By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Zach Horan placed first at 141 pounds on Sunday as three Chippewas punched their ticket to St. Louis at the Mid-American Conference Wrestling Championships at Missouri's Hearnes Center.
Horan defeated Chris Mecate of Old Dominion, 5-3, in overtime to complete a 3-0 tournament run and claim the title at 141. It was Horan's second career MAC championship.
Horan, along with Central Michigan teammates Colin Heffernan and Jordan Ellingwood, qualified for the NCAA Championships which are scheduled for March 19-21 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Other CMU wrestlers could still receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. Most prominent among that group is CMU's Tyler Keselring, who dropped a 4-2 decision to Missouri's Zach Synon in the 133-pound title match.
Ellingwood placed third at 174 pounds, while Heffernan was fifth at 149. Both are freshmen. The MAC was allotted three automatic qualifying spots at 174, and five at 149. But just one at 133, which meant that Keselring needed to win the title to guarantee a trip to St. Louis.
The champion at each weight class earned All-MAC honors, while the runner-up received honorable mention.
"There's positives in any tournament and negatives in any tournament," CMU coach Tom Borrelli said. "Very happy for Zach Horan. He's been very focused and worked very hard this past month. He put a really good tournament together.
"I want him to be able to carry that over into the NCAA Tournament because I think he's capable of doing very, very well."
Ellingwood defeated Trace Engelkes of Northern Illinois, 6-4, on Sunday, then scored a 4-3 victory over Caleb Marsh of Kent State in the third-place match.
"I'm happy with Jordan Ellingwood," Borrelli said. "He's improved a ton this year. We put some of our true freshmen in really tough positions this year. Hopefully they grew from it and learned from it. The frustration of not being as successful as they want to be, hopefully we can build on that."
Heffernan dropped a 5-4 decision to Tywan Claxton in his opener on Sunday, then defeated Eastern Michigan's Nick Barber, 6-5, in tie-breaker 1 to claim fifth place.
Horan's bout with Mecate in the final at 141 was highly anticipated by many, including Horan. The two had split their previous two meetings. Mecate won, 4-2, last season. Horan took a 3-1 victory over the Old Dominion sophomore during a dual meet in Mount Pleasant a month ago.
Horan entered the tournament as the top seed, while Mecate was third. Mecate upset second-seeded Lavion Mayes on Saturday in a semifinal.
"There's nothing better than winning the conference tournament against a rival," Horan said. "That's about as good as it gets."
Horan said he drew on the experience he gained from having faced Mecate twice previously. Patience and poise are critical, he said.
"A guy like him, he's looking for you to start wrestling outside yourself and lose your cool and that's kind of how he beats guys," Horan said. "He's really good at it. He's a really hard guy to beat."
Horan took down Mecate twice, the second coming seconds into sudden victory, breaking a 3-3 tie and giving Horan the match and the title. Horan led, 3-2, at the end of regulation, but a 1-plus minute advantage in riding time gave Mecate the extra point, squaring the match.
"I knew that we was going to come out and try to score quick," Horan said. "He's not offensive, but he underhooks and tries to run to your legs, tries to catch you off guard. I knew he was going to try that; it was his only shot.
"He was coming at me and I just kind of circled the other way and I was able to grab his leg and stay out from underneath him, which is where he's good at defending, and get to my feet. With that guy it's really important to finish quick."
Horan extended his win streak to 12 matches. He hasn't lost since Jan. 2, at the Southern Scuffle.
"I was trying not to put too much pressure on myself and just relax and try to prepare myself for the next tournament," Horan said. "I got a takedown in the first period of all my matches, which is going to be kind of a key when I get to the national tournament.
"When I get to St. Louis, a lot of the matches are going to be close so it's good to see that I can win close matches. I think I'm where I want to be."
Keselring led his 133-pound final against Missouri's Synon, but was taken down with about a minute remaining to fall into a 3-2 deficit. Synon received an additional point for riding time.
Synon was seeded first, Keselring second. Synon had won their previous match during a dual meet this season.
"I knew I could get to him, but it just wasn't my day I guess," Keselring said. "It's upsetting because I know I could beat that kid. I know I can; I just didn't today.
"I felt like I was wrestling well, I was in his face the whole time, I was pushing the pace trying to get him tired, trying to get some shots off. I thought I wrestled well and then I let up for a split second and he got in on my legs in the third period and the rest is history. Hopefully I get an at-large bid because I don't really want it to be over yet. I still think I can place at the NCAA Tournament."
Said Borrelli: "I would have liked to have seen Tyler win. I felt like he was right there. Unfortunately if you don't stay aggressive the whole time, bad things are probably going to happen. I was hoping he was going to take the next shot (in the third period), and the other kid took the shot and got the takedown and won the match. I think the lesson there is keep wrestling, keep trying to score points and the chances of being successful are a lot better."
The Chippewas finished fifth in the team standings with 74 ½ points. Top-ranked Missouri was first with 139 ½ points. Old Dominion was second with 97 ½.
Also for CMU, Brent Fleetwood (125), Cody LeCount (157) and Austin Severn (184) each finished fourth; and Jordan Wohlfert (165) was sixth.
The Chippewas entered Sunday's portion of the tournament with nine wrestlers still in the hunt to land NCAA qualifying spots.
"They fought pretty hard," Borrelli said. "They strung together some good wins. The thing I look for is, Are you out-efforted? Are you out-conditioned?
"I don't think we were in that situation in any match. Now we might have gotten beat, we might have gotten caught in a few matches, and there might have been some technical things and stuff like that, but you can always fix that. The thing that's hard to fix is the effort, and if the effort's not there, the conditioning's not going to be there."