Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. - Mason Smith won the 141-pound title to highlight an outstanding showing by the Central Michigan wrestling team at the 55th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships at Sears Centre Arena.
Five Chippewas placed in the prestigious tournament as CMU finished third in the team standings with 108 points. Iowa, which is ranked seventh by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, won the team title with 156.5 points.
No. 17 Rutgers was second with 109.5. Among those in the 59-team field that finished behind the 21st-ranked Chippewas were No. 11 Arizona State, No. 13 Illinois and No. 15 South Dakota State.
"The big talk on the websites before the tournament was that Arizona State could knock off Iowa," CMU coach Tom Borrelli said. "No one mentioned us. We weren't in the conversation and we finished ahead of (Arizona State).
"Putting (team) rankings aside our kids are turning the corner a little bit which is really encouraging to see. Even guys who didn't place, we were encouraged by the way they're wrestling."
CMU's Justin Oliver placed second at 149, Jordan Ellingwood was third at 184, Matt Stencel was fourth at 285, and CJ Brucki placed fifth at 174.
Smith topped Cole Weaver of Indiana, 6-0, in the 141-championship match on Saturday night to complete a 6-0 run through the tournament. Smith defeated Tyler Smith of Bucknell, 5-4, in a semifinal earlier on Saturday.
"We know he's probably our best feel wrestler," Borrelli said of Smith, a sophomore who is ranked 20th nationally by Intermatwrestling.com. "He just feels the sport really well. He had so much composure throughout the whole tournament. He was in tough situation after tough situation and he just came out on top every time he needed to. That's got to help him build his confidence."
Smith was seeded first in the tournament. Weaver, the third seed, is ranked 16th; Tyler Smith, the fourth seed, is ranked 13th. Mason Smith outscored his six opponents by a combined 34-6 in the two-day tournament.
Oliver fell to Iowa senior Brandon Sorensen, 4-2, in the 149-pound final in one of the premier matches in the tournament.
Oliver, who is ranked third, was the No. 2 seed. The second-ranked Sorensen, the No. 1 seed, is a three-time All-American who was the national runner-up in 2016. Oliver was an All-American that year as well. The two met in the title match last season at the Midlands, with Sorensen coming away with a 7-1 victory in overtime.
Oliver, a junior who reached the final with a 6-1 win over third-seeded Matthew Kolodzik of Princeton, finished the tournament 5-1. Kolodzik is ranked seventh nationally. Among Oliver's five tournament wins were a pin, a technical fall and a major decision. He outscored his opponents by a combined 43-12.
"He just had a really good tournament and we were really happy that we got that matchup (with Sorensen) at this time of the year," Borrelli said. "That was probably the toughest weight class in the tournament, really deep.
"Justin's the type of guy that I think any time he doesn't get what he wants he improves. I don't have any doubt that he's going to improve on some of the things that he needs to improve on from that match."
Ellingwood, who was seeded fourth, defeated eighth-seeded Nino Bonaccorsi of Pitt, 7-0, in the consolation final at 184. A senior who is ranked 14th, Ellingwood opened on Saturday with an 8-3 loss in a championship-bracket semifinal to top-seeded Nate Jackson, a post-graduate assistant coach at Princeton who was wrestling unattached. Jackson was a four-time All-American at Indiana.
Ellingwood rebounded with a 14-5 major-decision victory over sixth-seeded Joe Heyob of Penn. Heyob is ranked 19th. Ellingwood finished the tournament 5-1 with three of his wins coming by major decision.
"He wrestled well the whole weekend, even in that loss to Jackson," Borrelli said. "You're frustrated after you lose in the semis and then you wrestle in a consolation semifinal to wrestle for third-fourth. He persevered through a pretty tough day."
Stencel made the long trek through the consolation bracket after dropping his opening match of the tournament on Friday. He finished with seven wins against two losses, the second coming on a pin in 1:33 to Maryland's Youssif Hemida in the consolation final.
Stencel, a redshirt freshman who was seeded seventh, opened on Saturday with a 7-2 decision over fifth-seeded William Miller of Edinboro. He then pinned ninth-seeded Shawn Streck of Purdue in 1:08, and then took a 3-1 decision over Conan Jennings of Northwestern before falling to Hemida, who is ranked 10th nationally.
The unranked Stencel ran through a gauntlet of ranked wrestlers, knocking off the ninth-ranked Miller; Streck, who is 14th; and Jennings, who is 19th. Of Stencel's seven tournament wins, two came by pin, one came on a technical fall, and another came on a major decision.
Stencel's pin in 27 seconds of Blake Wolters of South Dakota State on Friday was the fastest fall of the tournament.
"He's starting to blossom, you're starting to see it," Borrelli said of Stencel. "That's saying a lot for a redshirt freshman to have the moxie to do that."
Brucki, a senior who was seeded fifth, pinned Michigan's Garrett Sutton in 5:58 to win the fifth-place match. An 8-6 loss to the 13th-seeded Sutton on Friday had dropped Brucki into the consolation bracket.
"That's huge, he really showed the heart of a champion," Borrelli said of Brucki's performance overall and his pin of Sutton in the fifth-place match in particular. "He could have been really disappointed with the way things went (on Friday) and just cashed in. He came back the next day and showed up. He really wrestled good (on Saturday)."
Brucki, who is ranked 14th, opened on Saturday with a 14-2 major decision victory over Jordan Pagano of Rutgers. He then topped 10th-seeded Devin Skatzka of Indiana, 7-0, before falling to seventh-seeded Dylan Lydy of Purdue, 3-2. Lydy is ranked 15th.
Brucki finished 6-2 in the tournament. Among his wins were a pin, two major decisions and a technical fall.
Logan Parks (165), the only other Chippewa who remained alive going into Saturday, dropped an 8-0 major to Kaleb Young of Iowa in a consolation-bracket match on Saturday and finished the tournament 2-2. Parks was seeded sixth; Young was seeded eighth.
The Chippewas return to McGuirk Arena on Sunday, Jan. 7 (2 p.m.) for a Mid-American Conference dual with Ohio.