West Chester University wrestling took six wrestlers to the national tournament two weeks ago, coming away with two national champions and two more All-Americans.The team that came back to existence only two years ago is now the holder of two national titles and the sixth best team in the nation at their level. Coach Joe Miller has done a fantastic job bringing wrestling back to West Chester University, training a dominating class of Golden Ram wrestlers and coaching staff, and making this university’s team known nationally among the greats in wrestling.
Their presence also spoke mightily during the champion’s parade, which took place Saturday after the finals were over. Champions and runners-up were recognized in front of the entire crowd for their performance, with West Chester University being called out three times. Three is more than any other team had compete in a finals match.
The two national champions for WCU was also a tournament high. No other team had more than one wrestler walk away with a national title. Coach Joe Miller had to just sit back and ponder what he was witnessing. Looking back to where the team was just a year and a half ago, it was incredible to see them now at nationals with three wrestlers in the finals.
The lowest weight class that West Chester competed in was 125 pounds. After three Golden Rams entered at this weight in the regional qualifier, and two of them placed in the top three, the Golden Rams had two wrestlers going in the 125 lb. weight class, Mike Flynn and John Dickinson.
Flynn went into the tournament with one of his most hard fought battles of the season. Fighting hard in his first match, he eventually fell by the close score of 3-1 to the Kennesaw State opponent.
After being bumped down to the consolation bracket, Flynn was on thin ice, as one loss would stomp out any chance of an All-American showing. Flynn gave it good effort, but was eliminated by a Navy Prep wrestler who fought his way through the consolations to earn an All-American certificate with a seventh place showing.
Dickinson was the other WCU wrestler at 125 lbs., and was one of West Chester’s four All-Americans, coming in with a sixth place showing, also earning the team valuable points.
It was a long weekend for Dickinson, but it paid off for him in the end. Things started off with a Longwood wrestler, where he easily advanced with a pin in the match’s first period. His next opponent was a Kansas state runner-up, whom he easily beat by major decision, 14-6.
After fighting hard to earn a spot in the semi-finals, he fell by the narrowest of margins in a 4-3 match to Northampton’s Tony Fusco. All-American honors came down to the next match in consolations, where a win would guarantee spot on the podium. Dickinson showed the crowd what he was made of, handling the New Haven wrester in a 5-0 victory. Moving on, he made easy work of UMBC wrestler Angelo Ambridge 10-3, whom he had lost to earlier in the season, upping his guaranteed place finish.
Dickinson’s next bout was with the tournaments top seed, where his loss ended his run in the consolations, and placed him in the fifth place match with Fusco, the wrestler responsible for ending his winner’s bracket run. Dickinson was unable to avenge his earlier loss, losing to Fusco and coming home with a most impressive sixth place finish to West Chester University.
Brandon Banks came back to nationals this year for the second time at the 197-pound weight class. Banks looked to be heading to an All-American top eight showing, until a rare turn of events took place.
Banks first match ended in an 11-6 victory for him, as he overcame the Georgia Southern opponent and advanced in the top bracket. A well balanced battle with a Wayne State wrestler ended with Banks in the consolation bracket.
His next match was going well, and seemed to be a lock for a major decision for Banks. Up 10-4, there was an unfortunate turn of events, as the UMBC wrestler locked up for a rare unconventional hold which Banks could not break, pinning Banks and ending his tournament hopes.
Dustin “Tank” Tancredi, who plowed through every opponent he faced in the regular season, didn’t miss a beat as he rolled through to a runner-up finish in the national tournament.
As the crowd is well used to seeing, Tank pinned his first two opponents in quick matches. His next bout displayed his power as well as his endurance. At the end of regulation, the match was locked up at a 1-1 standstill. In the following overtime period, Tancredi eventually downed the Southern Illinois-Edwardsville opponent to advance to the semi-finals to face the Minnesota state champion.
Fighting hard until the end, Tancredi found himself down by one late in the final period. The Air Force Prep champion seemed locked to advance to the finals, until he lost his footing and fell to the ground. Tank seized the opportunity and smothered his opponent, taking a one point lead with the takedown and holding on until time expired, giving himself a shot at the national championship.
Tank’s contender was another state champion, this one from Kansas. Once again, Tancredi found himself locked in a tight battle late in the third period. The duo was in neutral position, deadlocked at four points each. Time was winding down, and Tancredi went in for a takedown. He looked to have a good hold, and was in position to spin around for the two points and national title. In inconceivable manner though, the Wichita State competitor managed somehow to break Tank’s hold and solidify the takedown, relegating Tank to a runner-up showing.
WCU wrestler Kevin Bacci came away from the national tournament undefeated and holding the highest All-American recognition, as he walked away a national champion at 174 pounds.
He made it look easy, beating all of his opponents by at least six points. Bacci’s first match against a Wayne State wrestler ended in a 13-5 major decision. He followed that with an 11-5 victory over an Apprentice School opponent. The Apprentice School is one of the top wrestling teams in the country, finishing second in the national tournament.
Bacci pinned his next Navy Prep opponent, taking him to the semi-final bout, a rematch with Central Florida wrestler CJ Hauser, the Florida state champ. Bacci faced Hauser in the National Duals, where he won 7-2. Bacci turned that into a major decision this time, taking him down in a 12-4 showing.
That left one more match to the title, as his Vermont competitor entered the ring. Bacci displayed just how dominating he was, as he completed a rare pin in the finals match, and earned a spot on top of the podium, bringing home one of West Chester’s two national championships.
Dillon Evans, last year’s national champion, came back this year to defend his title and did just that.
Returning strong from the flu, Evans easily overcame his first opponent with a 20-5 technical fall. His next two matches were 11-1 and 11-0 victories, both major decisions. Evans was hardly tested until his semi final match with a former Colorado state champion from Air Force Prep.
It was a battle until the end, but Evans ultimately came out of the dual on top 4-2, with only one match left to defend his title, the former Michigan state champion from Army Prep.
Uncharacteristically, Evans fell behind 2-0 early. That minor setback proved to be only a bump in the road, as Evans controlled the rest of the match, and came out on top for an exciting 5-4 victory, and second consecutive national championship, a thrilling feat.
WCU wrestling completed an amazing season. They had an outstanding dual meet record. They placed fourth at the national duals. They won the Mid-East Conference championships. They placed sixth as a team at nationals, and brought home two national championships.
And to top it all off, head coac
h Joe Miller was named as the National Coach of the Year at the All-American banquet following nationals.
Coach Miller capped off the ceremony and the season with this statement on the stage. “This award is a testament to what our coaching staff, our wrestlers and the West Chester University alumni all have done over the past year and a half to bring the greatest sport on earth back to the WCU campus after a 22-year absence.”
Ryan Frisco is a third-year student majoring in Communication studies. He can be reached at RF648257@wcupa.edu.