On Saturday night in St. Louis, the collegiate wrestling season officially came to an end, with two Bearcats in attendance. And while neither got a chance to raise a bracket on the podium, 184-pound junior Jack McKeever and senior heavyweight Tyler Deuel capped a pair of outstanding seasons for Binghamton before a crowd of over 18,000.
“They battled hard, they gave the best effort they possibly could,” BU head coach Matt Dernlan said of McKeever and Deuel. “They didn’t end up having the easiest of draws, but when you get on to that stage, you rarely do.”
Kicking things off for Binghamton in the 69-team championship was McKeever, facing Wyoming’s Ben Stroh in a preliminary matchup. Already having battled the sophomore Cowboy to a 2-0 loss in November, McKeever’s season-record against Stroh dropped to 0-2 after losing the pigtail match, 4-0.
“I felt good going in, because the first match was pretty close,” McKeever said. “I had a game plan and I felt like I knew what to do. Unfortunately, things just didn’t go my way.”
Things didn’t turn around too much for the junior in the consolation bracket. Up against 11th-seeded Brett Pfarr out of Minnesota, McKeever fell, 11-4, for the second time on the year, ending his junior season with a 23-18 record. With one more year of eligibility remaining for McKeever, the standard has been set going forward into his senior year — and March 17, 2016 at Madison Square Garden is already circled on his calendar.
“He’s not satisfied just getting to that stage,” Dernlan said. “Right away, I know he’s already getting to work on thinking, ‘What do I have to do next year? Not just to get there, but to win matches and hopefully get on the podium.”
In his own words, McKeever added, “Just being a part of it and experiencing it and wrestling quality guys … is just great experience. It’s invaluable for me heading into next year. So I’m excited for next year. Hopefully I’ll get to return back to the big stage.”
For 13th-seeded Deuel, the champion of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) heavyweight division, success wasn’t hard to find on the national stage. The senior readily handled redshirt freshman Ryan Solomon of Pittsburgh, 8-3, in the first round of the heavyweight championship.
“It was a good feeling,” Deuel said. “It was a good culmination of my career. And it was definitely different … pretty energizing, but also draining at the same time. A seven-minute match took a lot more out of me than it does in my home gym.”
But while success was easy for Deuel to find in St. Louis, it proved to be tough to keep. After falling to fourth-seeded junior Austin Marsden out of perennial powerhouse Oklahoma State in the second round, Deuel lost again in the consolation bracket, this time falling to third-seeded Iowa senior Bobby Telford.
While the loss was tough for Deuel — who had only accumulated four losses in the regular season and 35 in his entire career — he remains confident leaving BU with much more than a stellar record.
“It’s meant a lot,” Deuel said of his journey as a Bearcat. “The people I’ve met, the great mentor I had in coach Dernlan, it’s been a very crucial part in developing me into the person I want to be moving forward.”
Deuel’s head coach echoed his sentiment, believing that Friday’s loss was only the beginning of bigger things for the heavyweight.
“I think he’s going to take lessons away from this,” Dernlan said. “Not just this weekend, but the past three years that we’ve spent together. As a coach and an athlete, the journey that we’ve been on, he’s come such a long way. I think the work ethic he’s going to apply from this sport and translate it into the rest of his life, he’s going to be very successful in everything he does.”
As far as the success of the Binghamton wrestling program — which finished with an 9-10 overall record this season — Dernlan feels that despite the early championship losses and the bigger loss of Deuel, the program is headed the right way.
“We’re not there yet, but we took a giant leap in the right direction this year,” Dernlan said. “If we can make the same leap from this year to next that we intend to make, I think we’re going to be in a position where we’re getting where we want to be. And that is one of the upper-echelon teams not only in our conference, but in the nation.”