Nate Brown wrestles Gabe Dean of Cornell in the finals match for the 184 pound weight class. Brown lost to Dean by a score of 6-2 to finish second in the NCAA National tournament. (photo courtesy of Eric Hess)

Lehigh makes a statement with wrestling performance at NCAA Championships

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The Lehigh wrestling team set off on a journey to St. Louis, Missouri, for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships from March 19-21.

At the event, hosted at the Scottrade Center, Lehigh finished No. 13 with three of its seven wrestlers being crowned as All-Americans.

Lehigh’s tournament was highlighted by junior Nathaniel Brown’s second place finish in the 184-pound weight class. Brown entered the tournament 25-5 with three of his in-season losses belonging to Cornell University’s freshman Gabe Dean, who won the 184-pound title.

Although he did not win, teammates, coaches and competitors have a great deal of faith and respect for him.

“In my eyes, Nate Brown is the greatest of all time,” sophomore Mitch Minotti said.

In a close match, Brown ultimately could not keep up with Dean’s quick offense and fell 6-2 in the final match. Seeded No. 7, Brown wrestled a total of five matches in the tournament and upset the No. 2 seed senior Max Thomusseit from University of Pittsburgh, another in-season foe.

“Nate as well as the rest of the guys had a great tournament,” junior Will Sullivan said.  “We want to build off our success this year and compete for a team title next year.”

In the 133-pound class, junior Mason Beckman earned All-American honors by placing sixth, the same finish as last year. Beckman, seeded No. 10had a long road back to the podium after losing in round one.  He managed to pull it off and score 11.5 points for Lehigh after wrestling seven matches. Beckman was pinned in his final match of the tournament by No. 1 seed senior Christopher Dardanes of the University of Minnesota.  On his Instagram account, he said it was not the result he had hoped for, but he is grateful for all the support he has gotten from his coaches, friends and teammates.

Sophomore Mitch Minotti entered the tournament 16-6 seeded No. 12 and came in eighth place in the 157-pound weight class, scoring 5.5 team points. He was Lehigh’s final All-American of the tournament. Minotti was No. 6 in the 2014 tournament.

Minotti stayed alive through two rounds of the winner’s bracket but fell to senior James Green of University of Nebraska. Minotti then wrestled two matches in the wrestle-backs but had to injury default his final match for seventh place due to a knee injury sustained the night before.

The other wrestlers competing in the tournament were freshman Scott Parker in the 125-pound weight class, sophomore Randy Cruz in the 141-pound weight class, senior Santiago Martinez in the 174-pound weight class and sophomore Elliot Riddick in the 197-pound weight class.

Parker began his tournament with a close loss to senior Sean Boyle of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but came back to win in round one of the consolation bracket before losing to Pennsylvania State University junior Jordan Conaway. Parker scored 0.5 points for Lehigh.

Cruz, seeded No. 13 entering the weekend, had a strong run and earned three points for Lehigh, but fell just short of All-American status by losing in round four of the consolation bracket to freshman Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers University.

Martinez also scored three team points for Lehigh. Seeded 15th, Martinez won his first match by fall in 6:56 but lost by major decision in round two to Penn State senior Matthew Brown, who went on to win the 174-pound title. Martinez fell in round two of the consolations to end his collegiate career.

Riddick was seeded No. 16 but lost his first match in the winner’s bracket as well as his consolation match to finish his tournament after two matches.

Lehigh finished in 13th, a five-place improvement from last year’s 18th place finish. The Ohio State University took the 2015 team title over Penn State, the champions for the past four years.

“As someone so involved with the team it’s so exciting to see the boys compete with the best of the best,” junior team manager Kallie Ziltz said. “It’s awesome to see a small school like Lehigh show up to the tournament and make a serious statement.  There is a lot to look forward to in the next few years.”

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