LEBANON, Tenn. – Zeke Hunt won the individual title at 174 and Michael Gonzalez and Joe Gallegos both lost in the finals, leading the Cumberland wrestlers on Saturday at the NAIA East Region Qualifier in Laurinburg, N.C.
With their finishes on Saturday along with wild cards handed out after the meet, seven Bulldog grapplers advanced to the 56th Annual NAIA Championships set for March 1-2 in Des Moines, Iowa, including the three aforementioned names plus Steven Sandefer, Cody Linton, Aric Fernandez and Jake Williams.
Hunt swept through the bracket at 174 with four victories, starting with pins against Life University’s Ryan Jacob (1:29) and Calumet College of St. Joseph’s Tim Miller (4:39). In the semifinals the junior from Dacula, Ga., posted a 12-3 Major Decision against Truett-McConnell’s Dustin Branom and won a 7-4 Decision in the finals versus Indiana Tech’s sixth-ranked Tanner Martin.
Gonzalez reached the finals at 157 with two wins, receiving a bye in the first round before pinning West Virginia Tech’s Wade Conra Lacey at 1:07. The sophomore from Hesperia, Calif., won a 9-3 Decision over Indiana Tech’s Adam Fahs in the semifinals before dropping a 7-4 Decision against Campbellsville University’s top-ranked Conor Young in the finals.
Gallegos was one of the surprises of the tournament, winning three straight matches in the heavyweight division over ranked opponents to reach the finals. The freshman from South Bend, Ind., won a 12-7 Decision over St. Andrews University’s 12th-ranked Denzel Vaughan in the Round of 16 before posting a 3-1 victory in the first minute of Sudden Victory against Indiana Tech’s 11th-ranked Logan Rimmer in the quarterfinals.
Gallegos then won a 2-1 Decision versus fifth-ranked Vince Pezzuto from the University of the Cumberlands in the semifinals. In the finals he lost 6-4 in the first minute of Sudden Victory to Missouri Baptist’s 14th-rarnked Luis Contreras.
Williams opened with two victories at 141, posting a 5-0 Decision against Indiana Tech’s Travis Dragomer and pinning Brewton-Parker’s Chad Starnes at 6:30. In the semifinals he lost a 9-2 Decision to Campbellsville’s 12th-ranked Brandon Westerman but defeated Life’s 15th-ranked Dillan Schouw with an 11-8 Decision in the wrestleback. Williams finished fourth after an 11-4 Decision versus Lindsey Wilson’s third-ranked Wismit Moinius.
Sandefer started fast as well at 149, pinning his first two opponents in a grand total of 44 seconds – versus West Virginia Tech’s John Walters (0:19) and Life’s Jeff Drever (0:25) – before dropping a 9-4 Decision to Campbellsville’s Shawn McGhee in the semifinals.
In the wrestleback, Sandefer won 16-0 Technical Fall over Walters before dropping an 11-2 Major Decision to Brewton-Parker’s ninth-ranked Jeremiah Lutz. In the fourth-place match Sandefer pinned Indiana Tech’s Sidney Logan at 2:13 to earn the automatic bid to the national tournament for all Top 4 finishers.
Linton started with a 7-6 Decision at 184 over Indiana Tech’s Kelvin Jordan but lost a 3-2 Decision to Missouri Baptist’s sixth-ranked Weston Keleher in the quarterfinals. In the wrestleback, he defeated teammate Joseph Hill by Fall at 2:43 and won a 4-0 Decision over Eddie Bernal from the University of the Cumberlands before dropping a 3-2 Decision to Lindsey Wilson’s Jameel Bryant. Linton lost to Keleher again, this time a 4-2 Decision, but received one of the wild cards into the national tournament after finishing sixth.
Fernandez posted a 12-9 Decision over St. Andrews University’s Jared Key in the first round before losing a 13-2 Major Decision to Lindsey Wilson’s fifth-ranked Jacob Bradford. In the wrestleback he won a 13-0 Major Decision against Indiana Tech’s Dustin Boyd and a 10-7 Decision over Calumet College of St. Joseph’s 14th-ranked Eric Johnson before losing by Fall at 6:43 versus Lindsey Wilson’s Andrew Hairston. He also lost by Fall at 2:44 to Courtney Freeman from the University of the Cumberlands to place fifth overall.