Carrying a season’s worth of hard work against intense Centennial Conference competition, the Blue Jays headed into the 2019 NCAA Division-III Southeast Regional Championship with confidence and determination. The Jays had a near historic performance, as they finished in fifth place with 85 points in the 20-team tournament. This is the second highest finish at a Regional Championship in school history.
Hopkins entered nine team members into the competition, and all nine contributed to the team’s point total. Sophomores Jeremy Berger (125) and Henri Behaeghel (285), along with freshman Joe Paul (149), all gave the Blue Jays at least one win.
Berger first faced junior Nick Malinowski of McDaniel College, who defeated Berger in the regular season. Berger did not let the result of their previous Conference match-up loom over him, as he had another opportunity to take what was rightfully his. Berger earned the individual victory against Malinowski and added three team points with a second-period pin.
Paul and Behaeghel followed with more victories for the Jays. Behaeghel finished the day with a split record of 2-2. In his first match, Behaeghel dominated with a 90-second pin against freshman Jake Walker from Washington & Jefferson College. Behaeghel followed with an intense 2-1 battle against Greensboro College’s junior Vince Wilson in the consolation bracket.
The remaining six Blue Jays advanced to the top eight of their respective weight classes and earned themselves another day of competition. Senior Ricky Cavallo (133), senior Isaac Morales (184) and sophomore Dominick Reyes (157) had standout performances on the first day, earning themselves a straight path to the semifinals.
Last week, Cavallo finished first in his weight class in the Centennial Conference Championships, which earned him Most Outstanding Wrestler honors at the Championship. Coming into Regionals with yet another successful week, Cavallo was given the first seed, as he looked to defend his 2018 Regional Champion title.
Cavallo did not fail to impress, as he only needed a little over three minutes to win both of his matches. He pinned down Greensboro’s junior Paul Bauberger in just 25 seconds and Averett University’s sophomore Korpesh Gootee in 2:43. He recorded the team’s season record for fastest pin and extended his winning streak to 18 matches.
Morales also entered Regionals as the top seed and the defending regional champion. Similar to Cavallo, Morales did not allow himself to slump into complacency, as he grabbed a pair of bonus-point victories. He defeated Greensboro’s freshman Luis Oropesa with a 17-2 technical fall and Delaware Valley University’s sophomore Anthony Costanza with a 88-second pin, Morales’ fastest pin this season.
Reyes followed suit with a pair of bonus-point wins of his own. He defeated Waynesburg University’s Zach Mackall with a 17-5 major decision and Washington & Lee University’s freshman Ryan Luth with a 16-0 technical fall.
Despite not having perfect records on the first day, senior Miles Gilliam (197), senior Dane Morgan (165) and junior Nathan Wertheimer (174) all fought back in their consolation brackets to earn spots in the top eight of their weight classes.
Gilliam went 3-1 on the day, as he defeated Penn State Behrend’s freshman Zackery Trim, Messiah College’s freshman Joe Embleton and Gettysburg College’s sophomore Mike Iodice. Morgan lost his first match but did not lose hope after a slow start. He won twice in the consolation bracket to stay alive and advance to the next day. Wertheimer also went 3-1 and earned himself his second straight top-eight finish.
The Blue Jays closed out the Regional Championship going up against the Southeast Region’s best competition. Gilliam, Wertheimer and Morgan all placed and finished strong in the last matches of their season, and for Gilliam and Morgan, the last matches of their careers. Gilliam and Wertheimer both finished in seventh place, while Morgan finished in fifth.
Morales and Reyes followed with fourth-place finishes. Morales barely missed his second straight trip to the NCAA Championship. After dropping his first match of the day, he came back with a 3-2 win in the consolation semifinals. He was unable to grab the next win, as he lost 11-2 in the third-place match.
Reyes was in a similar situation, as he also barely missed his second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championship. Reyes had a tough match-up in the top-seeded junior Trevor Corl of Lycoming College in the semifinals. Reyes had a near upset, but Corl used a takedown with only 12 seconds left in the third period. Corl edged Reyes by just one point, leaving Reyes in the consolation bracket after the 3-2 loss.
Reyes, once again, got caught in another tough match-up in the third-place match. He faced off second-seeded junior Hunter Neely of Washington & Jefferson and dropped a 7-5 decision.
The Blue Jay who had a particularly standout performance was, to no surprise, Cavallo. After an easy 10-4 win in the semifinals, Cavallo looked to go up against second-seeded freshman Levi Englman of Ferrum College. Cavallo led 3-2 after the first period and 4-3 after the second, but Englman just barely edged him in the end with a third-period escape and a final-minute takedown. The final score read 6-5 in favor of Englman, as Cavallo was forced to hand over his reigning title.
Although Cavallo just barely fell short of the Regional Championship title, he still has another shot at the grand prize. His second-place finish qualifies him for the upcoming NCAA Division-III Wrestling Championship, where he will return to the mat in Roanoke, Va. on Friday, Mar. 8.
Although the Blue Jays did not achieve their goal of advancing at least five team members to the NCAA Championship, Morgan is still grateful for the season and proud of their efforts this past weekend.
“Our team goal this year was to take five people to the national tournament. Sadly, we did not achieve this goal; however, we did achieve five in other ways. We took fifth as a team in the region, I took fifth place (my highest career finish at Regionals) and we had six people place, including all of our seniors, which felt great,“ Morgan said.
Morgan reflects on what his last time on the mat meant to him, his teammates and the future of the Hopkins wrestling program.
“It was an emotional experience for sure seeing us come together as a team, constant cheering on the sidelines, support from people not even wrestling at the tournament and a culture that will definitely breed future success,“ Morgan said.
The graduating seniors for the Blue Jays lived their legacies at Regionals, leaving four years of commitment on the mat. They have made incredible strides throughout their careers and end with the second-highest team finish in school history, with Cavallo still having one more run at a national title.