This past Friday and Saturday, the Binghamton wrestling team traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, to participate in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
“It’s the toughest tournament in the country, outside of the NCAA Tournament,” said BU head coach Matt Dernlan. “Over 50 percent of all the ranked guys in the country were competing in this tournament, so it was as tough of a test as you could possibly get.”
As Dernlan alluded, the invitational is a marquee event in the college wrestling world. Several of the nation’s top-ranked schools were participating, including No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Arizona State and No. 11 Virginia Tech, among others.
Despite the tough competition, two Bearcats were able to place in the event. Senior Steve Schneider took sixth place at 184 pounds, and redshirt sophomore Tristan Rifanburg took eighth at 157 pounds.
“I think we performed well, having five guys advance to the round of 16 and two guys in the placement round on the podium,” Dernlan said. “When you can get deep in the tournament, to the second day, and actually put guys on the podium like that, it gives you a good indication of what could possibly be out there in the future during the postseason, so it’s a good litmus test.”
Schneider, currently ranked No. 14 in the country in his weight class, finished the tournament with a 4-3 record, defeating No. 8 senior Jordan Ellingwood of Central Michigan, No. 16 junior CJ LaFragola of Brown University, No. 15 redshirt junior Dylan Gabel of Northern Colorado and redshirt freshman Dom Ducharme of CSU-Bakersfield.
Rifanburg had similarly strong performances throughout the tournament. His 3-3 record included victories over redshirt sophomore Andrew Shomers of Edinboro, No. 14 senior Colin Heffernan of Central Michigan and sophomore Landon Knutzen of Utah Valley.
Although he did not place, redshirt junior Vincent DePrez had a strong performance as well, being the only other Bearcat besides Schneider and Rifanburg to advance to the second day. DePrez put together a solid performance after losing his first match to win three straight heading into Saturday, when he lost to sophomore Demetrius Romero of Utah Valley.
While assessing his team’s performance in the tournament and during the season so far, Dernlan had high praise for his squad.
“This is the true test we’ve been waiting for, all first semester, to see what we’re bringing to the table when we have to be at our best against the best teams in the tournament,” Dernlan said. “We didn’t win all of the matches, but we were in every match, and there’s a ton of positive takeaways and a ton of things we can point towards and get better at throughout the next month.
Looking ahead, the Bearcats will have a long break before taking on Minnesota, Michigan State, Southern Illinois and Franklin and Marshall in the South Beach Duals at the end of the month.
“Right now, our primary focus is going to be getting the kids through the semester, making sure take care of our business with finals and in the classroom,” Dernlan said. “Then this next month is going to be a really good learning month for our guys where you can actually go back to the drawing board and work on some things, which is nice when you have this big gap.”
The South Beach Duals will take place on Friday, Dec. 29 and Saturday, Dec. 30 from the Deerfield Beach Sportsplex in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.