Navy wrestling is down to its third string heavyweight due to injuries and that proved problematic when the annual Star Match with archrival Army was decided at that weight class.
The visiting Black Knights trotted out the 20th-ranked heavyweight in the country. Meanwhile, the Midshipmen had to rely on an inexperienced sophomore with a losing record.
Riley Smith gave a valiant effort but Ben Sullivan did just enough to avoid a stunning upset, winning 1-0 at 285 pounds to deadlock the match at 15 points apiece. That sent the showdown to tiebreaker and Criteria C (total points scored) gave Army the victory, 29-26.
“That was one heck of a dual meet, as hard-fought as any I’ve been apart of in a while,” Army head coach Kevin Ward said. “It wasn’t pretty, but our guys found a way to get it done. Every point mattered. I’m just proud our guys were able to make history for our program."
Ward was referring to the fact Army has now won four straight dual meets with Navy, the first time in series history that has happened. The Midshipmen lead the overall series 49-10-5, but the Black Knights have now taken five of the last six.
“Really, it’s zero and zero going into every year. You don’t win this year’s match based off last year’s,” Ward said. “We had to come out and win tonight, and our guys dug deep and found a way to get it done.”
Smith was appearing in just the second dual meet of his brief career and put forth an admirable performance against Sullivan, whose second period escape produced the lone point of the bout.
With the raucous crowd of 2,012 at Alumni Hall on its feet, Smith (11-15) tried valiantly to score a takedown and was repeatedly rebuffed by Sullivan (17-9), who was fortunate to have not been hit with a stalling call during the final minute.
Senior Joshua Roetman, an NCAA qualifier at 197 pounds last season, was slated to start at heavyweight for Navy. However, Roetman is going special warfare and could not afford to push through a knee injury that might have threatened that service selection.
Navy turned to freshman John Birchmeier, who proved a real revelation and compiled a 16-9 record at 285 before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury in early February. That is why Smith was in the lineup for the biggest dual meet of the season.
“Riley Smith stepped up and wrestled a really strong match,” Navy head coach Joel Sharratt said. “That’s the No. 3 heavyweight on our depth chart three months ago and he pushed a nationally ranked guy to the limit.”
David Forney had recently completed a decorated career with the Navy football program and was preparing to audition for professional scouts. The standout offensive lineman was the absolute epitome of power and strength – a 6-foot-3, 300-pound behemoth.
Army has four ranked wrestlers and three of them came away victorious. No. 17 Trey Chalifoux beat Logan Treaster 5-2 at 125 pounds on the strength of two takedowns, while No. 18 Noah Stewart registered a crucial 11-3 major decision over Dean Caravela at 184.
Senior captain Spencer Carey gave Navy a huge lift by upsetting No. 11 Ben Harvey in the 174-pound bout. Carey had knocked off Harvey at last year’s EIWA Championships and did so again by scoring a takedown with four seconds remaining in the third period.
“We had a game-plan all week and really worked on it. It was basically to do what I did in that last match at EIWA,” said Carey, who was 1-1 against Harvey. “I was able to execute and get a good win for the team.”
Carey’s decision gave Navy a 12-8 lead, but Stewart followed with the major to tie the score.
Freshman Jacob Koser, who had barely practiced all week due to illness, came through big-time for the Midshipmen at 197. Koser scored two takedowns and earned single points from an escape and a stalling call in beating J.T. Brown, 6-1, to put the home team ahead, 15-12.
“I thought we competed really well at a lot of the weights. We had some of the guys put on their best performances of the season," Carey said. “A bunch of guys stepped up and team-wise I felt we wrestled tough.”
Saturday's traditional men's lacrosse game between Navy and Maryland has been postponed. Both schools agreed to postpone the contest due to an outbreak of the Norovirus among the Navy men's lacrosse team.
Afterward, Sharratt verbally reviewed every match and noted there were some missed opportunities. Casey Cobb dominated the shot count at 133 but just could not break through against Lane Peters, who earned a 3-1 decision.
Tanner Skidgel is the nation’s ninth-ranked 165-pounder and escaped with a 1-0 victory instead of scoring bonus points with a pin or major decision. Sharratt noted that Skidgel had recently undergone a “procedure” and had not competed in two weeks.
Jared Prince, a three-time NCAA qualifier, made his season debut at 149 pounds and also failed to give Navy four or six points. Prince had P.J. Ogunsanya in trouble throughout, but could not turn the sophomore onto his back.
After Prince and Ogunsanya exchanged handshakes, Army was docked a team point for an unsportsmanlike conduct call against Ogunsanya who threw his anklet aside. That point could have cost the Black Knights the match.
Prince, who was ineligible for the first semester, had wrestled all three of his previous matches at 157 pounds since being reinstated.
“Overall, I think we wrestled very well. They just had some more guns in their lineup,” Sharratt said. “I don’t like the way the score ended, but I think the team competed extremely hard.”
Sharratt was asked what Army has done to turn things around in the series and hinted it involves recruiting more wrestlers.
“They’ve made some changes. There’s a numbers game involved. If I have more missiles than you do, I have a better chance of winning the war,” he said. “If you have more weapons, you have a better chance of winning. If you put twice the number of (wrestlers) in the prep school, it’s going to pay off down the line.”