4 to represent Duke wrestling at nationals following ACC Championships

Redshirt junior Conner Hartmann took home an ACC title this weekend and will compete at nationals March 19-21 in St. Louis.
Redshirt junior Conner Hartmann took home an ACC title this weekend and will compete at nationals March 19-21 in St. Louis.

After an action-packed day of wrestling in the Steel City, the Blue Devils will make the trip back to Durham with hardware in tow.

Duke leaves the ACC Wrestling Championships at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh behind with a fourth-place team finish and four grapplers achieving an automatic qualifying position to nationals. Redshirt junior Conner Hartmann, sophomore Jacob Kasper, freshman Mitch Finesilver and redshirt junior Marcus Cain all received automatic bids to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis March 19-21.

“As a staff we train our guys to wrestle hard, stay disciplined, do the things that make you uncomfortable and I think it showed,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “It paid off for us big time by getting four guys in and a champ. It’s been a long time since we had an ACC champ so we were definitely excited about that.”

The individual efforts of the Blue Devils (11-7, 1-4 in the ACC) racked up 44 team points—more than doubling an 18-point, seventh-place effort from 2014. For the 15th time in program history, Duke will send multiple qualifiers to the NCAA Championships, and could top the program-best four in one year from 2004 with at-large bids still on the horizon.

No. 7 Hartmann rode his No. 1 seed into the championship match and became the 22nd Blue Devil wrestler to capture an ACC title—giving the program 30 total and its first since 2010.

After a third place finish in the 2014 ACC Championships, the Port Orchard, Wash., native ran the table against ACC competition this season—going 5-0 in dual meets and 2-0 Sunday—to capture his first tournament title.

Hartmann received a bye into the semifinals, where he dispatched N.C. State’s Michael Boykin by a 4-3 decision. In the championship matchup, the redshirt junior faced off against No. 19 Zach Nye of Virginia—who upset Hartmann in the 2014 ACC tournament. Revenge was sweet this time around, however, as a late third-period takedown sealed the victory for the Blue Devil grappler 6-5.

“When you’re on top of the podium, you’ve done everything that we’ve asked of you,” Lanham said. “We were pretty pleased as a staff with the performance of Conner.”

Kasper and Finesilver both garnered runner-up accolades for Duke.

With the No. 2 seed at 184, Kasper eased into a championship matchup against No. 2 Max Thomusseit of Pittsburgh. Despite leaving everything on the mat, the sophomore would fall via a 14-6 major decision.

Finesilver defied all odds and took the low six-seed draw in the 133-weight class to upset No. 3 seed Kevin Norstrem of Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals and No. 2 seed Troy Heilmann of North Carolina in the semifinals.

In the first-place match, Finesilver wrestled hard for seven minutes against No. 14 George DiCamillo of Virginia, but lost a 12-6 decision. He becomes the third true freshman in Blue Devil history to receive a bid to the national championships—the first in Lanham’s tenure.

“Mitch is a workhorse,” Lanham said. “When they gave us the low seeds, I don’t know what they thought…. Anytime you have a young man like Mitch that works hard, does the right things on and off the mat [and is] first-in, last-out, you can definitely hang your hat on that. He is a smaller version of Conner Hartmann without a doubt.”

Although Cain dropped his semifinal match, the Winston-Salem, N.C., native rallied to win his consolation semifinal against Sam Speno of N.C. State by major decision 10-0. In the third place match against T.J. Miller of Virginia—whom he defeated 8-3 earlier in the quarterfinals—Cain dominated for a fall 20 seconds into the second period and earned third place accolades at 149.

Redshirt senior Immanuel Kerr-Brown and redshirt freshman Jake Faust—fourth-place finishers at 157 and 165, respectively—did not receive automatic bids to nationals. With at-large bids still forthcoming, Kerr-Brown—ranked No. 13 in RPI rankings going into Sunday—will have to wait and hope for the best to continue his career as a Blue Devil grappler.

“We have to see, but I think he definitely has an opportunity to get an at-large for sure,” Lanham said.

If the Rome, Ga., native is not chosen for an at-large berth, his storied career in a Duke singlet has come to a close. His 22-10 season record brings his career total to 76-54. At-large bids will be posted to the NCAA website Wednesday, March 11, announcing the fate of the redshirt senior.

“As a freshman he came in here and bought into what we were telling these guys about training hard, sticking around and staying during the summer,” Lanham said. “He has been a spokesman for that. It’s definitely emotional to see him not get that at-large bid. It’s sad for him because you know how hard he works and you want him to get to the tournament. We’re going to keep our fingers crossed and we’re hoping that his career can continue with a bid.”


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