The historic third season for Reinhardt’s wrestling program came to a head over the weekend with a fifth-place finish in the NAIA national championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Eagles entered the tournament ranked No. 12 nationally and were riding a streak of 11 straight dual wins and a conference championship, but they outperformed any expectations in the 49-team tournament.
“I thought we could do well,” coach Jeff Bedard said. “Making it happen was going to be the hard part, but they definitely made it happen.”
Despite the hot end to the regular season, Reinhardt backed off some in the week between the Appalachian Athletic Conference and national tournaments.
Bedard said it was important to keep his team’s momentum alive, but it was a higher priority to head into the tournament as fresh as possible.
“We backed off and did a lot of drilling and short things,” he said. “We wanted to keep guys fresh and healthy. We back off a lot that last week, and it paid of. Guys were fresh, and they were ready to go mentally and physically.”
That extra rest paid dividends right away for Reinhardt.
The Eagles posted an 8-2 mark in the first round. Those winning wrestlers went on to combine for a 6-2 record in the second round, and Bedard said he knew his team was in a good position.
“Going into the second round, I thought we had a chanace to do well,” he said. “I felt pretty confident. We caught some breaks, and the guys were wrestling well. I felt like we would be able to get some guys through. They came out and wrestled really well again in the second round. I realized if we wrestled how we had all year, we would have some guys on that podium.”
Of that group, five wrestlers took advantage and made the podium to earn all-American status.
Justin George (157 pounds) and Antonio Stewart (184) each finished third. Michael Carew (174) was fifth. Koby Milner (125) was sixth, but the biggest surprise came from the sixth-place finish of Cole Tenety (165).
“The biggest surprise was Cole,” Bedard said. “He’s in the wrong weight class. He’s usually a 157-pounder, but we needed him at 165. He went out there and took sixth place. He bought into everything we did and worked hard. He wasn’t even a state champion in high school, but he has the mental toughness we needed. For him to go out at a higher weight class when we needed him says a lot about his work ethic.”
While the finish was what Bedard said he was looking for this season, he knows expectations will be even higher for next year.
The Eagles are set to return their entire roster, and with the potential for another jump in recruiting, Bedard said he expects the program to continue to improve in its fourth season.
“We return everybody,” he said. “We’re so young. We’re mainly freshmen and sophomores. This is only going to help us in recruiting and in confidence. Now they know we can compete with anybody in the country, so that’s what we expect.”