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AU ends NCAA wrestling tournament run despite two early wins

Three AU wrestlers compete at the 2017 NCAA wrestling tournament but none advance beyond the round of 16

AU ends NCAA wrestling tournament run despite two early wins

AU sophomore Josh Terao holds down Johnson Mai of Columbia in the second round of the EIWA conference tournament. Terao’s second place finish at the EIWA tournament earned him a bid to the NCAA tournament where he won one match and lost two. 

The NCAA tournament, the prime event for college wrestlers during the season, offered a different kind of stage for AU sophomore Josh Terao. During the regular wrestling season, Terao wrestled in front of a couple dozen fans in Bender Arena. Bender provided Terao a spotlight, but the atmosphere at the NCAA tournament in St. Louis on March 16 offered a new chance to shine. Terao readied himself, shaking out his limbs, on Mat 8 as he prepared for his second contest of the tournament and continued towards his goal of becoming an All-American.

The Hawaii native advanced through the first session of the tournament on Thursday morning when he defeated Ohio State’s Joey Rodriguez to earn his 50th career win. Terao’s victory also moved him forward in the championship bracket and set him up to face No.6 Ethan Lizak of Minnesota.

Terao started the match against Lizak loose and limber, rolling around on the mat, wrestling on both the offense and defense. Lizak took an early lead, but Terao had come back from a 0-4 start in his previous match and knew how to fight. He battled Lizak from his feet and his back, nearing rolling over his opponent, but Lizak remained in control.

At the end of seven minutes, Lizak took the win, 15-6. The loss moved Terao into the consolation bracket and took away his chances for a national title. But head coach Teague Moore remained positive after the match.

“I think Josh is the type of wrestler that can bounce back from this. When he came out of that loss our immediate conversation [was] he’s getting refocused,” Moore said Thursday night. “He realized that although he can’t be a national champion, he can be an All-American, so we’ll see what happens when the whistle blows tomorrow, but I like where he’s at.”

Moore’s hopes for Terao to earn All-American status were dashed the following morning when Terao fell to Brock Hudkins of Northern Illinos on Friday 4-3. But on Thursday night, Moore was still in a celebratory mood.

AU junior wrestler Jeric Kasunic then brought more positivity to his team when he earned a fall against Austin Severn of Central Michigan in his first consolation match of the second session and he too put himself in All-American contention.  

“It’s a good way to start, and I’m just really happy to see Jeric mentally in the place he’s in today,” Moore said. “He could have easily held back on his offense and not giving himself a chance. He gave himself a chance, and now he’s heading into Day 2.”

Kasunic’s win kept him alive in the tournament and granted him another match on Friday morning, but Thursday night was bittersweet for the junior. Wrestling right next to Kasunic during the match, his training partner and senior teammate Jason Grimes ended his collegiate career with a loss to Mitch Sliga of Northwestern, 6-2.

Kasunic and Grimes battled back and forth all year in what has become known as the “Pinning Wars,” as each athlete tried to earn more falls than the other. Grimes led Kasunic by one fall this year as of Thursday, but Kasunic’s win on Thursday night gave him the opportunity to chase Grimes’ total and rack up another pin before the end of the tournament. Kasunic joked that “the pinning wars live on,” but he also made a point to thank Grimes for helping him work towards a run in the national championships.

“He’s worked hard through his whole life, he’s dedicated his whole life to this sport,” Kasunic said. “I know the past three years, him and I have gone at it hard, we’ve made each other better, we’ve gotten each other to this point, and I can’t thank him enough because without him, I don’t think I’d be here.”

Moore echoed Kasunic’s praise, calling Grimes someone who “represents AU wrestling so well,” and noting that Grimes will continue to be a success in his professional career.

I know I’m proud of him, the AU wrestling family is proud of him, [and] American University is going to be very proud of him when he steps into his professional career, so there is nothing for Jay Grimes to hang him head about,” Moore said. “He has great things ahead of him.”

Grimes watched Friday morning’s session as a spectator while his teammates, and, in the case of Kasunic, training partners battled another day. But after Friday’s session, he was joined by Terao and Kasunic, who both recorded their second losses of the tournament in the tournament’s third session and resigned to offseason training. Although Moore’s mood shifted from enthusiasm on Thursday to disappointment on Friday, the head coach said he will look for the positives and keep his guys training hard for next year.

“We have some solid guys in our lineup that we will be taking forward, so AU wrestling, we just have to learn from this experience, we just have to be honest with ourselves, be willing to make the changes that need to be made and get back to work.”



sscovel@theeagleonline.com