ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Befitting a regular season that saw three teams tie for the Southern Conference title, the 2016 Arby’s SoCon Wrestling Championship came down to the final title bout, with Appalachian State heavyweight Denzel Dejournette edging Chattanooga’s Jared Johnson 4-2 to lift the Mountaineers past the Mocs for their first tournament crown since 2003.
Appalachian State’s title was its seventh overall and halted a run of five straight by Chattanooga. The Apps edged UTC by just half a point, 83.5-83.0, in the closest SoCon tournament finish since Appalachian State, UNCG and VMI tied for the title in 1997.
The Mountaineers’ JohnMark Bentley was the overwhelming choice for SoCon Coach of the Year in voting of his peers.
In a race that saw the lead change hands multiple times in the late rounds, Chattanooga got a win from Scottie Boykin at 197 pounds to put the Mocs back in the team lead with just the heavyweight title match to go. With the Mocs nursing that 2.5-point lead, No. 1 seed Dejournette stepped onto the mat against No. 2 seed Johnson with the team title in the balance.
Dejournette had already taken a pair of wins over Johnson earlier in the season, and the SoCon title match between the two national powers – Dejournette is ranked No. 6 six and Johnson No. 11 – did not disappoint.
After a Johnson takedown gave him a 2-1 lead early in the third period, Dejournette countered with an escape to tie it up. Dejournette, the SoCon Wrestler of the Year, got a takedown with 55 seconds left to snap the 2-2 tie and rode Johnson out to clinch his second straight individual title and App’s first team tournament title in 16 years.
Chattanooga carried a slim 77-73.5 lead over Appalachian State heading into the championship finals, where it had six wrestlers vying for crowns. The Mountaineers had five reach the finals, which meant the team trophy was up for grabs between the squads.
The title bouts started at 157 pounds in the event there was a need for a true-place match, and the Mocs made a statement right away. SoCon Freshman of the Year Kamaal Shakur dethroned two-time defending champion and No. 1 seed Aaron Walker of The Citadel, 10-6, to give Chattanooga some breathing room in the team race, pushing its lead to 6.5 points over App. Shakur, who posted a pair of major decisions before knocking off Walker, would later be voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler by the league’s coaches.
Next up at 125, SIUE’s Freddie Rodriguez, the No. 7 seed, used a series of big two-point takedowns to knock off No. 1 seed Vito Pasone of Appalachian State, 17-10.
Campbell’s Nathan Kraisser rolled to the title at 133, as the top seed picked up a 10-0 major decision over Gardner-Webb’s Tyler Ziegler for his first SoCon crown.
In the first head-to-head matchup of the Mocs and Mountaineers in the finals, Chattanooga’s Michael Pongracz and App’s Michael Longo – the defending champion at the weight – needed extra time to decide a winner at 141, with Longo getting a takedown with six seconds left in SV-1 for the 6-4 win. That closed the team gap to 3.5 points (80-76.5).
At 149, SIUE’s John Fahy, the No. 2 seed, used a second-period reversal and riding time to drop No. 1 seed Chris Vassar of Gardner-Webb, 3-1, and clinch his trip to Madison Square Garden for the NCAA Championships.
Gardner-Webb’s Austin Trott led 4-0 in the title bout at 165 but saw Appalachian State’s Forrest Prybysz rally with four points in the third period to knot things up late. Trott, however, had banked 2:30 of riding time to secure the point and the 5-4 win.
The 174 title bout featured another UTC-App pairing, and top seed Nick Kee put the Mountaineers on top by half a point with a huge 14-6 major decision over No. 2 seed and defending champion Sean Mappes of Chattanooga.
Campbell’s Ville Heino kept the Mocs from pulling back ahead with a 6-5 win over the UTC’s John Lampe at 184 pounds, giving the Camels their second title of the night.
The Mocs reclaimed the team lead (83-80.5) with Scottie Boykin’s 3-2 win over The Citadel’s Marshall Haas at 197. That put all the drama squarely on the heavyweight match.
SIUE, which finished fourth for its best-ever SoCon finish, was the team leader after the first round, putting nine of its 10 wrestlers in the semifinals. The Cougars couldn’t maintain that momentum, however, as only two made it through to the championship finals, though both won titles. Chattanooga, which sat third after the opening round, surged into the lead by putting six of its wrestlers into the finals.
Gardner-Webb heavyweight Boyce Cornwell punched his NCAA ticket in the consolation final, downing Campbell’s Jere Heino in the third-place match to claim one of the SoCon’s three NCAA allocations at 285. Championship finalists Dejournette and Johnson were assured NCAA spots as soon as they qualified for the final.
There was indeed need for a true-place match at 157, and VMI’s Neal Richards topped The Citadel’s Walker 13-11 to claim the SoCon’s second allocation at that weight.
In sharp contrast to last season’s tournament, this year’s was mostly chalk, as all 10 No. 1 seeds and eight 2 seeds advanced to the finals. The 2015 tournament featured much more carnage in the early rounds, as only six 1s and four 2s advanced to the finals.
The 13 individuals that punched their NCAA tickets Saturday, as well as any at-large qualifiers, will learn their fates on Wednesday, March 9, as the NCAA Division I wrestling selection show will air on NCAA.com that day at 6 p.m. Eastern.
Appalachian State – 83.5
Chattanooga – 83.0
Gardner-Webb – 61.5
SIUE – 51.5
Campbell – 46.5
The Citadel – 34.5
VMI – 27.0
Davidson – 5.5
Individual champions/NCAA qualifiers
125 – Freddie Rodriguez, SIUE
133 – Nathan Kraisser, Campbell
141 – Michael Longo, Appalachian State
149 – John Fahy, SIUE
157 – Kamaal Shakur, Chattanooga
165 – Austin Trott, Gardner-Webb
174 – Nick Kee, Appalachian State
184 – Ville Heino, Campbell
197 – Scottie Boykin, Chattanooga
HWT – Denzel Dejournette, Appalachian State
Additional NCAA allocations
157 – Neal Richards, VMI
HWT – Jared Johnson, Chattanooga; Boyce Cornwell, Gardner-Webb
Southern Conference Coach of the Year
JohnMark Bentley, Appalachian State
Tournament Most Outstanding Wrestler
Kamaal Shakur, Chattanooga