Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
LAS VEGAS – Central Michigan’s Justin Oliver completed an impressive run through the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday, defeating North Carolina’s Troy Heilmann, 9-7, in the title match at 149 pounds.
Oliver finished the prestigious tournament a perfect 6-0, outscoring his opponents 60-12 and posting a technical fall and a major decision among his victories. The junior who is ranked sixth in the weight class by InterMat.com led a strong showing by the 19th-ranked Chippewas, who finished seventh in the 45-team field, which included 11 top-25 teams.
“It was a lot better tournament this year than it was last year in terms of the number of teams that were there and their rankings,” said CMU coach Tom Borrelli, who watched his team finish sixth last year in Vegas. “The quality of competition was better this year. We represented ourselves well, but we feel like we can always do better.”
Oliver dominated his opponents through the two-day event. He scored a 12-0 major decision victory over fifth-ranked Colton McCrystal of Nebraska in the semifinals. He was in control throughout the title match against the ninth-ranked Heilmann.
Oliver improved to 11-1 on the season. His lone loss came in a dual two weeks ago at Virginia Tech when he dropped a 3-1 decision to Solomon Chishko, who was ranked seventh at the time.
“I think he was pretty disappointed in the way he wrestled at Virginia Tech,” CMU coach Tom Borrelli said of Oliver. “He made a concerted effort to try to score points in all of his matches (in Vegas). His mentality the whole weekend was to score points and he kept doing it every match.”
Smith, a sophomore who is ranked 20th, finished 7-2 in the tournament. He recorded two pins and four technical falls as his emergence on the national stage continued.
He opened the day on Saturday with an 18-3 technical fall over Eli Stickley of Wisconsin, and then pinned Minnesota’s Thomas Thorn in 2:23. Smith then lost to Bryce Meredith of Wyoming, 7-3, and then won the fifth-place match when his opponent, Nick Zanetta, withdrew on a medical forfeit.
Smith’s other loss in the tournament came to 19th-ranked Kanen Storr of Iowa State, 7-1. Wyoming’s Meredith, a senior who is ranked third, is a two-time All-American. In 2016, he was a national finalist.
A year ago in Vegas, Smith lost to Meredith, 12-1.
“He was real competitive in (Saturday’s) match too,” Borrelli said of Smith, who is 13-2 on the season. “Last year he was 2-2 in this tournament and this year he was 7-2 and finished fifth. I can’t overemphasize how much he’s improved from this time last year to now. It’s just amazing. It really is. He beat some guys this weekend pretty bad who are good wrestlers.
“He’s building confidence all the time. I think he’s just scratching the surface.”
Ellingwood, who is ranked eighth, defeated two ranked wrestlers on Saturday before falling to seventh-ranked Drew Foster of Northern Iowa, 3-1, in the seventh-place match.
Ellingwood opened with a 13-3 major decision win over 17th-ranked Michael Coleman of Navy, and then topped 14th-ranked Steven Schneider of Binghamton, 3-2.
CMU senior CJ Brucki was eliminated from the tournament in his first match on Saturday, 7-5, by Dylan Lydy of Purdue.
“It was nip and tuck the whole way,” Borrelli said of Ellingwood’s match with Foster, a returning All-American. “It could have gone either way. We feel like (Ellingwood is) moving in the right direction. Brucki, he didn’t place, but he was in some dogfights in the tournament. We feel like he’s moving in the right direction too.”
CMU senior 157-pounder Colin Heffernan was injured on the opening day of the tournament on Friday after a 2-0 start.
Second-ranked Ohio State won the tournament with 155.5 team points, followed by No. 9 Michigan, 140. Arizona State, which is ranked 12th, was third with 113.5, followed by No. 16 Northern Iowa (104), No. 13 Nebraska (100.5),10th-ranked Virginia Tech (89.5), and the Chippewas (82).
The Chippewas are back on the road next weekend when they wrestle at 17th-ranked South Dakota State on Friday and at North Dakota State on Sunday.