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Niesenbaum wins heavyweight division as Duke wrestling struggles at Keystone Classic

<p>Duke's Jonah Niesenbaum continued a red-hot start to his senior season with a heavyweight victory in Philadelphia.</p>

Duke's Jonah Niesenbaum continued a red-hot start to his senior season with a heavyweight victory in Philadelphia.

In collegiate wrestling, amazing individual efforts don't necessarily ensure a good team result. 

Unfortunately for Duke, its wrestling fell victim to this veracity Sunday at the Keystone Classic in Philadelphia. On an individual level, a few Blue Devils had an amazing weekend while the team placed ninth out of 11 schools. Senior captain Jonah Niesenbaum continued his excellent grappling, winning the heavyweight division in a tight overtime contest. Redshirt junior Patrick Rowald also excelled, finishing in seventh place overall at 149 pounds after entering the tournament as an unranked competitor. 

However, as a team Duke struggled mightily, with Jarred Papcsy, Drake Doolittle, Connor Barket and Conor Becker all eliminated in the Round of 16 at their respective weights. Nick Tattini and Preston Decker fared worse at 157 pounds, both dispatched in the Round of 32 while junior Logan Agin got into an awkward tangle and had to retire with a knee injury. 

“We have got to have more from our upper weights,” head coach Glen Lanham said Monday. “Some guys … have to show better.”

Duke struggled on bottom, giving away vital riding time points to the opponents after working on escaping from bottom all week leading up to the Keystone Classic.

“Guys struggle getting out from bottom, [and] we had a really good week of preparation for that,” said Lanham. “We trained to close those matches out. It’s really hurting us.” 

Nonetheless, there were still some brilliant moments for the Blue Devils. Niesenbaum wreaked havoc in the 285-pound division with impressive victories, including knocking off No. 22 Ben Goldin of Pennsylvania. Niesenbaum saved his best performance of the day for last, clawing his way to a 3-1 overtime victory over No. 15 Hunter Catka from Virginia Tech in the championship bout.

“[Niesenbaum] beat an ACC foe that has really dominated him the last two times they wrestled,” Lanham said of the finals. “Great, great performance for him.”

The impressive tournament should earn Niesenbaum a ranking, making him the first Duke grappler to earn the honor this season.

Another highlight of the day was Rowland finishing 7th at 149 lbs. Entering the tournament unranked and wrestling up a weight class, the odds were certainly stacked against him. Nevertheless, an impressive 4-2 victory over Dom Findora of Drexel secured Rowland hardware for his efforts. 

“Patrick went out and wrestled really hard,” coach Lanham remarked. “I think moving up a weight helped him a little bit. He’s really starting to put it together.”

In the most unfortunate moment of the day, 125-pound grappler Agin got caught in an awkward tangle, which resulted in a knee injury and retirement in his match against Desmond Pleasant of Drexel. The loss of Agin would be a real blow to the team, who has found success thus far; just last week he finished third at the Battle at The Citadel. Luckily, the worst-case scenario seems to have been avoided. 

“Our trainer said that he has stability in the knee, so we know that means that it’s not an ACL,” Lanham said. “He’s going to see the doctor this afternoon”

Questions surround the Blue Devils moving forward at 157 pounds, as the freshman Tattini wrestled his fifth and final meet allowed under the new redshirt rules. However, Tattini and Lanham seem prepared to burn his redshirt and allow the Crown Point, Ind., native to develop in matches. 

“We’re probably going to lean towards wrestling him,” Lanham said of Tattini. “We think this can be a good year for him to grow with competition.”

The Blue Devils continue their road trip Sunday with duals against VMI and Franklin and Marshall. In the meantime, the team will be focused and drilled on improving from the bottom position.

“We got to have a couple of days of really just saying, 'Hey guys, this is what we’ve got to work on,'” Lanham said.


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