Duhawk duo headed to Nationals
Duhawks head coach Randy Steward was already going to Cedar Rapids to be inducted into the NWCA Hall of Fame as part of the NCAA Tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center. Thanks to the performances turned by his wrestlers this past weekend, Steward will have some company.
Senior Malcolm Watson secured a second-place finish at 197 pounds, and sophomore Michael Triplett grabbed third at 133 to advance through Sunday’s Central Region qualifier at the Dubuque Five Flags Center, earning All-Conference honors and nationals berths for both men.
“I tell you what. I didn’t want to make that trip alone,” Steward said.
For Watson, the road to nationals represents a journey much longer and harder than the 70-mile stretch of U.S. 151 he’ll travel on March 11. A four-year starter for the Duhawks, Watson earned his first trip to the NCAA Tournament with his final opportunity.
“I came short three times in a row,” Watson said. “I’ve gotten fifth twice, and I’ve just gotten tired of it. I realized this was my last opportunity, so I’ve got to give it my all. It’s my last shot, and here I am.”
Watson earned a 7-4 decision over cross-town rival Dubuque’s Oliver Newton in the quarterfinals after a first-round bye. He topped Augustana’s Thomas Reyhons, 3-2, in their semifinal bout to advance to the championship match and secure a spot at nationals. Waiting for Watson in the finals was top-seeded Gerard Roman of Warburg. Roman came into the tournament ranked second in the nation with a record of 21-1. Watson fought hard for three periods, but Roman won a 4-0 decision to claim the regional championship at 197 lbs.
“It feels good, but I’m still hungry,” Watson said of his runner-up finish and NCAA berth. “I wanted to win the tournament, but I came a little short. So that’s just more fuel for the fire.”
“Malcolm Watson’s been in this tournament four times, and he took advantage of his opportunity today,” said Steward. “When you look at stuff like that, it’s like a blur. But here we are four years later, and he’s going to the national tournament.”
For Triplett, the road to nationals hasn’t been quite as long, but it was just as tough on Sunday. Triplett’s tournament started on the wrong end of a 12-5 opening-round decision to Simpson’s Zach Johnston. It ended with the Loras sophomore dabbin’ his way to the dance.
Triplett fell into a quick 6-0 hole against Central’s Aaron Anderson in his first consolation match, but he didn’t panic.
“Coach always tells me to fight until the final whistle,” Triplett said. “If there’s time on the clock, I can do anything. I can come back from any type of situation. I’ve just got to finish it.”
It didn’t take until the final whistle for Triplett to “finish it.” He pinned Anderson before the first period ended, and he never looked back, adding a 10-1 major decision over Nick Scheffert of Luther to reach the third-place match at 133. There, he hung on for a gritty 5-4 victory over Coe’s Mike Gusserson and punched his ticket to nationals, flashing a celebratory “dab” to his coaches and teammates after having his hand raised.
“It feels awesome,” Triplett said. “I worked hard all year, and I worked hard all day today and fought back after that first-round loss.”
Unfortunately, excitement turned into heartbreak for the Duhawks in the very next match.
Junior Evan Weaver battled a banged-up leg and a stiff field of competition on his way to the third-place match at 141 pounds, but the injury proved to be too much. Weaver’s gutsy tournament performance came to an end via injury forfeit just over a minute into the last-chance match, with Millikin’s Chris Williams stealing the third-place finish. Weaver defeated Williams, 10-3, earlier in the day.
“Evan’s a kid who’s battled through injuries all year long,” Steward said. “He’s listened, and he’s tried to do the things we want him to do. He came out and had a heck of a performance today. It didn’t end like he wanted, or any of us wanted, but he’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached, and I’ve been coaching longer than most of these people have been alive.”
Freshman Quin Gilliam earned a fifth-place finish in the 285-pound bracket, and sophomore Awais Arain was sixth at 184. Loras finished seventh in the team standings.
Loras wrestling has hosted the Central Regional for the past four years, and looks to host the event again next season.
“There are so many people that help,” Steward said of organizing and hosting the tournament. “I couldn’t do this by myself. All of these unknown people who’ve been here since six o’clock this morning and stay all day and help, I’d just like to thank them publicly. We couldn’t do it without them.”
For Watson and Triplett, the focus is squarely on the task ahead.
“I’m going to go out there and try to bring an All-American plaque back home and make everybody proud,” Triplett said.
“I’m just hungry,” said Watson. “I’m ready to go out and take what’s mine at the national tournament.”