CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Ithaca College wrestling team had a night to remember on Saturday evening when the crowd filled the rafters at Cleveland Public Auditorium for the final session of the 2018 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. With two wrestlers on the mat competing for national titles and another three wrestlers set to be honored as All-Americans, the evening proved to be an exciting one for Ithaca's storied wrestling program.
Highlighting the evening's action was sophomore 141-pounder Ben Brisman, who took home the Bombers' first individual national title since 125-pounder Ricardo Gomez '13 won a National Title at the 2013 National Championships. Going up against Stevens' top-seed Brett Kaliner, the third time was the charm for Brisman, as he avenged two defeats to Kaliner earlier in the year to best the Ducks grappler in a thrilling 10-7 decision.
Also competing on the evening was senior 165-pounder Nick Velez, who hoped to bring home a title in his final bout as a collegiate athlete. Unfortunately, Velez's magical run was halted in the final, as second-seed Lucas Jeske of Augsburg defeated the IC senior in a 15-0 technical fall. The National Runner-Up finish is five slots higher than Velez's first All-American performance when he finished seventh at the 2016 National Championships. He graduates as one of the most successful 165-pounders in program history, the only two-time All-American for the weight class and posting the highest finish for the program at 165-pounds since it became a weight-class at the Division III level. He is one of five All-Americans at the weight class.
Ultimately, the performances of Brisman and Velez helped the program capture Third-Place as a team at this year's Division III National Championships. It is the highest finish for the program in Marty Nichols '90 22-year tenure at the helm of the program. Fittingly, Nichols was inducted into the NWCA Division III Wrestling Hall of Fame and was named 2018 NWCA Coach of the Year at the year-end banquet on Thursday evening. Overall, it is the program's best finish as a team since Ithaca also placed third in the final season of Ithaca's former head coach and Hall of Famer John Murray.
Brisman set the tone for Ithaca's historic night with the highlight of the evening in the 141-Pound Final. He entered the evening as the first 141-pounder to qualify for a title bout at the weight since Jeremy Stierly '12 did so in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011. Stierly finished as the Runner-Up in both of those runs, Brisman did one better with a thrilling victory.
Facing Kaliner for the third time this season, Brisman hoped to flip the script on Stevens talented 141-pound freshman. Kaliner got the best of IC's sophomore at the Ithaca Invite to begin the season (13-5 major) as well as in the 141-Pound Regional Championship bout, falling in an 8-3 decision. Brisman was unfazed and immediately came out on the offensive against Kaliner.
His aggressiveness paid early dividends with an early takedown to take a 2-0 lead. However, he also got over-extended a couple of times, which the Ducks grappler turned into a pair of takedowns to snag a 5-3 advantage heading into period two. Brisman stuck with it and turned the bout on its head midway through the second period. Trailing 5-4 after scoring an escape from a down position to begin the second frame, Brisman got in on a single-leg at the edge of the mat. With little room to maneuver, Brisman was able to roll Kaliner to his back for a takedown and two near-fall swipes to take the advantage. Stevens challenged, but after a lengthy review the call stood as called on the mat with IC's man pulling ahead by an 8-5 lead.
Brisman used terrific defense to stave off a couple Kaliner shots during the third period to preserve the lead. He then sealed the victory in the waning moments. Scooping up the left leg of Kaliner, Brisman finally converted an inside trip to bring Kaliner to the mat; however, he still was ruled not to have control. In a display of rare athleticism, he was able to tilt Kaliner into position and get the cover to widen the lead to 10-7 with just four-seconds remaining. He rode out the remaining time off the restart and captured the program's historic title.
Brisman is the Ithaca's 41st individual national champion in all sports and the 12th individual national champion for the wrestling program. He is the 26th IC student-athlete to win a title.
Stay tuned for much more from Cleveland Public Auditorium, as the Bombers brought home much more hardware on the evening, which will be included in a separate recap.