After a strong conference tournament run, the wrestling team looked to parlay their momentum into the NCAA Wrestling Tournament in Pittsburgh March 21-23.
National tournament veterans Jon Viruet ’19 (165 lbs) and CJ LaFragola ’19 (184 lbs) fell victim to the tough competition, with each wrestler dropping their first two matches in the double-elimination event. But Christian LaBrie ’19 (157 lbs) and Ian Butterbrodt ’19 (285 lbs), both making their first NCAA Wrestling Tournament appearances, each picked up victories. Butterbrodt, who entered the tournament seeded 26th of the 33 wrestlers in his weight class, made a surprise run through the bracket, finishing one win away from a top eight placement and All-American status.
Though Butterbrodt stole the show with multiple upset victories, other Brown wrestlers had their tournaments defined by crucial losses. LaBrie, Viruet and LaFragola all ended their collegiate wrestling careers in matches decided by three or fewer points.
Butterbrodt’s tournament started out like his teammates’, as he fell in the first round to University of Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger. But the Bruno heavyweight caught fire in the consolation rounds. Against Jeramy Sweany of Cornell, Butterbrodt jumped out to a commanding 9-0 lead and cruised to a 12-7 win. Next, Butterbrodt took on 8th-seeded Demetrius Thomas of the University of Pittsburgh. Thomas started off quickly, taking down Butterbrodt and earning over a minute of riding time. But Butterbrodt kicked into second gear, escaping and taking down Thomas before tilting the Panther for four nearfall points. Butterbrodt continued to build upon his lead, pulling off the upset via a 15-7 major decision.
“(Butterbrodt) wrestled amazing,” said Head Coach Todd Beckerman. “To come out in the morning and wrestle the number eight seed from Pitt, who’s really talented, he stuck to his game plan and came out on top.”
Butterbrodt’s winning streak did not stop there. Ohio State University upstart freshman Chase Singletary was his next opponent. Butterbrodt rode out Singletary for two minutes in the second period, then escaped in the third for a 1-0 lead. Singletary pushed the pace late in an attempt to earn the winning takedown, but could not get past Butterbrodt’s defense. A riding time point gave the Brown heavyweight a 2-0 win and made him one of the final 12 wrestlers remaining in his weight class. This sent Butterbrodt to the “blood round” of the tournament where match winners lock up All-American status and losers are eliminated. Butterbrodt faced 6th-seeded returning All-American Amar Dhesi from Oregon State University, and Dhesi’s size and experience were too much for the Bear. Butterbrodt came one match short of becoming Brown’s first All-American since Ophir Bernstein ’15 in 2014.
“Getting a major on (one of the top eight guys) — that’s pretty cool, not something you expect from a 26 seed,” Butterbrodt said. “I’m proud of how I did. It’s my senior year (and I) haven’t been here before (and) wasn’t expecting much. Obviously my goal was to be national champion, so it’s a little hard to lose first round, but you have to pull it together and be like, ‘I’m not going to go 0-2.’”
LaBrie took on third-seeded Ryan Deakin of Northwestern University in his first match. LaBrie was able to earn two takedowns on the eventual sixth place finisher, but lost 7-4. In the consolation rounds, LaBrie faced Alex Klucker of Lock Haven University. LaBrie dominated Klucker in a 13-1 major decision for Bruno’s first win of the tournament. The 30th-seeded LaBrie advanced to face 14th-seeded Zach Hartman of conference rival Bucknell University. LaBrie earned the first takedown, and after a back and forth bout he led 9-8 with 20 seconds left. But Hartman turned LaBrie to his back in the closing moments of the match for a 12-9 win, ending LaBrie’s tournament and career.
“LaBrie wrestled his butt off,” Beckerman said. “If he (had won) that one, who knows how far he could have gone in the bracket.”
In Viruet’s first round match, he faced North Carolina State University’s Thomas Bullard, whom he lost to in a 17-5 major decision during the regular season. Viruet put up a much tougher fight in the wrestlers’ second meeting, but still fell by a 3-2 margin. During a wild scramble in the match’s final seconds, Viruet had a chance to earn the winning score, but time ran out on the Bear’s takedown attempt. The 17th-seeded Viruet then drew 33rd-seeded Joe Smith of Oklahoma State University in his second match. Despite being the lowest-seeded wrestler at 165 pounds, Smith was a tough draw for Viruet as a two-time All-American. Smith controlled the pace of the match en route to a 3-1 win, as Viruet was unable to get past the Cowboy’s defense for anything more than an escape. With the loss, Viruet finished his senior season with a 31-10 record, the best mark of his career.
LaFragola also landed in a difficult spot in his bracket, drawing eventual 184-pound champion Drew Foster from the University of Northern Iowa in the first round. Foster’s quick takedowns and work from the top position were too much for LaFragola to handle in a 10-0 loss. LaFragola then faced Mason Reinhardt from the University of Wisconsin, in what turned out to be a quadruple overtime marathon. The wrestlers were tied at one after a relatively uneventful regulation, but the action ramped up in the overtime periods. Down by a point in the third overtime, LaFragola earned a crucial takedown to take the lead, but Reinhardt’s escape sent the match to a fourth overtime. Reinhardt then earned the winning score in sudden death, sending LaFragola home in another crushing defeat for the Bears.
“First match, I wanted to come out and get an early takedown. Didn’t work out in my favor. … I got stuck on bottom, and it kind of was an uphill battle from there,” LaFragola said. “(In my second match), I went for it, so it’s no regrets. I had the shots, I just couldn’t finish them.”
Brown finished its wrestling season with an 8-6 record as a team, and a 6-5 record in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association. Though the Bears will graduate all four of their NCAA Tournament qualifiers, they will return five starters, including EIWA tournament placer Hunter Kosco ’21, to next year’s squad.