PROVIDENCE, RI – An unprecedented fourth-straight NCAA Northeast Regional Championships is in sight for the Johnson & Wales University wrestling team. The eighth-ranked Wildcats start their quest on Saturday at Rhode Island College.
Johnson & Wales narrowly defeated Ithaca College in 2017, but ran away with the next two titles. The Wildcats made history in 2019 by sending nine wrestlers to the NCAA Championships and scored a Northeast Regional record 187 points.
The top three finishers in each of the 10 weight classes qualify for the NCAA Championships, March 13-14, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Unlike last season when the Wildcats dominated the competition, they will have to work hard to keep the trophy in Providence. While JWU is the only school with all 10 wrestlers seeded in the top eight, only four are in the top three. Coast Guard, conversely, has five top-three wrestlers.
The Wildcats' only top seed is rookie Hayden Brown at 133 pounds. He's ranked eighth in the country with a 33-5 record. At 141 pounds, junior Jordan Robinson is the number two seed thanks to a 24-8 record that has him ranked ninth in the NCAA.
Senior Michael DiNardo is going for his third trip to the NCAA Championships. Seeded second, this year he bumped up to 285 pounds where he has a 40-6 mark with 22 pins. A three-time All-Region winner, DiNardo is second in school history with 147 wins and 71 pins.
Classmate Da'mani Burns is also looking for a return trip to nationals. Ranked 10th in the country at 149 pounds, he has a 23-7 record with 11 pins that has him seeded third. Last year at the NCAA Championships, he won the Gorriaran award for having the most pins in the shortest amount of time.
Sophomore Tommy Wrzesien wants another crack at the NCAA Championships. He flipped spots with DiNardo and has a 23-9 record to earn the fourth seed at 197 pounds.
Giovanni Santiago was ranked as high as fourth at 197 pounds after defeating the defending national champion at the National Duals. A 2013 NCAA qualifier while at Centenary College, he dropped down to 184 pounds where he is seeded fifth with a 10-4 record.
Drawing the sixth seed at 125 pounds is junior Justin Lopez. A transfer from Penn State, he has a 23-9 mark with eight pins. Sophomore Darius Joyce comes into the regional with a 22-14 mark that has him as the seventh seed at 157 pounds.
Also drawing the seventh spot was senior Tim Higginson. He has a 7-2 record that includes a narrow loss against Roger Williams. Sophomore Nick Munsch dropped down from 184 to 174 pounds where he has the number eight seed. He has six pins as part of his 22-10 record.