Strong, Benza Win West Regional Titles
Fresno, Calif. -
With first-place finishes by juniors Brandon Strong (Albuquerque, N.M.) and Matt Benza (Tamaqua, Pa.), the Air Force wrestling team came in third at the 2005 NCAA West Regional Championships, hosted by Fresno State, Saturday. Winning the team title was Northern Iowa, with 93 points, while Fresno State finished second (88.5 points). Air Force followed with 56.5 points, Wyoming had 39.5 points and Eastern Illinois rounded out the pack with 21 points.
Strong, an NCAA qualifier in 2004, was crowned champion at 125 pounds, after recording a 10-6 decision over Christian Bowerman in the final round. Strong opened the day with a fall over Northern Iowa's Chris Helgeson in a time of 1:55. Meanwhile, Benza defeated Fresno State's Sal Gonzalez in the first round of the 133-pound bracket, before earning the title with a 13-2 major decision over Northern Iowa's Ryan Osgood.
Also finishing in the top three for the Falcons at this year's Regionals were freshman Jake Kriegbaum (Abilene, Kan.) and junior Brenden McLean (Grants Pass, Ore.). Kriegbaum took second place in the 141-pound bracket, notching an 11-5 decision over Fresno State's Garrett Spooner in the first round. He then faced Northern Iowa's Chris Helgeson in the finals, where the two battled to a 5-5 tie at the conclusion of both tiebreakers in the second overtime period. However, Helgeson was awarded the advantage, earning the title at 141.
McLean came in third place in the 197-pound weight class, falling 7-2, to Fresno State's Marcio Botelho in the opening round. He rebounded in the wrestle-back bracket, registed a 19-2 tech fall over Jason Sherko of Eastern Illinois.
With the West Regionals wrapped up, the season comes to a close for most of the Air Force wrestlers. However, at least two Falcons will advance to the next level. By virtue of their individual titles, Strong and Benza will each receive automatic bids to the NCAA Championships, to be held in St. Louis, March 17-19. In addition to the champions at each weight class, the West Regional also receives 12 at-large bids, to be selected by the coaches.