Warner Repeats Title, Cardinals Wrestling Sets New Standard
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – In the fifth year as a program, the Cardinals Culture wrestlers made their presence truly felt among the Regional's best. Dustin Warner completed his 133-pound title repeat, while the team qualified a program-best five for the NCAA Division II nationals and placed its best of a solid third in the final team standings.
Joining Warner, WJU sends a new program standard of five total as four of his teammates going to nationals are his brother Tyler Warner (141) and Terrance Fanning, who were third, while both Keegan Driscoll (165) and Aidan Pasiuk (184) were fourth.
The Cardinals bested their team standings with a third place finish with 101.5 points, only 10 shy of the runner-up Mountain Cats of Pitt-Johnstown (111.5). Notre Dame College repeated as Super Region I champions with 133.5 points.
"For us to go two for seven in the quarters to having five qualifiers and two alternates, it says so much about this group of men and the heart they have," said WJU head coach Danny Irwin. "You always want more as a coach, but we could have easily had less. These guys forgot about the clock and the scoreboard and just went out there to scrap from start to finish! This paid off today and will pay off for us in two weeks in Iowa.
Our coaching staff was on point leading into this weekend and in the decisions, which were made in the key moments paid off! (Sawyer) Leppla, (Reyse) Wallbrown and (Kyle) Harris were key to our success too and their efforts should not be overlooked," stressed Irwin.
Starting with the senior leader, Dustin Warner started off his Saturday morning with the biggest third-period effort of the season against No. 1 seed Darius Bunch of West Liberty. He went from down 1-0 to reversing Bunch at 1:33 to take the lead and followed the move with a 4-point near fall to key his 8-4 win. In the 133-pound title match, Warner pulled out a close 3-2 victory over Notre Dame College's Kelan Mckenna to claim his second-straight Super Region I title and tied the WJU career wins record of 98 with the win.
"DJ was the man from the time he stepped on UPJ's campus until the tournament was over. He knocked off the No. 1 ranked guy and then the No. 8 ranked wrestler from Notre Dame," stated Irwin.
"I felt good coming out on top again at the regional and to have my brother and three others join me at Nationals means even more,"DJ, the two-time All-America, exclaimed.
Speaking of DJ's brother, Tyler Warner came within a point of potentially joining him on the top spot of the podium. Going into the final period scoreless, defending regional champion and top seed Chris Eddins of UPJ escaped Warner at 1:12 and finished the match with a 1-0 decision. Tyler did not take the hard defeat effect his Consolation Semifinal match as he prevailed over Kevin Kinyua of Mercyhurst, 7-4. Warner rode the momentum into a tough third-place match where he took down two-time national qualifier Joe Calderone of LIU-Post by a 5-3 final.
Irwin added, "Tyler Warner did a great job bouncing back after a heartbreaking loss in the semis. He won two straight and knocked off a returning all-American. His attack rate was the highest it has been all season and with some more fine tuning he will be hard to beat in two weeks."
"It felt good to wrestle the way I did today and put myself in position for the opportunity to compete for a title in Iowa," said Tyler Warner.
The second Cardinal making a return trip to nationals and his first at 285 was Fanning. The redshirt junior, who qualified at 197 last year, made easy work of Derek Barberick of Shippensburg in the Consolation Semis by a 16-5 major decision. Fanning gained some measure of revenge from a 7-6 loss at National Duals with a tough 3-2 win over Gannon's Nick Budd as a second period takedown was the difference. Fanning finished his Regional Saturday run with a decisive 11-2 major decision over Ryan Appleby of Kutztown.
"He crushed it today! He wrestled so well today an official asked us, "who the heck beat him yesterday!" Nothing more needs to be said then," explained Irwin.
Fanning added afterwards, "I knew this tournament was going to be hard going into it. Our team and coaching staff worked hard and turned some heads these past couple of days! Now all our focus is on nationals and continuing to improve on our positions and continue to shock the national."
