ROANOKE, Va. – With a program-best nine qualifiers, including five seeded wrestlers, the Johnson & Wales University wrestling team has its best chance at bringing home a national championship this weekend. The NCAA Championships get started Friday at the Berglund Center.
Johnson & Wales, ranked third in the latest NWCA poll, is tied with top-ranked Augsburg College for the most entries. Defending national champion Wartburg College and Loras each have seven wrestlers in the contest.
JWU will try to improve upon its 2017 performance when it placed fourth. Last season the Wildcats took sixth.
Headlining the JWU contingency is senior Jay Albis at 125 pounds and 149-pounder Da'mani Burns. Both are the top seed in their weight class. The defending national champion, Albis opens with Carlos Champagne from Wabash. He is trying to become the school's first three-time All-American.
Burns, who's appearing at his first NCAA Championships, drew one of the preliminary matches and will face Loras' Kevin Kelly. Senior Khamri Thomas is ranked third at 184 pounds. Thomas starts his quest for a second-straight All-America award against Michael Dooley from Stevens.
At 133 pounds, fellow senior Bobby Jordan is seeded fourth. An All-American in 2017, Jordan takes on Wabash's Owen Doster in a preliminary round match. Junior Michael DiNardo comes in as the sixth seed at 197 pounds. He's looking to improve on last year's 0-2 performance and takes on Travis Ogden from Lycoming.
Despite being a two-time All-American, Joe Ferinde is not seeded at 141 pounds. Like Albis, Ferinde is trying to become JWU's first three-time All-American when he starts his run in the prelim round versus John Carroll's Jarrod Brezovec. Also back at the NCAA Championships is senior Adrian Gonzalez at 165 pounds. He came up one match short of earning All-America honors last season. Gonzalez is also in the preliminary round against fourth-seeded Kyle Hatch of Wabash who beat him, 6-5, during the dual meet.
Two wrestlers are making their first national appearance. In his final season, senior Michael Gargano qualified at 174 pounds. He'll take on Brian Shermeyer of Messiah in the prelims. On the opposite end of the spectrum is freshman Tommy Wrzesien at 285 pounds. He's the first JWU rookie to qualify for nationals since Joe Ferinde in 2015-16. His opening opponent is the sixth seed, Drew Kasper from Otterbein.