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Wrestling seeks to nab NCAA berths through EIWA championships

First year in the nation’s second-best conference, no apprehensions, no expectations. The Binghamton wrestling team is just ready to do what it always does: compete at its highest level.

With the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships this weekend, Binghamton (3-8) will compete with 17 other teams in the event, which doubles as the NCAA qualifiers. There are a total of 47 NCAA automatic bids, and the Bearcats will face off against the nation’s top talent in pursuit of them.

“This goes for any postseason championship, I don’t care what the conference is; this is what we live for. This is what we’ve got to be excited about,” Binghamton head coach Matt Dernlan said. “We embrace the new challenge of the EIWAs.”

Dernlan, who comes from a Big Ten background through Penn State’s dominant program, said he relishes these highly competitive scenarios and wants his wrestlers to view them in the same light.

“I’m excited for this challenge ahead of us because you find out the most about yourself when you challenge yourself at the highest level,” he said. “I’m just excited for the opportunities to let these guys realize their goals this weekend.”

Featuring four NCAA qualifiers and two All-Americans last season, this current team’s goals are no simple achievement. But they have the precedent, and they have the means to get there.

197-pound senior Cody Reed is a two-time NCAA qualifier currently carrying the fourth seed into the EIWA. He’s ranked 24th overall in the NCAA Coaches’ Panel Rankings and is 24-9 on the season. Heavyweight junior Tyler Deuel doesn’t have that NCAA experience, but ranks third in his respective weight class. In addition, he has accumulated a team-high 10 pins during his 25-7 season.

Both Reed and Deuel bore 10-match winning streaks prior to their most recent competition, when both faced top-20 competition. Despite the losses they incurred, they gained experience at a crucial moment, making evident which areas need improvement at the time when wins count most.

“I think it was good for [Deuel and Reed] to get tested like they did,” Dernlan said. “I think they kind of get lulled into a false sense of security in some ways, because they hadn’t been seeing some of the top caliber talent in the country … They needed that wake-up call. There were some tendencies they were starting to develop that aren’t going to work against the best in the country. … They’re very accountable kids, so they were like, ‘Yeah, I understand what you’re saying now, coach. I need to get back to where I need to be.’”

Rounding out Binghamton’s seeded competition is 125-pound junior David White, who ranks sixth with his 22-9 record.

Though not ranked, as injuries kept them from competition for an extended period of time, 174-pound junior Jack McKeever and 141-pound freshman Nick Tighe will be returning to the mat for the championships. Dernlan said that both could have returned a couple of weeks ago, but with the championships looming, they played it safe.

Before McKeever sustained his injury, he posted a 19-10 record and was a strong contender for a slot in the national rankings. 149-pound junior Joe Bonaldi, nationally ranked throughout much of last season, likewise spent some time out this year and was deprived of ranking. However, Bonaldi proved he’s still in the running when he defeated the No. 19-ranked wrestler in an overtime decision against Bloomsburg.

Overall, Dernlan said his team’s feeling ready to face the nation’s best and that the weekend can’t come soon enough for them.

“I think some of our guys got some good wake-up calls leading into the conference tournament; I think everything’s good,” Dernlan said. “There’s one thing you can do with a result, you can view it as a negative way, or you can turn everything into a positive to try and build it. So we used everything that’s happened in the past couple weeks to positively motivate us, to get to our peak level come this weekend.”

Matches begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, and finals begin at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Palestra in Philadelphia.