The gritty Driscoll made his run to national qualification a dramatic one. The junior took until the final moments of his Consolation Semifinal to takedown Mercyhurst's Gavin Wilkerson for the 10-8 win. He moved on to upset the No. 1 seed Michael Raccioppi of East Stroudsburg by a more comfortable 13-8 decision. Millersville's Shane Ruhnke bested Driscoll for the second time this weekend in a 1:02 fall in the third-place match. Driscoll, though, had one final moment of excitement as he secured a late escape to tie Notre Dame College's Anthony Dailey, 6-6. In overtime, Driscoll took his foe down for the 8-6 win and national berth with the fourth-place finish.
"We have been stressing to Keegan and everyone on the team about pulling the trigger first and not worrying about the clock or the score, and Keegan exemplified this the whole weekend. Hee got a stall call at the end of his match to put the bout into OT and eventually took his opponent down to win," told Irwin.
"Today was both humbling and exciting. I'm grateful for my coaches, trainers, and teammates for helping me thus far and for the next two weeks. God has blessed my team and I, and I couldn't be more thankful," said Driscoll.
Freshman Pasiuk became the final WJU national qualifier at 184. The first-year Cardinal started strong with a resounding 19-9 major decision over UPJ's Alex Delp in the Consolation Semis. He continued to a solid 4-2 win with a key second-period escape and takedown over Gannon's Nick Costa. Notre Dame College's top seeded Tony Vezzetti had his hands full, but edged Pasiuk, 7-4 in the third place bout. Pasiuk won the fourth place award due having defeated Costa earlier in the day.
"He has had moments of doubt this season and even yesterday. He stayed positive however and wrestled with some more fire that he hadn't shown to this point. It paid off for him and he will need to build upon that for Nationals," explained Irwin.
Pasiuk concurred, "I feel that I wrestled well over this weekend. It's awesome to be going to nationals as a true freshman! However, my journey is not done yet."
Both Daniel Romero (149) and Connor Craig (157) fell a win shy of joining their Cardinals teammates as they were fifth.
At 149, Romero began his Saturday strong with a 14-7 victory over Austin Scrivani of Kutztown in the Consolation Semis. He suffered a 2-0 defeat to UPJ's Corey Falleroni in the next bout and had to come back in the match before the fourth place one. Romero secured a berth in the fourth-place bout with an 8-6 overtime decision over Seton Hill's Austin Shaw. As Pasiuk had the advantage by rule in his fourth-place match, Romero finished fifth due to having lost to Falleroni earlier in the day.
Freshman Craig had his impressive first year come to a close one-win shy of nationals as well. Craig started with a pin of Michael O'Brien from Kutztown in 4:09 in the Consolation Semis. Unlike at National Duals, Craig could not best last year's regional runner-up Erik Lewandowski as he dropped a tight 5-0 score. The WJU first-year wrestler stayed alive as he major decisioned, 20-6, TJ Fabian of LIU-Post, who had defeated him 5-3 in Friday's Quarterfinals. In the fourth-place bout, Zach Voytek from Seton Hill went out to a 9-6 second-period lead and held off Craig by a 13-10 final to prevent the Cardinal's national trip.
"As exciting as it is qualifying five to the National Tournament, it's heartbreaking having two guys like Daniel Romero and Connor Craig not make it out after the effort they gave each and every day," finished the WJU coach.
The final WJU wrestler to make it the Regional second day, Justice Avery, came up short in his Consolation Quarterfinal match. He tied the match against Alderson Broaddus' Gino Sita, 2-2, but could not gain the lead and fell 8-3 ending his season at 20-12.
The five WJU wrestlers will travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the NCAA Division II National Championships on Friday and Saturday, March 9-10.
Notre Dame College 133.5 points
Wheeling Jesuit 101.5
Seton Hill 69.0
West Liberty 33.5
Alderson Broaddus 31.0
13 Ohio Valley 19.5
14. East Stroudsburg 8.5
15. American Internationa l7.5
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