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NAIA Rallies to beat NCWA in See-Saw Battle 23-15 at American Airlines Challenge

01/16/2011 -

By JC Carnahan
ORLANDO, Fla. – The NAIA swept the final three matches to come from behind and defeat the NCWA, 23-15, Saturday at the second annual American Airlines Champions Challenge. The first-of-its-kind dual match showcased many of the top wrestlers from each association, with six NAIA All-Americans and four NCWA wrestlers who competed for national titles last year within their respective lineups.

The NCWA grabbed a 15-13 lead after the 174-pound match when Kevin Bacci of West Chester (Pa.) pinned Jameon Rush of Hastings College (Neb.). But a trio of Missouri Valley College wrestlers – Jesse Alter (184), Charles Gibbs (197) and Travis Ewart (285) – posted wins in the final three weight classes to seal another NAIA win at The Venue on the campus of the University of Central Florida.

The NAIA won last year’s inaugural event, 39-3.

“It’s a great chance for both divisions to see each other and it’s a good opportunity for the guys to get better on both sides,” Morningside College coach Jake Stevenson said. “The more we can promote it the better it is for the sport.”

Stevenson worked the corner for the NAIA team along with Brian Jackson (Missouri Baptist) and Patrick Giangrasso (Missouri Valley). Jason Balma (of UCF), Jovon Butler (Apprentice School) and John Petty (California Baptist) coached the NCWA team.

The Bacci-Rush match was one of the headlining matchups going into the event, as it was a rematch of last year’s 174-pound thriller that saw Rush (No. 6 in NAIA) hand Bacci a 4-3 loss in triple overtime. The loss became a turning point for Bacci, as he went on to win the NCWA national championship.

“By the end of last year I’d grown by leaps and bounds,” Bacci said after Saturday’s match. “After getting more and more training I was a little more ready to come back out here and get it done this time.”

Bacci’s pin at 2:55 of the first period put the NCWA ahead, 15-13. It was the only pin of the 10 matches.

“I knew I needed to get some big points there because this thing was going to be pretty close,” Bacci said.

It would be the last of four wins by the NCWA (one came by injury default), but taking the lead that late in a dual match it lost by 36 points last year spoke volumes for the NCWA’s development against its well-established brethren.

“The better we do here the better our reputation is and the better our credibility holds,” Bacci said of the event.

Most of the competitors taking part wrestled with a similar mentality. The meet got off to a spirited start as the teams split the first four matches in competitive fashion.

A 12-10 win at 125 pounds by Paulie Hansen (Missouri Valley College) against Alex Chiracosta (UCF) came by way of a takedown in overtime. Chiracosta trailed by six at one point but clawed his way back with a near-fall in the closing seconds to tie the match at 10-10.

UCF’s Steve DeAugustino, ranked No. 2 in the NCWA at 133 pounds, followed with a tough 8-5 win against Anton Prater (Missouri Baptist). DeAugustino broke a 4-4 tie by scoring a takedown with 40 seconds remaining.

“Half of the reward for coming out here for this meet is you’re guaranteed solid competition,” DeAugustino said. “Any chance we can get to wrestle up against some tough competition, I’m all for it.”

Morningside (Iowa) senior Drew Smith scored a 1-0 win over junior Kendall Albert of Kennesaw State in a battle of each association’s fourth-ranked 141-pounders. An escape with 25 seconds to go in the third period proved to be enough for Smith.

California Baptist sophomore Christopher Santana ended his 149-pound match in the second period leading Danny Hutcheson of Dakota Wesleyan by a 5-1 count. Santana, the NCWA’s top-ranked wrestler in that class, scored a takedown and a near-fall before Hutcheson withdrew due to injury.

From there, the NAIA began flexing its muscle as Brad Cusatis (Hastings) defeated Ricky Anderson (Apprentice), 12-2, at 157 pounds, and Morningside sophomore Joe Sievert defeated Dustin Tancredi of West Chester, 8-2, in the 165-pound class to put the NAIA ahead, 13-9, with six of the 10 matches in the books.

“These guys that we’re going against, they have everything to lose as opposed to us,” Santana said. “That’s pretty big on their part. Thanks to them we’ve got the opportunity to show what we’ve got.”

Bacci’s pin put the NCWA in front for the moment, but the lead changed for good when Alter (ranked No. 4 in the NAIA) pulled a reversal in the closing seconds of the 184-pound match, earning a 5-3 win over South Carolina’s Ben Brummel.

The pair of Missouri Valley seniors closed the win as Gibbs defeated Richard Rippy (UCF), 11-4, and Travis Ewart beat Brian Milford (Texas A&M), 11-3.

The quality of matches by each association proved to be a step in the right direction for the event organizers. The NCWA aims to include wrestlers from NCAA’s Division II and Division III programs for next year’s gathering.

“I see this continuing to grow,” NCWA Executive Director Jim Giunta said. “Both of these associations have taken it a little more serious in terms of sending better coaches and athletes, and I anticipate it getting even better.”

2011 American Airlines Champions Challenge
Sat., Jan. 15, at The Venue in Orlando, Fla.
Match Results
125 lbs. – Paulie Hansen, Missouri Valley, def. Alex Chiracosta, Central Florida, 12-10 (OT)
NAIA leads 3-0
133 lbs. – Steve DeAugustino, Central Florida, def. Anton Prater, Missouri Baptist, 8-5
tied 3-3
141 lbs. – Drew Smith, Morningside (Iowa), def. Kendall Albert, Kennesaw State (Ga.), 1-0
NAIA leads 6-3
149 lbs. – Christopher Santana, California Baptist, def. Danny Hutcheson, Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.), injury default
NCWA leads 9-6
157 lbs. - Brad Cusatis, Hastings (Neb.), def. Ricky Anderson, Apprentice (Va.), 12-2
NAIA leads 10-9
165 lbs. - Joe Sievert, Morningside (Iowa), def. Dustin Tancredi, West Chester (Pa.), 8-2
NAIA leads 13-9
174 lbs. - Kevin Bacci, West Chester (Pa.), def. Jameon Rush, Hastings (Neb.), by fall 2:55
NCWA leads 15-13
184 lbs. - Jesse Alter, Missouri Valley, def. Ben Brummel, South Carolina, 5-3
NAIA leads 16-15
197 lbs. - Charles Gibbs, Missouri Valley, def. Richard Rippy, Central Florida, 11-4
NAIA leads 19-15
285 lbs. - Travis Ewart, Missouri Valley, def. Brian Milford, Texas A&M, 11-3
NAIA wins, 23-15

AA Challenge history
2010 – NAIA 39, NCWA 3
2011 – NAIA 23, NCWA 15