March 8, 2014
OREM, Utah - Led by an individual title by senior Greg Rinker (Northampton, Pa.), the Air Force wrestling team earned a third-place finish at the 2014 NCAA West Regional, hosted by Utah Valley on Saturday. The Falcons registered 50.0 points to finish behind North Dakota State (74.0 pts.) and Wyoming (79.0 pts.). Meanwhile, Utah Valley (49.5 pts.), South Dakota State (34.5 pts.) and Northern Colorado (12.5 pts.) rounded out the team standings.
The Bison, capturing their first-ever West Regional championship, and the Cowboys each claimed three individual titles. South Dakota State brought home a pair of regional titles, while Air Force and Utah Valley each finished with one individual champion.
Rinker earned a first-round bye as the second seed at 133 pounds and faced Utah Valley's Chasen Tolbert in the semi-finals. After securing a 9-5 sudden victory decision over Tolbert, Rinker advanced to the finals, where he claimed an 8-6 decision over North Dakota State's Justin LaValle. The win gave Rinker the first West Regional title of his career, and an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
Two other Falcons were finalists in their respective weight classes, earning second-place finishes. Sophomore Josh Martinez (Colorado Springs, Colo.), ranked fifth in the nation at 125 pounds, had an opening round bye as the top seed in the tournament. Beginning action in the semi-finals, Martinez started the day with a 10-3 decision over Northern Colorado's Trey Andrews. He went on to face eighth-ranked Tyler Cox of Wyoming in the finals, but lost by injury default to claim second place in the tournament.
Meanwhile, freshman Natrelle Demison (Bakersfield, Calif.) claimed a second-place finish at 149 pounds. Demison, seeded fifth to begin the tournament, picked up a 3-1 decision over fourth-seed Trevor Willson of Utah Valley in the opening round. He then picked up a huge win in the semi-finals, knocking off top-seeded Tyler Diamond (North Dakota State) with a 6-5 win. In the finals, Demison faced off against second-seed Alex Kocer of South Dakota State, coming up short in a 5-2 loss.
Scoring a third-place finish at 157 pounds was senior captain Josh Kreimier (Fort Collins, Colo.), who opened the day with a 3-2 decision over Utah Valley's Chase Cuthbertson. While Kreimier dropped a 4-1 decision to eventual champion Cody Pack of South Dakota State, he bounced back with a pair of victories in the consolation bracket, including a 7-1 decision over Northern Colorado's Mitchell Polkowske in the third-place match.
Sophomore Konner Witt (Oak Harbor, Ohio) added a third-place showing at 174 pounds, beginning the day with a fall in the opening round. After dropping a 5-1 decision in his semi-final bout, Witt scored another fall in the consolation bracket before securing a 3-2 decision over Utah Valley's Monte Schmalhaus in the third-place bout.
Also placing third for the Falcons was senior captain Devin Hightower (Colorado Springs, Colo.), wrestling at 184 pounds. Hightower scored a major decision in his first match of the day, before dropping a decision to 17th-ranked Ben Stroh of Wyoming in the semi-finals. Hightower scored two more victories in the consolation bracket, earning third place with a win by injury default over Utah Valley's Ethan Smith.
Prior to the tournament, the West Region was awarded 15 automatic bids to the NCAA Championships, which will be held March 20-22 in Oklahoma City, Okla. The individual recipients of the bids were determined by finish at the tournament, with winners at 133, 141, 149, 174, 197 and 285 all receiving automatic bids, along with the top two finishers at 125, 157 and 184 pounds, and the top three finishers at 165 pounds.
With his first-place finish at 133 pounds, Rinker secured his first trip to the NCAA Championships. Kreimier and Hightower, despite placing third in their respective weight classes, both earned automatic bids by winning true second-place matches, marking the third-straight NCAA appearance for Kreimier and the first NCAA bid for Hightower. Meanwhile, Martinez lost the automatic bid at 125 pounds with a medical forfeit in his true second-place match, but will await at-large selections for his second-straight trip to the national tournament.