The University of the Cumberlands (UC) Men's Wrestling team participated in the NAIA Eastern Group Qualifier this past weekend competing against some of the top teams in the country including Campbellsville University, Missouri Baptist University, Lindsey Wilson College, Shorter University, Indiana Tech, Calumet College, Cumberland University, and Saint Andrews University.
The Patriots had a shorthanded team going in to the tournament as 149 lb. Anthonie Linares (San Jose, CA) was out due to injury, but the Patriots still went in prepared to wrestle hard and show their place as one of the top teams in the NAIA.
All of the men wrestled hard and four Patriots garnered place winning spots and tickets to the NAIA National Championships. Qualifying for the Patriots first was 125 lb. Andrew Tillman (Abbeville, SC) who had an impressive day. After dropping his first match to Campbellsville's Robert Boston, Tillman won 5 straight matches including a 6-5 victory in the finals to finish in third place.
Right behind him in the 165 lb. weight class, Zachary Barkett (Woodbridge, VA) was the next to punch a ticket to the NAIA Nationals. After dropping a tough 2-1 decision to Lindsey Wilson's James Haywood, Barkett would wrestle hard and finish 3-2 on the day which was good enough to give him the 4th place finish.
Next, it was time for the Patriots upper weights to shine and starting that off would be Courtney Freeman (Riverdale, GA) at 197 lbs. Freeman went 3-2 on the day including a big pin in the 4th place match over Aric Fernandez of Calumet University. Finishing up the qualifiers list was the Patriot heavyweight and number one seed Vince Pezzuto (Las Vegas, NV) at the 285 lb. weight class. Pezzuto had an awesome day with 3 of his 4 wins on the day coming from pins, and his final win coming from a 10-2 major decision over Teddy Furnish of Lindsey Wilson College to finish 3rd place on the day.
Head Coach Matt Lowers stated, "We are proud of the four individuals who were able to punch their ticket to the NAIA National Tournament next week in Des Moines, IA. They battled all day and wrestled their best matches of the season which is exactly what you need to be doing at this time of the year. Our guys that didn't qualify also wrestled their best matches of the season, but they came up a little short in the end. It was a tough season for us as we had to endure more than our share of injuries, but the guys who were competing stepped up and wrestled their best and we still managed to finish 6th in a very tough qualifier. Our focus is now on preparing these four individuals so that they can bring home some All-American awards next week."
The Patriot qualifiers will be back on the mat for the last time this season when they travel to the NAIA National Tournament March 1st and March 2nd in Des Moines, Iowa.
For more information on the Patriot Men's Wrestling program along with other Patriot athletics, please visit www.cumberlandspatriots.com.
Article by Corey Chaffin, UC Multimedia & Athletic Services Graduate Assistant