Going into the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships this year, head coach Lennie Zalesky knew it was going to be tough.
UC Davis was only able to send three wrestlers – juniors Marcos Orozco, Nexi Delgado and Tyler Bernacchi – to the national tournament Mar. 20 to 22 at the Scottsdale Center in St. Louis, Mo.
But Zalesky was still optimistic, especially about one particular wrestler. I think we can surprise some people with Marcos, he said.
And that’s exactly what Orozco did.
The Vacaville, Calif. product started off the tournament losing to the No. 2 seed Jayson Ness of Minnesota, but rebounded with two huge victories to finish off the day 2-1 on the national stage.
The first victory came against Columbia‘s Brandon Kinney in a 5-2 decision and his second wrestleback win came against Iowa State’s Tyler Clark in a 4-2 decision.
With the pair of wins, Orozco advanced to the second day of the national tournament for his second consecutive year.
On the second day, Orozco drew Mark McKnight of Penn State who would later go on to place fourth in the tournament.
Orozco was down early, as McKnight scored two takedowns in the first two periods. A reversal in the second period sealed up the 6-2 victory for McKnight.
Both Delgado and Bernacchi were knocked out of the tournament after the first day of competition – both losing their first two matches.
Delgado couldn’t have drawn a worse seed in first career national tournament match.
The Livermore High School product went toe-to-toe with All-American No. 8 J Jaggers of Ohio State, who would be crowned the national champion of the 141-pound division.
After falling early in the first to Jaggers 3-7, Delgado scored a pair of takedowns on the national champ, but it wasn’t enough as Jaggers took home a 13-8 victory.
In his second national tournament appearance, the 174-pound Bernacchi drew No. 3 Brandon Sinnott of Central Michigan. Bernacchi would lose the match in a 5-1 decision, and Sinnott would later go on to take home fifth place in the tournament.
The second match was kept close throughout, but ultimately Bernacchi came up short, losing 3-2 to No. 12 Nick Hayes of Northwestern.
We drew some really tough seeds, Zalesky said. Nexi really gave the national champ a run for his money. Tyler had really close matches, and Marcos did well until he lost to the guy who wound up placing fourth in the tournament.
You know, they’ll all be back next year. They all have experience now and we’ll have four returning national qualifiers next year – the most ever for our program. It bodes really well for our future and hopefully next year we’ll be able to put it all together.
Iowa clinched its 21st national team championship and its first since 2000. The team scored a total of 109.5 points and had three individual national finalists.
MATT MILLER can be reached at email@example.com.