Wrestling grapples towards D-III championships

Three wrestlers are heading to NCAA Division III Championships on March 9 as a reward for deep runs at the Metropolitan Conference Championships, where the College finished sixth in a field of nine and placed five wrestlers overall.

Mike Denver was named the most outstanding wrestler at the Metropolitan Conference Championships. (Lauren Del Turco / Staff Photographer)

No. 1 senior Mike Denver became the College’s most winningest wrestler and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler en route to winning the highly competitive 184-pound weight class, which he last won in 2010.

Denver went a perfect 3-0 at the tournament, earning an 8-2 victory against No. 8 Mike Reilly of King’s College in the final, to improve his winning streak to 32 bouts and earn his third berth to nationals in as many years.

Denver’s second bout at the tournament gave him his 137th career win, propelling him past 2011 graduate and former teammate Justin Bonitatis in the College’s all-time wins column.

“It’s a great thing for (Denver). He’s committed and relentless,” head coach Joe Galante said. “He’s worked his way from a very average college wrestler to the elite.”

Junior Dan Herr will also be making his third nationals appearance after earning second place in the 133-pound weight class.

Herr suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat in the championship round, but will head to nationals fully aware of the challenges he faces.

“Herr is learning from his experience at the national tournament. It’s not only helped him prepare, but execute at nationals. He’s ready to go,” Galante said.

No. 10 junior John Darling booked his first-ever trip to nationals by finishing second in the 157-pound weight class, with his only loss coming to No. 4 Chris Burdge of Centenary College in the championship round.

Darling’s pair of wins, both by decision, gave the captain his first 30-win season as a Lion.

“Darling is very focused, extremely dangerous,” Galante said. “He can hit you with good points. He’s starting be more consistent with his normal tactics. He’s a two-way (wrestler).”

Two other Lions did some damage at the tournament. Senior Brian Bollette was named an alternate qualifier for nationals as a result of his third-place finish in the 141-pound weight class, and sophomore Kenneth Murphy went undefeated in the 165-pound consolation bracket to nab third as well.

The College’s point total of 75.5 put the team in a tie with Delaware Valley College for sixth place, within 25 points of first-place Centenary College and close to a crowded top five.

“If you look at the points, everyone was relatively close. Sixth we’re not happy with, but it’s something we can improve upon. There are a lot of high-ranked teams (in the Metro conference), but we want to be a high-ranked team,” Galante said.

Nationals are scheduled for March 9-10 at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

“I’m proud of our team,” Galante said. “Our guys fought through adversity, and the guys that are committed are the difference makers.”