The University of the Cumberlands (UC) Men's Wrestling program had a fantastic season in 2011-2012 and look to continue that path in the coming season. Even with the loss of All-American Larone Madison in the 125 pound ranking, the Patriots have reloaded into another perennial national powerhouse and the Preseason NAIA Top 20 poll reflects that.
The Patriots have been named the #5 team in the NAIA according to the NAIA Preseason Top 20 Coaches Poll on Wednesday. This is the highest ranking the Patriots have held since the 2006-2007 season. This places UC just three spots behind MSC rival Campbellsville University (#2) and one spot ahead of another MSC rival Lindsey Wilson (#6).
UC also had 8 wrestlers to receive votes in the pre-season individual coaches poll. At 125 pounds, redshirt junior Andrew Tillman (Abbeville, SC) came in at the number 16 ranking. Andrew is a junior college transfer from Spartanburg Methodist where he was a two-time national qualifier. Andrew redshirted his first season with the Patriots and is looking to jump into the lineup and take over for departing three-time All-American Larone Madison who is now an assistant coach for UC. At 149 pounds, Anthonie Linares (San Jose, CA) was voted in as the second ranked wrestler. Anthonie placed 4th in 2011-2012 at 149 lbs and is the second highest returning All-American at that weight. Jacob Stephens (Brunswick, OH), coming off a redshirt season in which he was injured, received enough votes to place him at number 13 in the country in the 157 pound class. Jacob, in his first season as a Patriot in 2010-2011, was the Mid-South Conference runner-up.
At one of the few weights where the Patriots have a senior, Zack Barkett (Woodbridge, VA) was voted 8th in the country at 165 pounds. Zack is a returning Daktronics NAIA Scholar Athlete and NAIA National Qualifier. Junior Jeremy Gardner (Frankfort, KY), who is also a standout on the Patriots football team, is ranked 8th in the country in his weight class. Jeremy was one round away from placing as a sophomore at 184 pounds. The Patriots boast two ranked wrestlers at 197 pounds. Sam Johnson (River Falls, WI), a transfer from Dubuque University in Iowa, was voted as the 2nd ranked wrestler at his weight class. Sam is a two-time National Qualifier and a returning All-American as he placed 6th in Division III in 2010-2011. Also ranked at 197 pounds is two-time National qualifier Courtney Freeman (Riverdale, GA). Courtney is ranked 6th in the pre-season poll. Freeman made it all the way to the round of 12 last year at the NAIA National Championships. The final Patriot receiving votes is Vince Pezzuto (Las Vegas, NV) at heavyweight. Vince checks in at number 9 in the poll. Pezzuto is a senior who is a past All-American wrestler for Cal Baptist University in California.
The Patriots will begin their season on November 3rd in the Patriots Intersquad Dual at 7:00 pm. UC will also host the Patriot Open on November 10th beginning at 9:00 am.
For more information on the Patriots Men's Wrestling team along with other Patriot athletics, please visit www.cumberlandspatriots.com.