Duke wrestling caps season with record-setting performance at NCAA Championships

In a season filled with program-bests, all good things must come to an end.

Duke wrapped up its campaign Saturday with the conclusion of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center. After sending five qualifiers to the tournament—a program-record—the team wrestled to a 28th-place finish with 14.0 team points. The finish tops last season’s 29th-place finish for another new program record, and the team total stands as the most by the squad since it scored 17.0 in 2009.

Redshirt junior Conner Hartmann led the Blue Devils (11-7) with a sixth-place podium finish at 197 pounds. For the second straight season, Hartmann received All-American honors, becoming just the second Blue Devil in program history to achieve the honor twice—heavyweight Konrad Dudziak was the other in 2009-10.

The redshirt junior went on a tear to reach the podium. Despite receiving the No. 10 seed, the Port Orchard, Wash., native bulldozed his way through his first three opponents—including No. 7 seed Abram Ayala of Princeton and No. 2 seed Morgan McIntosh of Penn State—to reach the semifinals.

Unfortunately for the Blue Devil grappler, he dropped his next three matches to fall to sixth place. Losses to No. 3 seed Kyven Gadson of Iowa State and No. 5 seed Scott Schiller of Minnesota set Hartmann up for a rematch of the Southern Scuffle final against reigning NCAA champion and No.1 seed J’den Cox of Missouri in the consolation match for fifth place.

In an overtime thriller, Cox was able to best Hartmann for the second time this season, grabbing the 4-2 decision with a takedown as time expired. Despite the loss, Hartmann finishes his junior campaign with a 29-5 overall record and an ACC title under his belt.

Redshirt senior Immanuel Kerr-Brown and redshirt junior Marcus Cain finished their careers for Duke by adding 2.50 team points to the squad’s total. Kerr-Brown lost his first match at 157 pounds, dropping him into the consolation bracket early. But the Rome, Ga., native would not throw in the towel.

After defeating Doug Welch of Purdue and Brooks Martino of Pennsylvania in his first two consolation matches, Kerr-Brown was matched up against No. 8 seed John Boyle of American. In another overtime thriller for the Blue Devils, the redshirt senior took the victory on a takedown at the edge of the mat for the 5-3 win.

The Duke captain's career came to an end in his next match against Spartak Chino of Ohio via a 4-3 decision. Kerr-Brown hangs up his singlet with 80 career wins— including 51 in the past two seasons—and a 25-13 record in his final campaign for Lanham.

Cain scored the only fall for the Blue Devils in his first trip to the NCAA tournament at 149 pounds. Although he lost his first round match against No. 5 seed Christopher Villalonga of Cornell, the Winston-Salem, N.C., native rallied in the consolation rounds to pin Chattanooga’s Shawn Greevy 36 seconds into the first period. The fall was Cain’s fourth of the season and the fastest of his career.

In heartbreaking fashion, however, the redshirt junior was knocked out of the tournament in his very next match in a close 7-6 decision to Garrett Schaner of Stanford. Cain finishes his season with a 22-9 ledger.

Sophomore Jacob Kasper and freshman Mitch Finesilver gained experience for Duke in their first-ever NCAA tournament appearances. Despite dropping two straight matches in the consolation round to end their tournament hopes on day one, the two Blue Devils finish successful campaigns with ACC tournament runner-up finishes and podiums in multiple open matches this season—including Finesilver’s title at the Appalachian Open.

Kasper heads into the offseason after a 24-12 sophomore campaign and Finesilver completes his rookie season with a record. With similar success next season, the two grapplers will be poised to make another tournament run for Lanham.


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