U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, CO – Air Force concluded the 2016-17 wrestling season at 6-6 for a .500 mark in dual action and a 1-4 mark in Big 12 duals. Eight Falcons earned individual tournament titles, while the team posted 54 place-winning finishes over nine tournaments this season. Head coach Sam Barber now holds a 20-20 career record at the conclusion of his third season at the helm of Air Force wrestling.
The Falcons met with four top-25 programs and five Big 12 Conference foes on the dual slate. Air Force posted dual meet wins over UNC-Pembroke, Simon Fraser, Cal Baptist, Western State, Cal Poly and Northern Colorado. Cal Poly and Northern Colorado brandished five top-20 wrestlers. Air Force fell to No. 9 NC State, Utah Valley, No. 20 South Dakota State, No. 21 Stanford, Wyoming and No. 25 North Dakota State.
Senior team captain Jerry McGinty consistently competed at a high level for Air Force, placing in four-of-five major tournaments and starting in all Div. I dual meets. He placed as high as second in three tournaments to include the Cowboy Open, Wolfpack Open and the All Academy Championships. McGinty, a three-year starter for Air Force, made it to the second day of action at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and the Big 12 Championship; both are considered to be highly competitive tournaments. The Colorado Springs, Colorado, native concluded the season with a 19-13 overall mark while going 4-4 in duals. McGinty competed in over 100 career matches; he boasts a winning career-record of 66-49.
Anthony McLaughlin led the Falcons in the dual slate, going 6-0 overall with a 3-0 mark in conference dual matches. Four Falcons posted one fall in dual action, led by Dylan Hyder’s fall over Utah Valley’s Jarod Maynes in 1:59. Drew Romero led the team with two technical falls in dual meets, while John Twomey led with two dual-meet major decisions. Hyder registered 15 bonus points in duals, the most on the team. Zen Ikehara, Twomey and Romero logged the most dual starts with nine-of-twelve each. The 197 class produced the best dual meet record going 8-4 on the season.
Freshman 165-pounder Tyler Wiederholt led the team with 22 overall wins for a .647 win-percentage. Freshman 174-pounder Randy Meneweather posted the highest win-percentage (.700) with a 14-6 record. Freshman 125-pounder Alec Opsal led the team with nine falls; he registered 76 bonus points for the most on the team. Freshman heavyweight Kerry Powers led the team with four technical falls, while freshman 133-pounder Garret O’Shea tallied five major decisions to lead the team. The fastest fall was registered by senior-141 Anthony McHugh, who pinned an opponent in 36-seconds. Six Falcons tallied wins by fall in less than a minute.
Falcon wrestlers had the opportunity to compete in 24 events on the season. Thirty-one wrestlers that maintained good health and standing competed in 747 matches for a 25-match average. Hyder led the team with 37 matches; he finished 20-17. Eight freshmen combined for 212 matches for a 27-match average. Powers led the freshmen with 30 matches.
Parker Hines, Alex Lopouchanski and McLaughlin earned individual titles in the elite brackets at the Cowboy Open, Nov. 5. Meneweather secured a title in the amateur division of the same tournament. Fourteen Falcons earned top-four finishes at the event.
At the Northern Colorado Open, Nov. 13, six Falcon wrestlers earned top-six finishes, led by Wiederholt’s second-place finish at 165. On Nov. 19, the squad split into two contingencies to compete on two fronts. At the Wolfpack Open, hosted by North Carolina State, Air Force placed four wrestlers in the top-eight, led by McGinty’s second-place finish. Hines, Lopouchanski and Romero placed, sixth, sixth and eighth, respectively. That same day in Kearney, Neb., three Falcons placed top-six in the elite bracket, led by Cassidy Oshiro’s fourth-place finish. Adam Pelter placed fifth in the amateur bracket of the same tournament.
At the prestigious Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Dec. 3, 10 Falcons battled for titles. Lopouchanski led the charge with a seventh-place finish at 165, followed up by Alex Mossing’s eighth-place finish at 157. The Cliff Keen invitational is considerably one of the toughest in-season tournaments all year. At the Bob Smith Open, the same day, Dane Robbins led the charge with a second-place finish in the 157 class. Bridger Barker and Meneweather finished third at 184 and 174, respectively. Sam Kreimier and Lyle Plummer finished fourth at 157 and 141, respectively.
The Falcons made program history at the All Academy Championships, hosted by Navy, Jan. 29. Dylan Hyder was crowned champion in the 133 class, while McGinty, McLaughlin and Powers earned second-place finishes. Ikehara, Michael Billingsley, Mossing, Romero, Twomey and Wiederholt finished third in their respective weight classes. The feat marked the first time that Air Force finished top-three in all weight classes.
On Feb. 12, a contingent of Falcon wrestlers competed in the Rocky Mountain Open, hosted by the Colorado School of Mines. Barker, Noah Irons and Ricky Padilla earned first-place finishes at 184, 174 and 165, respectively. Three other Falcons snagged third-place finishes.
In what became the pinnacle of the tournament-season, Air Force placed three wrestlers at the Big 12 Championship, Mar. 5, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mossing led the way with a fourth-place finish at 157; the highest individual finish for Air Force since joining the conference last year. McGinty finished fifth at 149, while Hyder finished sixth at 133. The three place-winning finishes marked the most place-winners Air Force has had at the tournament, surpassing last season’s two place-winning finishes. The Falcons came up short, one-position in several instances, of earning NCAA tournament bids. The last time Air Force did not qualify a wrestler to the NCAA tournament was 2008.
At the conclusion of the season, eight Falcons made the Academic All-Big 12 team. Hines, Connor Hedash, Hyder, Ikehara and McHugh earned spots on the first team, while Conor O’Hara, McGinty and McLaughlin were added to the second team. The honors mark Hines’ and Hyder’s second time making the first-team in as many years in the conference. Last season, four Falcons made the first team while two made the second team. First team members consist of those who have maintained a 3.20 or better GPA while the second team selections hold a 3.00 to 3.19 GPA.
Padilla earned Big 12 Co-Wrestler of the Week honors, Feb. 20. The honor marks the first weekly accolade for Air Force since joining the conference. The Covina, California native made his dual meet debut against No. 25 Keilan Torres of Northern Colorado and recorded a 10-3 victory after mustering an explosive third period, scoring nine points from two take downs, four near fall points and an escape in the final minute of the bout.
Looking at next season, the Air Force wrestling staff has rounded up some of the nation’s top recruits to build the program’s second consecutive top-20 recruiting class according to W.I.N Magazine’s early-season recruiting rankings. The feat marks the first time in program history the Falcons have had back-to-back top-20 recruiting rankings.
Air Force will honor annual award winners at the post-season banquet and awards ceremony, Friday, April 14, at the Falcon Stadium press box. For fans, friends and family wishing to attend the banquet, please R.S.V.P. by Tuesday, April 4, 2017 to coach Chris Heilman (719) 333-2811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.