Eagles Fall, 21-15 to Mountain Cats

Luke Cramer, bottom, battles Pitt-Johnstown's Nikos Garafola.
Luke Cramer, bottom, battles Pitt-Johnstown's Nikos Garafola.

            Undermanned does not equal overmatched.

            Just about every wrestling team hits a point in the season where injuries result in a depleted lineup. That happened to the AU wrestling team on Friday night (Jan. 10) at Kates Gymnasium. While there is never a good time to collect bumps and bruises, this was a particularly difficult night to encounter this problem. The opponent was Pitt-Johnstown, the nation's 14th ranked team.

            AU, ranked 16th in the country, forfeited at 125 pounds and competed without Brent Fickel at 149 pounds and two-time All-American Joe Brandt at 197 pounds. Fickel and Brandt are a combined 40-6.

Despite those absences, the outcome of this match was in doubt until UPJ's Zachary Bennett got a pin at 197 pounds. The win went to the Mountain Cats, 21-15.

            "We want to win these duals, but we're looking toward the end of the season and the national tournament," said AU head coach Josh Hutchens. "The guys who were out there looked pretty good and they gave good battles."

            AU's wins came from 2013 All-American Michael Labry at 133 pounds, Kyle Burns at 157 pounds, Luke Cramer at 174 pounds and Bryson Hall at 184 pounds. All of those wrestlers won via decision.

            Labry and Hall are both ranked third in the country. Labry was a 9-3 winner over Luke Palamides. The win raised his record to 23-2.

            Hall was matched against Travis McKillop, who is ranked second in the nation. The AU junior had to go to overtime to earn a 4-2 win. In what was a close, tension-filled match from start to finish, he seemed to have more energy at the end.

            "Mistakes are usually a sign of fatigue," noted Hutchens. "Your brain is telling you to do one thing, but your muscles are doing something else. Bryson did a great job keeping his focus."

            Hall is 14-0.

            "This win gives him confidence," Hutchens said. "I won't let it go too much to his head, though. You don't win nationals in that dual, but he did a good job. He and some of these other guys are starting to believe they belong on a podium at the end of the season."

            Burns, who is 14-6, was a 4-1 winner over Sam Molina.

            Cramer upped his record to 11-6 with a 9-6 triumph over Nikos Garofola.

            Friday night's AU lineup included two freshmen, a redshirt-freshman and a pair of sophomores.

            It's not all about winning," said Hutchens. "Sometimes it's about focusing on individual things, positions, hand fighting and fundamentals."

            The Eagles are 5-4 and UPJ is 4-1.