Bernstein ’15 reaches NCAA tourney

Ricky McDonald ’15 joins Bernstein as place-winner but narrowly misses NCAA tournament cut

Sports Editor
Monday, March 10, 2014

The wrestling team battled in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association tournament this weekend, earning 16th in the 18-team league. A four-win effort from co-captain Ophir Bernstein ’15 earned the 184-pounder third place and his third consecutive berth in the NCAA tournament.

As he has done all season, Bernstein carried the Bears, accounting for 14.5 of the team’s 23 total points despite competing in one of the most talented EIWA classes. The junior entered his weight class bracket ranked third and combined to outscore his first two opponents 14-1. In the semifinal match, Bernstein ran into a wall in the form of Penn’s Lorenzo Thomas. Just as he had done during the regular season, Thomas held Bernstein to a low-scoring total to secure the victory.

But Bernstein returned to the mat with a vengeance, pinning Princeton counterpart Brett Harner in the second period to clinch a top-four finish and guarantee his third NCAA ticket in as many seasons.

“Bouncing back from a loss in wrestling is really tough because you’re beat up and disappointed,” Bernstein said. “In this tournament, even more so than others, you’ve got to put it behind you because if you wrestle another bad match, your season could be over.”

To ice the cake, Bernstein shut out Columbia’s Zach Hernandez to earn third place, replicating his finish from last season.

Bernstein said he felt “content” after the pin earned him his NCAA bid, but admitted the feat felt like a consolation prize given his expectation of winning the tournament.

Bernstein’s classmate and fellow captain Ricky McDonald ’15, at 174 pounds, flirted with an NCAA bid of his own but was thwarted two rounds early by Elliot Riddick of Lehigh. After a 2-1 opening day, McDonald stood two wins away from qualifying for the national meet. But an unlucky break doomed the junior as he was paired with Riddick, the class’ top seed, in wrestle-backs after Riddick was upset in the second round. McDonald hung with the high-ranked foe before falling 7-3. The co-captain finished in eighth place after a 7-3 loss to Cornell’s George Pickett in his final match of the season. McDonald’s two wins brought his season total to 20, and each of his three losses at the tournament came at the hands of competitors ranked in the top four.

“Ricky had a tough draw,” Bernstein said. “But he is one of those guys that works really hard and could be an All-American next year.”

The best Bruno performer who did not reach the second day was the heavyweight Ryder Cavey ’17. Seeded 17th in his first conference tournament, Cavey needed to defeat Hofstra’s Michael Hughes to break into the field of 16. The match went down to the wire, but Cavey held on to capture a 2-1 decision. Unfortunately, Cavey’s reward was a bout with top-seeded William Smith of Rutgers, who dealt him a swift defeat via the fall a minute into the match.

Undeterred, Cavey entered wrestle-backs with an opening win over Drexel’s Joseph Giorgio. While Giorgio ranked eight spots higher than Cavey entering the tournament, Bruno’s heavyweight dominated the match, shutting out the Drexel grappler 5-0.  In his next bout, Cavey drew yet another quality opponent in third-ranked Tyler Deuel of Binghamton, who ended the rookie’s tournament with a pin in the third period.

Anthony Finocchiaro ’16 earned a major decision victory in his first round of wrestle-backs, but it was the only win the sophomore claimed in the 133-pound bracket. Philip Marano ’14 was quick out of the gates in his last conference tournament, upending Drexel’s Jason Fugiel. But the 165-pound senior lost each of his next two matches by close margins to end his Brown career.

“Our team’s very young, (and) we’re not where we want to be yet,” Bernstein said, referring to the fact that only one Bear qualified for the NCAA tournament. Many of the EIWA’s other teams had multiple wrestlers qualify.

“But they all show so much potential,” Bernstein said. “We still have a lot of confidence for next year.”

Bernstein has had mediocre showings in his first two national tournament appearances, but he said this year is different.

“I’m expecting All-American,” he said. “It’s definitely not going to be easy, but it’s been my goal since day one.”