EVANSTON, Ill. – The final day of the 50th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships started well for Lehigh on Sunday. The Mountain Hawks placed three in the finals and had six wrestlers place in the top eight. Unfortunately, Sunday night’s final session was unkind to the Mountain Hawks as Lehigh wrestlers went 0-3 in finals matches as the Mountain Hawks finished sixth in the team race with 74 team points.
Junior Joey Napoli, sophomore Nathaniel Brown and senior Robert Hamlin all won semifinal matches, but all three Mountain Hawks came up short in their finals appearances.
Napoli, the No. 3 seed at 157, advanced to the final with a come-from-behind win 4-3 over No. 10 seed Taylor Walsh of Indiana. In the finals, Napoli met top seed and No. 2 nationally-ranked Jason Welch of Northwestern. The first period was closely contested, but Welsh secured a takedown right before the buzzer to lead 2-0. Welch was able to ride out Napoli for the entire second period and after a quick escape in the third prevailed 4-0. Napoli is now 9-2 on the season with the two losses coming against the No. 1 and 2 ranked wrestlers nationally.
Brown continued his impressive run as the No. 9 seed at 174, beating No. 4 seed Dan Yates of Michigan 5-2 in the semifinals to earn a finals match against No. 2 seed Robert Kokesh of Nebraska. The Lehigh sophomore had an impressive start, converting a low single leg shot into a takedown in the opening seconds of the first period. Kokesh escaped and then secured a takedown of his own to lead 3-2 after one period. Brown opened the second on bottom and secured a reversal to lead 4-3, before Kokesh reversed back to regain the lead at 5-4. Kokesh added another reversal in the third and added riding time to win 8-4.
Hamlin reached his second straight Midlands final with a 3-2 semifinal win over Travis Rutt of Oklahoma at 184, but fell short in his bid to become just Lehigh’s second two-time undergraduate Midlands Champion and a member of the Midlands 20 in 4 club, for wrestlers who posted 20 wins in their first four tournaments. The top seed at 184, Hamlin faced No. 2 seed Ben Bennett of Central Michigan in a rematch of last year’s finals. Hamlin had two quality scoring opportunities in the first period, and Bennett had a good one of his own, but the first frame ended scoreless. Bennett escaped ten seconds into the second period to take a 1-0 lead and then put forth an impressive display on top, riding Hamlin for the first 1:20 of the third period. Hamlin finally escaped to tie the bout at one, but the 1:30 riding time advantage gave Bennett the 2-1 victory.
Lehigh entered Sunday’s action with three wrestlers alive in the consolation bracket at 133. Unattached sophomore Mason Beckman won a 12-3 major decision over Levi Wolfensperger of Northern Iowa to clinch a spot in the top eight. He then won his next two matches, downing top seed Scotti Sentes of Central Michigan 5-3 and Jesse Theilke of Wisconsin 10-5. Beckman had to settle for fourth place however, as he fell 12-7 to Tyler Graff of Wisconsin in the third place match. Graff is responsible for Beckman’s only two losses at the Midlands and Beckman’s only two losses this season.
In another round of 12 matchup, true freshmen Laike Gardner and Randy Cruz squared off, with the unattached Cruz prevailing by major decision 14-0. A loss to A.J. Schopp of Edinboro dropped Cruz to the seventh place match, where he posted an impressive 10-0 major over Sentes to place seventh in his first Midlands appearance.
Lehigh also had two wrestlers alive at 149. Senior Shane Welsh became the fourth Mountain Hawk point scorer to place in the top eight when he used a reversal to defeat Bart Reiter of Northern Iowa 2-0. Welsh lost in the consolation quarterfinals but took seventh place with a 3-0 win over Josh Wilson of Utah Valley. Welsh wins a place at the Midlands for the second straight year after finishing eighth last year.
True freshman Mitch Minotti finished one win short of placing, as he dropped his round of 12 matchup with sixth seed Eric Grajales of Michigan 3-1.
Illinois captured the team championship with 99.5 points, two more than second place Virginia Tech. Oklahoma finished in third place, followed by Oregon State, Central Michigan and then Lehigh. Virginia Tech’s Nick Brascetta, the champion at 149, was named Art Kraft Champion of Champions, while
Bennett received the Dan Gable Award as the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.
The Mountain Hawks will return to action on Sunday January 6 when they host EIWA rival Cornell at 2 p.m. inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. A limited number of tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, by logging on to Lehighsports.com or by visiting the Lehigh ticket office, located in Stabler Arena, during normal business hours.
133 – Laike Gardner - DNP
Rd. of 12: L by major dec. Randy Cruz (Lehigh) 14-0
133 – #6 Mason Beckman (unattached) – 4th place
Rd. of 12: major dec. Levi Wolfensperger (Northern Iowa) 12-3
Consolation quarters: dec. #1 Scotti Sentes (Central Michigan) 5-3
Consolation semifinals: dec. Jesse Theilke (Wisconsin) 10-5
3rd place match: L by dec. #3 Tyler Graff (Wisconsin) 12-7
133 – Randy Cruz (unattached) – 7th place
Rd. of 12: major dec. Laike Gardner (Lehigh) 14-0
Consolation quarters: L by dec. A.J. Schopp (Edinboro) 9-2
7th place match: major dec. #1 Scotti Sentes (Central Michigan) 10-0
149 – #9 Shane Welsh – 7th place
Rd: of 12: dec. Bart Reiter (Northern Iowa) 2-0
Consolation quarters: L by major dec. #5 Nick Lester (Oklahoma) 10-0
7th place match: dec. #8 Josh Wilson (Utah Valley)
149 – Mitch Minotti (unattached)
Rd. of 12: L by dec. #6 Eric Grajales (Michigan) 3-1
157 – #3 Joey Napoli – 2nd place
Semifinals: dec. #10 Taylor Walsh (Indiana) 4-3
Finals: L by dec. #1 Jason Welch (Northwestern) 4-0
174 – #9 Nathaniel Brown – 2nd place
Semifinals: dec. #4 Dan Yates (Michigan) 5-2
Finals: L by dec. #2 Robert Kokesh (Nebraska) 8-4
184 – #1 Robert Hamlin – 2nd place
Semifinals: dec. #4 Travis Rutt (Oklahoma) 3-2
Finals: L by dec. #2 Ben Bennett (Central Michigan) 2-1