Rider’s Conor Brennan Wins in Overtime to Reach NCAA Quarterfinals
NEW YORK -- In his third and final trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships, Rider's Conor Brennan finally feels like he belongs among the best in the country.
Now the former Brick standout is one victory away from becoming an NCAA All-American.
Brennan, the No. 12 seed at 165 pounds, won by 4-2 decision in sudden victory over No. 5 seed Max Rohskopf of North Carolina State during Thursday night's pre-quarterfinal round at Madison Square Garden, advancing to Friday's national quarterfinal round.
A three-time Eastern Wrestling League conference champion, Brennan (29-3) is on the verge of ending his college career on the medal stand. He'll meet the No. 4 seed, Missouri's Daniel Lewis (27-4), in the quarterfinals where a win would thrust him into the national semifinals and lock up All-American status as a guaranteed top-six finisher.
"This year was the most excited I've been to be at nationals," Brennan said. "The last two years, maybe I was a little underprepared. I was hurt most of the season last year, so that really set me back. This year I came in with a ton of confidence."
Brennan started the tournament with a 7-3 decision over Duke's Jake Faust to advance to the round of 16. Against Rohskopf, Brennan scored first with a takedown in the first period, and took a 2-1 lead into the second. Brennan chose neutral to start the second period, and neither wrestler would score to keep it 2-1 heading to the third.
"I knew going into the match the kid was tough on top, so I tried to keep it on my feet most of the match," Brennan said. "I knew a couple takedowns would seal it if I didn't let him on top."
Rohskopf chose defense to start the third period and escaped to tie the score, 2-2, and it stayed that way through regulation. In overtime, Brennan got in on a single-leg takedown and finished it off with 18 seconds left in sudden victory to reach the national quarterfinals.
"I knew I was in a good spot (in the tournament)," Brennan said. "I had to beat the kid from Duke, who was unseeded, and I knew the No. 5 seed was definitely beatable. I watched him on his feet and knew he couldn't hang with me, but he was a good top wrestler so I stayed away from that and it worked out."
Brennan's college career his mirrored his high school career, and he certainly wouldn't mind if his senior seasons matched up. At Brick, he started his career with a 24-8 record and third-place finish in the District 23 Tournament. As a sophomore he went 22-5, won a bout to clinch Brick's first ever NJSIAA state sectional title, and once again finished third at districts. He reached a new level as a high school junior in going 32-7 and reaching the state tournament as the Region 6 runner-up. In his senior season Brennan put it all together with his first district and region titles, while finishing third in the state at 152 pounds. He then placed fifth at senior nationals, and concluded his high school career with 113 wins.
At Rider Brennan went 3-5 as a freshman before redshirting during the 2012-2013 season. He returned to go 27-9 as a redshirt sophomore while capturing the EWL title at 174 pounds. Injuries limited him to just 22 bouts last season, but he was healthy enough to win his second conference title and go 2-2 at the NCAA Tournament. He's been injury free and confident throughout this season, and it has led him to within one win of reaching one of his biggest goals.
"My mentality senior year (at Brick) was I was the best guy in the state and I was going to win it," Brennan said. "This is the first year I actually said to myself that 'I'm the best guy in the country and I'm going to win it'."
"I'm going to treat tomorrow's quarterfinals like I treated both my matches (Thursday): with full confidence and thinking I should be on the top of that podium."
Minutes after Brennan's victory he was backstage cheering on teammate Chad Walsh, who knocked off No. 2 seed Thomas Gantt of North Carolina, 12-9, in a thrilling 157-pound pre-quarterfinal bout. Walsh, who wrestled at Camden Catholic and was a four-time state medalist, including the state runner-up at 152 pounds in 2013, scored one of the biggest upsets of the tournament to reach the national quarterfinals.
Walsh easily agreed it was the biggest win he's ever had.
"I think so," Walsh said. "It was a tight one, but I just had to push through and get that last takedown."
Walsh scored a crucial takedown to tie the bout 6-6 heading to the second period. North Carolina's coaches challenged the call, but it was upheld.
"I really thought I got it because he put his hand down, but it was kind of a sloppy situation," Walsh said. "I'm glad I tied it up because it really ended up counting in the end."
Walsh was up 8-7 before Gantt scored a reversal to take a 9-8 lead. Walsh escaped to knot the bout 9-9 before getting the winning takedown in the third period.
"Whoever got that last takedown was going to win," Walsh said. "I was just feeling good and wrestling my match, and that's what helped me keep my head going into it."
Rider sophomore B.J. Clagon, who was a two-time state champion while wrestling for Toms River South, reached the pre-quarterfinals by taking out No. 8 seed Evan Henderson of North Carolina, 3-1. Clagon was defeated by Central Michigan's Justin Oliver, the No. 9 seed, 9-7 in sudden victory, in the round of 16. Clagon (20-11), who was fifth at 149 pounds last season but unseeded entering this season's tournament, will wrestle Cornell's Joseph Gallasso (19-13) in the second round of wrestlebacks on Friday morning.
Rider senior Rob Deutsch (133) and redshirt sophomore Mauro Correntti (heavyweight) each went 0-2 on Thursday and were eliminated from the tournament. EWL champ Ryan Wolfe lost his first-round bout in the 197-pound bracket to Penn State's Morgan McIntosh, the No. 1 seed, but rebounded with a win in the wrestlebacks.
Princeton has Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) champ Brett Harner in the quarterfinals at 197 pounds. Harner, the No. 7 seed, will face the No. 2, Missouri's J'Den Cox. The Tigers also have Jordan Laster at 141 and Ray O'Donnell at heavyweight alive in the wrestlebacks. Jonathan Schleifer, a former state champ while starring at East Brunswick, was eliminated with two losses in the 174-pound bracket.
Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.