Two Air Force Wrestlers Qualify for Nationals
March 6, 2004
Two Air Force wrestlers will be heading to St. Louis, Mo., to compete in the NCAA Championships March 18-20. Freshman Chris Nissen and sophomore Brandon Strong will both be competing for the first time at the national tournament, earning a spot at the NCAA West Regionals on Saturday (March 6), which was hosted by the Academy.
Northern Iowa won the tournament with a team score of 90.5 points, and will send at least six wrestlers to nationals. Wyoming placed second (80 team points, 6 qualifiers), followed by Fresno State in third (66.5, 5) and the Falcons finished in fourth place with 39 points and two qualifiers. Eastern Illinois placed fifth (31.5, 1). The automatic qualifiers were determined by first and second place finishes. Three additional wild card qualifiers will be voted on by the coaches, as the West Region receives 23 bids to the nationals.
Chris Nissen (Denver, Colo.) entered the tournament as the fifth seed at 149 pounds. After defeating Eastern Illiniois' Adam Beeler 7-0 in the pigtail match, he faced off against the top seed Jeff Harrison of Northern Iowa. In arguably the most exciting match of the tournament, Nissen notched an escape and a takedown with just a few seconds on the clock for a 10-9 victory. In a close championship match, Nissen surrendered a takedown with three seconds remaining in the match to fall 8-7 to Casey Olson (Fresno State).
At 133 pounds, Brandon Strong (Albuquerque, N.M.) had a similar route to the finals, pinning Joe Stewart (FSU) in a pigtail match for the opportunity to wrestle the top-seeded Patrick Garcia (UNI). Strong won handily, defeating Garcia by decision, 11-6. In the championship match against Pat Dowty (EIU), Strong kept it close throughout. He trailed by one point with under a minute remaining, but lost by fall after a risky takedown maneuver failed.
"Both Strong and Nissen are very talented," Air Force head coach Wayne Baughman said. "Both have been hampered by injuries, but have been wrestling better as they have been getting healthier. They are young and will be an anchor for this team in years to come."
Two-time NCAA qualifier Heath McKim finished in fourth place, losing both his matches. McKim (125 pounds), who has been out of the line up for six weeks with a knee injury, has not wrestled since early January. Another Air Force hopeful, Matthew Benza (141 pounds) failed to make weight and could not wrestle.
165-pound Levi Prevost of Wyoming was selected as the tournament's outstanding wrestler.
*Note: Full list of NCAA qualifiers will be sent out and posted at www.airforcesports.com as soon as it is made available.