lower than fourth in their own. This is Shorter University’s first year competing in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association as they are a provisional member of the NCAA’s Division II. Even though they are the 3rd-ranked team according to the Coaches Poll, they placed 2nd at the Collegiate Cup Duals just behind #1 Grand Canyon University and ahead of #2 Liberty University. They will enter the National Championships with 21 points based on their finish at the Collegiate Cup Duals and are one of the favorites to win this year’s National Championships.

Conference host University of Central Florida (#5) earned runner-up status with 154.5 points after winning the conference in 2013. One of the NCWA’s premier powerhouse programs since re-starting its wrestling team in 2004, the Knights had three champions in 2013 National Qualifier Nick Anthony (#3 - 133 lbs), defending National Champion and 2016 Olympic hopeful Santiago Martinez (#1 - 157 lbs), and returning 3x All-American Josh Woods (#2 - 235 lbs); they also had six other wrestlers place in the top six in their weight classes and five others were awarded Wild Cards. Finishing in 5th place at the Collegiate Cup Duals, they will carry over 18 team points to start off with at the National Championships.

Florida Gulf Coast University (#12) also put nine through to the National Championships. Brothers Giovanni Jiovenetta (#7 – 174 lbs) and Vincent Jiovenetta (#9 – 184 lbs) claimed 2nd place in their respective weight classes to the lead the Eagles to a third-place finish with 116.5 points. After being upset by UCF’s Chris Fox in the quarterfinals, returning National Qualifier Austin Vajen worked all the way back to the 3rd place finals match to avenge that loss and beat Fox in the re-match. Florida Gulf Coast will start off with 10 points at the National Championships due to their 13th place finish at the Collegiate Cup Duals.

The University of Florida can now add a fourth-place finish (101.5 points) to their surprising season. Six wrestlers qualified for Nationals with Jacob Wasserman (125 lbs), Nick Anthony (133 lbs), and Beau Doerr (149 lbs) placing 2nd in their weight classes. All had earned bonus point wins in their round of 16, quarterfinal, and semi-final matches before getting to the finals. This season, the Gators placed 4th as a team at the 2013 UCF Open and won their own tournament the UF Tony Milanes Memorial Classic in January.

The University of South Florida (#14) ended the day in fifth place with 92 points. Heavyweight John Puleo upset 1st-seeded John Long of Marion Military Institute in the semi-finals to advance to the Conference finals against Morgan. Returning All-American Ryan Hall (#7) took 5th in a strong weight class to advance to his third National Championships. Nathan Hodges, the Bulls’ 197 lber and one of the leaders of the team, suffered an ankle injury leading up to Conference and did not enter the Conference tournament. In addition to their seven National Qualifiers and two Wild Cards, USF also placed 9th at the Collegiate Cup Duals to earn 14 points towards their team score at the National Championships and initially lead the nation in the Division II team standings.

The University of Georgia finished in 6th place with 76 points. They were one of three schools to have a Conference Champion (Shorter and Central Florida the other two). John Cook (149 lbs) and Paul Ardilla (197 lbs) almost won by major decision against their opponents in the finals while returning All-American Sergio Ardilla took 2nd at 165 lbs after defaulting before the finals. They just barely edged out Marion Military Institute (#21) who took 7th with 75 points and have National Qualifiers and one Wild Card to Nationals. Entering as the 6th seed, DeAndre Beck (149 lbs) won his quarterfinals match to advance to the semi-finals. After a loss, Beck never looked back and placed 3rd just like his teammate Long at heavyweight. Interestingly, Shorter University’s Ben Smith, Terrance Smith, and Marlan Morgan wrestled for and earned All-American honors while at MMI last season. With their 14th place finish at the Collegiate Cup Duals, Marion Military will start the tournament with 9 team points.

The University of North Florida, 8th place, pushed four wrestlers and one Wild Card through to Nationals with returning All-American Stuart Maddox (#1 – 235 lbs) placing 3rd. After being upset by UCF’s Brandon Williams in the quarterfinals, 1st-seeded Chad Baumann (#2 – 141 lbs) worked his way back to the 3rd place finals match where he then beat Williams; Dean Porreca (#3 – 184 lbs) also placed 3rd. They beat MMI in their placement match at the Collegiate Cup Duals and garnered 10 points for the National Championships. They finished a few points ahead of Mercer University (#11) who earned 61 points with their three National Qualifiers and one Wild Card wrestler. Wesley Adams had the highest finish of any Bear wrestler at the Conference Championships, finishing as the SEC Runner-up at 141 lbs. Mercer also finished in 10th place at the Collegiate Cup Duals so they will bring 13 points with them to Allen, Texas.

Auburn University had six wrestlers qualify for Nationals en route to a 10th place finish this year. Carl Brown (197 lbs) gave conference champion Ardilla his toughest match of the day, but lost in the semi-finals. He placed 3rd in his weight class as teammates Torrance Tyson finished in 4th at 285 lbs and Chas Ritter in 5th at 184 lbs. Georgia Southern University wasn’t far behind at 11th place while taking Josh Gaspard, 6th place at 141 lbs, and Najee Banks, 3rd at 174 lbs, to The Big Dance. For the University of Alabama, Frankie McKeown will try again to become an All-American for the first time – in 2013, the 165 lb Crimson Tide wrestler went 3-2 at the National Championships and was two rounds away from placing in the top eight; his two losses were a combined five points to the 4th- and 7th-place finishers. Florida A&M University and Florida State University tied with each other as each had a wrestler place 8th in their weight classes; FAMU’s Philip Menendez will be advancing to Nationals after he was awarded a Wild Card.

As every team now prepares for the 2014 NCWA National Championships held again in Allen, Texas this year, here are the preliminary team standings. As mentioned before, these points were awarded to the teams who participated in and placed at the 2014 Collegiate Cup Duals.

2014 Division I National Championships Pre-Tournament Team Standings (SEC teams bolded/underlined):
1. Grand Canyon University – 22
3. Liberty University – 20
4. The Apprentice School – 19
6. Grand Valley State University – 17
7. Mott Community College – 16
8. Middle Tennessee State University – 15
12. East Tennessee State University – 7
13. Southern Virginia University – 6
14. Tennessee Temple University – 5
15. All others – 0

2014 Division II National Championships Pre-Tournament Team Standings (SEC teams bolded/underlined):
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – 11
4. Stony Brook University – 8
5. University of Texas, Austin – 4
6. University of Connecticut – 3
7. University of Toledo – 2
8. University of South Carolina – 1

As the dust clears from this year’s Conference Championships, storylines begin to emerge: can Shorter edge out Grand Canyon for a National Championship after losing 23-19 to grand Canyon at the Collegiate Cup Duals? Will Liberty come back to win it all after its own 23-16 loss to Shorter? Can Central Florida pull off any more upsets and make it to the top? Will South Florida hold on to its lead with M.I.T. and Florida Gulf Coast chomping at the bit? How many Academic All-Americans did the SEC produce? And which SEC wrestlers will become All-Americans… and which will fall short?

These, along with more, will unfold in a week and a half over in Allen, Texas.