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Niesenbaum stands out again for Duke wrestling at Southern Scuffle

Senior heavyweight Jonah Niesenbaum placed fifth in his bracket at the Southern Scuffle.
Senior heavyweight Jonah Niesenbaum placed fifth in his bracket at the Southern Scuffle.

The Blue Devils took a step back into the New Year. 

Duke floundered at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., finishing tied for 18th place with Virginia. Seven Blue Devils out of 11 total finished the event with a losing record, and only one grappler, senior heavyweight Jonah Niesenbaum, qualified for Monday's second day of competition. 

“We are disappointed that we had a limited amount of guys make the second day when we have the talent to do so,” said head coach Glen Lanham. “I think it was an eye-opener for our guys.”

Christian Colman, Jarred Papcsy, Logan Ferrero and Jack Wimmer crashed out of the double-elimination tournament without a victory, while Gaetano Console, Luke Chakonis and Vincent Baker each picked up one win before the end of the day. Patrick Rowland and Brayden Ray finished with 2-2 records for a pair of solid performances from the junior and redshirt senior, respectively.

“It’s just small things,” Lanham said of the team’s struggles. “We have to connect those small dots together to make big gains.”

Duke hosted a team meeting Monday night after the tournament. The meeting was led by Niesenbaum, who stressed the importance of buying in and listening to the coaches.

“[Niesenbaum] basically said, ‘Hey guys, look, I’ve been a hockey player longer than a wrestler, but I listen to what the coaches say. And I follow it. We have to be more trusting,’” said Lanham. 

Niesenbaum led on the mat as well, going 3-0 to start the tournament. His New Year's Day included a major decision victory over Logan Shephard of Bucknell and a tight victory over Konner Doucet of Oklahoma State. Although Niesenbaum dropped his semifinal bout and then another match to Juan Mora of North Dakota State, he recovered to defeat Garrett Joles of Minnesota, securing fifth place in the heavyweight division with an overall record of 4-2. 

“We thought that [Niesenbaum] bounced back well from the two losses,” said Lanham. 

Ranked 19th nationally entering the tournament, Niesenbaum could be an NCAA tournament qualifier for Duke. The heavyweight continues to improve with every tournament. Growing up as a hockey player, his successful transition to wrestling over the last four years has amazed the coaching staff.

“Every competition we have, he’s getting better,” said Lanham about Niesenbaum’s ceiling. “By the time we get to ACC and nationals, I think you could see a whole different wrestler on another level.”

The Blue Devils did not enter any grapplers in the 125-pound and 133-pound divisions due to injuries. However, Logan Agin and Drake Doolittle should be available for Duke’s next dual against Central Michigan Jan. 19, according to Lanham, giving the team a boost for its home opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“You have to have a short memory in this [sport],” said Lanham. “We have the next couple of weeks just to really hone in on what we need to do to be successful.”


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