One Blue Devil emerged from the NCAA Championships with his name in the record books.
Conner Hartmann and Immanuel Kerr-Brown both entered the national tournament Thursday in Oklahoma City to complete the 2013-14 wrestling campaign. Although both Blue Devils advanced past the first day of competition, Kerr-Brown suffered a loss in his second consolation match to bid farewell to his season.
Unseeded in the tournament, Hartmann pulled off two upsets through three days of competition to earn fifth place overall. The 197-pounder also became the second Blue Devil in program history to receive All-American honor recognition.
“Fifth place was really revealing for me because I realized that the difference between third and fifth and first is very, very narrow,” Hartmann said. “It’s a small difference, which means that I can hang with the best guys in the country.”
The redshirt sophomore eliminated 10th-seeded Jace Bennett of Cornell in a low-scoring battle before cruising to a 6-0 shutout over Oklahoma’s Travis Rutt, seeded seventh overall.
“Conner was focused. We knew he was going to have a good tournament,” Duke head coach Glen Lanham said. “He went into the tournament well-prepared, wrestled hard, and got on the podium.”
A 5-1 quarterfinal loss to No. 2-seed J’Den Cox, a Missouri freshman, sent Hartmann to the Saturday morning consolation round. What promised to be the second installment of a close match between Hartmann and Virginia Tech’s Chris Penny during dual competition turned into a win for Hartmann by medical forfeit, giving the Blue Devil fifth place overall for the 197-pound weight class.
In addition to a spot on the podium, the Port Orchard, Wash., native earned the All-American title, an honor not only to the wrestler but his coaching staff as well.
“It’s a great feeling. It shows that the new coaching staff that we’ve had over the last year or two knows what they’re doing,” Hartmann said. “It was great for me and for them to see that their hard work is paying off and what they’re saying really does work. I think it will speak volumes in the next couple of years.”
The other half of Duke's duo, Kerr-Brown opened the Blue Devils' showing at the NCAA Championships with a midday matchup against freshman Joseph LaVallee of Missouri. Kerr-Brown kept competition tight during the first period of his national championship debut. Scoreless after the first period, the redshirt junior suffered a takedown early in the second period to go down 2-0. After suffering another takedown and a near fall with only an escape and a takedown of his own, Kerr-Brown entered the consolation bracket with a 10-3 loss.
The Rome, Ga., native’s next contest held an opportunity for revenge. Drexel’s Austin Sommer notched a 9-8 win against Kerr-Brown during the regular season, but the Duke 157-pounder evened the score with a 10-2 decision to join his teammate on the second day of competition.
“The first day was amazing,” Hartmann said. “It was really nice to know that I was going to have somebody else with me because Immanuel Kerr-Brown was still in the running at that point, and it’s nice to have a teammate with you.”
The second day of competition would be Kerr-Brown’s last, as he fell narrowly 5-2 to No. 13 Dylan Alton of Penn State. The Blue Devil will head into his redshirt senior season after leading this year’s squad with a 26-12 record.
“He made one critical mistake against the Penn State kid and it cost him,” Lanham said. “[He] was out of the tournament, and the next day he started working out because he knows the season starts right now, and he can’t sit on it.”
With one and two years left, respectively, Kerr-Brown and Hartmann will have a chance to return to the national championships in a year to improve upon this year’s success that began well before Oklahoma City during the regular season of dual competition.
The two Blue Devils earned Duke an overall rank of 29th out of 73 competing teams and return to Durham to begin offseason training with the rest of the squad.
“They were voted captains prior to their success this season just based upon their leadership,” Lanham said. “They knew they had to be well-prepared. They did that, and that’s why they were at nationals, and that’s why they’re captains, and that’s why they lead our team. I feel like they both have a bright future, and we’re excited about it.”