2002-03 Wrestling Season Review
June 2, 2003
The Air Force wrestling team finished the 2002-03 season with a 6-2 overall dual record and a second-place finish at the West Regionals. The team had two NCAA qualifiers - Heath McKim (125 pounds) and Kevin Hoy (Hwt).
"Overall we had a great season," head coach Wayne Baughman said. "We didn't have as much experience as we have had the previous two years, but the wrestlers stepped up and competed at a higher level."
The Falcons won five consecutive matches to open the season before falling to Nebraska and Hofstra on the same day. They closed the season out with an impressive 19-14 win over league rival Wyoming.
Kevin Hoy ended one of the most prolific wrestling careers in Air Force history with a second-place finish at the 2003 NCAA Championships (March 20-22) to become a two-time All-American. Hoy had an outstanding run, but lost in the finals to Iowa's Steve Mocca by an 8-3 decision.
"I set a goal at the beginning of the season to become a national champion," Hoy said. "Obviously it didn't turn out the way. I am pleased with the way the season turned out, but not completely satisfied."
Hoy, who is ranked second in the nation in most polls, becomes just the third NCAA runner-up in Academy history and the first in over 30 years. He is only the second wrestler to earn All-American status in more than one season. Hoy led the team with a 44-4 record, with two of his losses coming to Mocca. Hoy had won 27 consecutive matches before falling in the finals. He is the Falcons winningest wrestler with 160 career victories.
Hoy won his first four matches at the national tournament. He knocked off his first challenger in less than six minutes, pinning Lehigh's Joe Sahl at the 5:48 mark. In his second match of the day, Hoy defeated Army's John Paxton by an 8-4 decision. Next, Hoy knocked off the nation's seventh-ranked wrestler Pat Cummins of Penn State by a narrow 3-2 decision. He then defeated defending national champion Tommy Rowlands of Ohio State to advance to the finals.
"Kevin is a great wrestler and a great competitor," Baughman said. "Second place is an outstanding achievement, although I know Kevin is probably a bit disappointed that he didn't get first place."
Hoy was named top male athlete for the 2002-03 sports season by the Air Force Academy athletic department during its annual awards ceremony.
McKim, the Falcons' only other NCAA qualifier, lost his first match of the tournament. McKim was pinned in at 4:54 by Wisconsin's Tony Black. He won his first two matches in the consolation bracket, and will next face No. 5 Nick Simmons of Michigan State. McKim finished the season ranked 17th in the nation by Intermat.
Several other wrestlers had outstanding seasons. Chris Bennett (141) finished the year with a 29-11 record and was an NCAA alternate. Luke Lefever (184) also had an impressive season and was another alternative for the NCAA championships. In his first year as a regular varsity starter, Lefever finished with a 28-9 overall record and had a tremendous victory at Nebraska, notching a victory over the No. 15th-ranked wrestler in the nation, pinning B.J. Padden at 5:58.
Several newcomers gained valuable experience that will carry them to next season. Freshmen Matt Benza (133) and Justin Gabbard (157) both finished the year as the varsity starter in their respective weight classes.
The Falcons will lose Hoy along with five other seniors to graduation next year. They will look to work hard in the off-season to continue the winning tradition next year. They will build upon the experience they gained, with McKim leading the pack as the team's most experienced wrestler.