Courtesy: UGF Sports Information
Redshirt-freshmen ruled the day for (8) Argo wrestling at the 2017 NAIA West Region Finals. UGF was thwarted at many turns by eventually regional champion (10) Southern Oregon, but still managed to finish in second behind the Raiders thanks to three redshirt-freshmen that placed in the top-3.
Those top finishers were John Hensley, who won the region at 197, Shonn Roberts, who finished second at 141, and Randy Keesler, who finished in third at 174. By finishing third or better in the region, all three of those wrestlers have earned automatic bids to the 2017 NAIA Men’s Wrestling Championships. More Argos are likely to follow with 30 national wildcard spots still to fill.
The 197 weight class was supposed to be the clearest path to a regional champion for UGF with Hensley and teammate sophomore (8) Matt Hopkins the top two seeds in the bracket. Hensley met those expectations starting with a win by Technical Fall (25-6) in the quarterfinal. The semifinal match ended up being the freshman’s closest match of the tournament, and he still won by 7 points with a 15-8 decision over Eastern Oregon’s Eric Fan.
That win clinched Hensley’s first trip to the national tournament, but he still had work left to do. In the finals, he faced (11) Tanner Fischer of Southern Oregon who beat Hopkins in the semifinals. Hensley was one of the few Argos in the tournament to have no trouble with a Raider foe, winning a 14-5 Major Decision to win the region.
Hopkins finished in fourth in the region, losing to Fan in the third place match after Fischer took away his chance at meeting Hensley in the finals. His efforts were still good enough to earn one of the five regional wildcards and he will join the three freshmen at nationals.
At 141, redshirt-freshman (7) Shonn Roberts put in an impressive performance in his first two matches. His day started with a win by Fall (2:05) against Warner Pacific’s Baylen Cooper which set up his first major hurdle in the tournament’s second toughest bracket. That hurdle took the form of (5) Steel Escobedo from Menlo College, the highest rated wrestler in the region.
When the two met earlier in the year, Escobedo beat Roberts in a 10-7 decision, but things were much different this time. The UGF freshman made quicker work of him than he did Cooper, winning by Fall (1:49).
His finals opponent was a surprise, SOU’s Devin Poppen who entered the tournament ranked fifth in the region. Poppen continued to surprise, getting the better of Roberts in a 17-13 decision.
Next to 197, the 174 weight class seemed like the most promising for UGF. (6) Randy Keesler entered as the clear favorite but after a 17-7 Major Decision in the first round he ran into another overachieving unranked Raider. This time it was Andrew Orr, who beat Keesler in a 5-2 decision.
Kessler rebounded for the loss, however, charging through the consolation bracket with a 15-3 Major Decision followed by a win by Fall (5:42) in the third place match to punch a ticket to the national tournament.
While he didn’t earn an automatic berth to nationals, redshirt-freshman Casey Dobson did well to finish in fourth at 149. He finished right in line with his regional ranking heading into the tournament losing to (8) Anton King in the third place match in a 13-4 decision.
Senior Sam Voigtlaender was given a tough draw to start the 184 bracket, going up against (2) Ben Stroh of MSU-Northern. Stroh won in a Technical Fall, but Voigtlaender rallied with a 14-4 Major Decision in the consolation bracket. A loss to (15) Jovan Villalobos of Menlo, sent the senior to the fifth place match. He was the only one of six
Five Argos finished in sixth. Some of those results were disappointing, mostly (8) Khaldoon Rashid at 165, while some were encouraging. The best of those results was likely redshirt-junior Isaac Wilson in a 125 weight class that was virtual murderers row.
When taking in to account the available wildcard spots, it’s possible that the top six wrestlers in region at the weight class make nationals and Wilson is one of the few on the bubble. He helped his cause with a big win over (7) Chandler Strand of Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) in the first round. That 5-2 decision could be enough on its own to earn Wilson a wildcard vote.
He further helped his cause with a close 11-7 decision loss to (3) Troy Lakin of Menlo College. Wilson would eventually face Strand again in the fifth place match, but this time Strand won a 13-5 Major Decision.
There are still 30 national wildcard spots open, one of which will almost certainly go to Rashid, a senior who has been ranked in the Top-10 all year and was a national qualifier in 2016. Wilson is eighth on the regional wildcard list, making it possible but not necessarily likely that he makes nationals.
The 2017 NAIA Wrestling Championship will be held on March 3-4 in Topeka, Kansas.