West Liberty Qualifies Six for National Mat Tourney


March 10, 2008

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. - The level of competition continues to rise. So says West Liberty mat coach Brian Davis who will be taking six wrestlers to this weekend's NCAA Division II National Wrestling Tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Being able to see your kids work hard all season and finally get to his level is very rewarding," the first year coach said. "However, now that we're here we cannot slack off. The competition only gets better. We have a handful of guys that are ranked and capable of placing, but at the same time these rankings don't mean a lot. The better kid that shows up this weekend is going to place." The Hilltoppers' delegation ranges from a true freshman to a red shirt senior. "When you at this level your grade level doesn't matter," Davis indicated. "The guys who have peaked at the right time are the ones we have wrestling this weekend."

Leading the West Liberty delegation is returning national place winner Doug Surra. The Kersey, Pa. native is in his second season with the Hilltoppers mat program after posting 20 wins in his freshman year at Clarion.

"He has more experience than anyone we have on the team wrestling at Clarion for a year and placing at nationals last year," Davis said about his 141-pounder. Surra will enter the two-day grind ranked sixth in the country and with a 28-4 ledger, but Davis assures that his ranking has minimal meaning once Surra steps out onto the mat. "The kids in his weight class are the best of the best. On any given day any of those ranked guys could win his weight class," Davis said. "But our goal and his is to win it."

2008 West Lib NCAA Qualifiers
West Liberty wrestlers that are to represent the college at the NCAA Division II National Wrestling Tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from left, are Lucas Huffman (125), Matt Mossor (133), Doug Surra (141), Kayne Melko (149), Chris Gibbs (174) and Mitch Knapp (197). The Hilltoppers are coached by Brian Davis.

Also returning to the scene of the national tournament will be four-time qualifier Matt Mossor (18-8). "He has been there three times and never placed," Davis indicated as Mossor currently leads the West Liberty mat program in three-point nearfalls. "We were actually concerned if he was going to get out of the region because his weight class was loaded." Mossor, a Groveport native, earned his spot at the national tournament the long and hard way falling in the quarterfinal round. "After his first loss down there he came to life. He ran off four wins - two of which were to kids that have beaten him earlier in the year," Davis said.

Mossor's toughness allowed him to defeat Reimark Neidermeier of Belmont Abbey College (N.C.) 8-5 to for bronze as he positions himself in this weekend's national tournament. "He is just hitting his stride at the right time of the year and is going to be exciting to watch this weekend," Davis said as Mossor enters the national tournament with a 18-8 record.

Another returning national qualifier that barely made it to the national tournament Chris Gibbs (19-7). The Huntington, W.Va. native was shocked at the regional qualifier in the semi-final round by Albert Miles of the University of Pitt-Johnstown in overtime and was taken to his back for a pin by Bryan Blanton of Newberry College (S.C.). "After he lost we were worried about where his head was, but he came back and made it happen to qualify," Davis said about his 174-pounder.

Gibbs went on a mission to finish fifth and was given a true fourth match since he the fourth place finisher, Joby Shreckhise of Limestone College (S.C.), never went head-to-head during the tournament. The Hilltopper senior went quickly to work recording a pin and qualifying him for the third time to the national tournament.

The other three qualifiers in Davis' nucleus are all newcomers to the national tournament with Lucas Huffman (125), Kayne Melko (149) and Mitch Knapp (197).

Huffman, a former River standout, has traveled a long trail to qualify for his first national tournament. In 2006, Huffman was called for an illegal slam disqualifying him from the regional and in 2007 blew out his knee, but still decided to wrestle in the regional qualifier without much success. "He is on a mission," Davis said as Huffman enters the tournament with a 33-3 record. "He has used his setbacks to motivate him all year." The Hilltoppers fifth year senior earned a berth into the national tournament by defeating Chris Neidermeier of Belmont Abbey College (N.C.) 3-1 for bronze. Huffman has been in and out of the national rankings all season and was recently knocked out of the No. 7 spot, but believes he is more than capable of making the podium this season. "Rankings don't matter. I try to block it out," Huffman said. "Rankings are just added pressure."

Melko was an average wrestler during his prep days at St. John Central, but has turned it on at the collegiate level earning a spot as a true freshman. "Kayne has worked hard in every aspect this season," Davis said."in the room he is constantly picking some of the older kids brains trying to improve." The Hilltopper rookie was four seconds shy of potentially knocking off Mercyhurst's Brian Pogel, currently ranked third nationally, as he was just short of riding time to force his regional semi-final match into overtime. "If I would have just pulled the trigger a little bit earlier and gotten that takedown five seconds earlier it's a whole different match," Melko said as he finished the match with 57 seconds of riding time."

The loss weakened Melko's positioning, but he still managed to finish fourth in the qualifier for his first berth in the national tournament. Melko enters the tournament with a 20-11 record.

Knapp, a McConnelsville native, might be one of the biggest surprises to Davis this season as the true freshman earned a berth into this weekend's national tournament. "He has been a big surprise," Davis admitted. "I don't want to necessarily give credit to myself or my other coach because he is the one that has done all the dirty work to get where he is at right now." Knapp (20-11) is no stranger to Davis as the West Liberty coach took note of Knapp as wrestled in the same district tournament as Buckeye Local High School, where Davis coached last season, where he beat some high caliber wrestlers. "Mitch stepped it up early taking a nationally ranked kid into overtime earlier this season," Davis indicated. The Hilltopper freshman positioned himself into this weekend's dance by earning fourth at the Pitt-Johnstown regional last week as he lost 3-2 in his bronze medal match to Trevor Gallo of Mercyhurst. "He has great mat awareness and that is not something you can teach. It is something you either have or you don't," Davis said about Knapp.

125 - Lucas Huffman (West Liberty) (33-3) vs. Curtis Schurkcamp (San Francisco State University) (18-12)
133 - Matt Mossor (West Liberty) (18-6) vs. Tim Elliot (University of Central Oklahoma) (19-3)
141 - Doug Surra (West Liberty) vs. Gabriel Suarez (San Francisco State University) (32-4)
149 - Kayne Melko (West Liberty) vs. Camille Dupont (Western State College of Colorado) (22-1)
174 - Chris Gibbs (West Liberty) (19-7) vs. Kamarudeen Usman (University of Nebraska-Kearney) (22-7)
197 - Mitch Knapp (West Liberty) (21-11) vs. Tyler Copsey (Agustana College of South Dakota) (28-5)

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