Binghamton’s top athletic program is set to send four wrestlers to Des Moines, Iowa, for the NCAA Championships this Thursday with the hopes of adding to the University’s lone Division I national championship.
After impressing with a 14th place finish at last year’s national championships, the Binghamton wrestling team will boast two top-10 seeds in this year’s tournament for the second year in a row.
The NCAA announced on Wednesday that Binghamton senior 149-pound Donnie Vinson will carry the No. 3 seed into the tournament while senior 197-pound Nate Schiedel yielded the No. 7 seed. Senior 133-pound Derek Steeley and junior 184-pound Cody Reed will enter the championship unseeded.
“We’re not trying to do anything different … or look for some magic formula here at the end of the year,” BU head coach Matt Dernlan said. “We’re staying consistent with the game plan that we’ve approached and attacked all season … Our talking points have been the same, now it’s just apply the same message that we’ve used all year and take it to the [NCAA] tournament and get ready to have our best performance.”
The Bearcats capped off a 5-13 regular season with a second-place finish at the CAA Championship on March 9. Vinson and Schiedel, who will both return to the tournament for the fourth time of the respective careers, led Binghamton throughout the regular season, going undefeated in dual matches and combining for a 51-2 overall record.
Vinson is set to open his tournament against unseeded Ohio State redshirt junior Ian Paddock in the lone preliminary bout of the 149-pound weight class, as decided by random draw. The Binghamton All-American is coming off a CAA championship performance that garnered him his second consecutive conference title and the Most Outstanding Wrestler award for the second straight year.
His third place finish at last year’s NCAA tournament was the highest-ever in Binghamton’s Division I history, but it came after an opening-round loss and seven consecutive wins. In his three NCAA tournament appearances, Vinson has never won in the first round. But with the senior slated to open his tournament with a “pigtail” match, one appended to the bracket’s first round, he said he hopes his first-round fate will change.
“I’ve lost the first-round match every year I’ve gone out but this being a pigtail match, hopefully that’s a little different,” Vinson said. “You can’t really look at it as a bad thing. In the long run, it’s just gonna be another win on my overall record, hopefully. But again, I’m kind of excited about the changeup. Hopefully I’ll just have a good rest right after our weigh-ins and come out like a ball of fire.”
Schiedel will face unseeded Duke freshman Conner Hartmann, who took third at the ACC championship. Schiedel, who is coming off a second-place finish at CAAs, echoed a seemingly team-wide sentiment about the importance of taking the tournament one match at a time.
“A lot of crazy things happen at the national tournament,” he said. “Guys get caught up in the tournament, looking at who they’ll have in the next round, and then some guys are gonna get upset and guys aren’t gonna win where they’re supposed to and you get caught up in that, it can play a factor.”
Steeley reiterated the need to look at the national championship as just another tournament. Unlike the other three Binghamton athletes headed to Des Moines, this will be the senior’s first year at the NCAAs. Steeley earned the berth with a runner-up finish at the CAA championship a month after what initially looked like a potentially career-ending hamstring tear. Steeley is slated to face Sam Speno, an unseeded freshman from NC State, the program former Binghamton head coach Pat Popolizio now heads. Popolizio left Binghamton for the NC State job at the end of last season.
When asked about the insider scouting report Speno will have access to through Popolizio, Steeley said it might give him a slight advantage, but not a great one because he has changed up a lot of his technique this season.
“I feel like it’s a good match,” he said.
“It’ll allow me to get maybe some payback [on] Coach,” he added with a smile.
Reed, in his second NCAA tournament appearance, drew the Bearcats’ only seeded first-round opponent in No. 6 Northern Iowa redshirt junior Ryan Loder. Loder topped Reed 3-0 at the Midlands Championship in December. But Reed ended his regular season with momentum, winning six of his last seven matches and taking the title at the CAA championship. The junior said having experience against his opponent as well as at the championships, where he advanced with an upset over the No. 4 seed as an unseeded sophomore, provides him with an advantage.
“You get used to the big stage,” Reed said. “You get used to it and you block out everybody around you and you just go [about] your routine. You know what you have to do and just keep it in perspective.”
Dernlan reiterated what seemed to be the common idea of compartmentalizing the tournament and not letting it get too big in the minds of the players. But the first-year head coach also didn’t deny the hugeness of the reality.
“There is pressure in this situation,” he said. “Might as well not shy away from it. It’s there. This is a big moment … I told the guys pressure’s a good thing. That means people care, that people have expectations of you, and that’s what you want in life. You don’t want to be that darkhorse coming out of nowhere, that means you kind of got lucky in a certain way.”
The tournament is set to open at 10 a.m. on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena and wrap up on Saturday.