Broncs at NCAA Championships
Santiago, Cibula, McNeil, Morris in Iowa
DES MOINES, IOWA-"Is this Heaven?" "No, it's Iowa."
Four Rider University Broncs have reached the Promised Land and are competing at the NCAA 2013 Wrestling Championships, which begin Thursday at the Wells Fargo Arena in the Iowa capital city of Des Moines.
"Hopefully we'll have a lot of wins and some hardware coming home," said associate head coach John Hangey, who came home with some hardware of his own (All-America trophy) in 1993. Hangey's hardware is one of 13 such trophies the Broncs have brought home in the last 32 years, and are looking for more this weekend.
"Our performance has been what we expected," Hangey said, after the Broncs placed runner-up at the Colonial Athletic Association Championships. "Our guys stepped up and wrestled to their potential at the CAAs, now it's time to get something out of this tournament. Bring home some wins and bring home some hardware. Get some kids on the podium."
Broncs attempting to reach the top-eight All-America podiums on Saturday will be 165 pound junior Ramon Santiago (Sayreville), senior 157 pound Zac Cibula (Luxemburg, Wis./Luxemburg Casco), sophomore 197 pound Donald McNeil (Plainville, Mass./Wyoming Seminary) and sophomore 133 pound Jimmy Morris (Northport, NY/St. Anthony's).
Santiago (29-7, 15-3 duals) advanced to the NCAA Championship by winning his weight class at the CAAs and is ranked 16th in the nation.
"One of my goals is to be an All-American," Santiago said. "This weekend I get my chance."
"Ramon did a great job all year," Hangey said. "He's always been competitive with some of the best wrestlers in the country and this year he beat some of them."
Santiago will face the seventh seed, Conrad Polz of Illinois in the first round. "I have to win three or four times to place," Santiago said. "I'll have to beat some of the top guys in the country. Having performed well at Midlands, against the top level there is, I have confidence going into Nationals."
Cibula (23-10) placed runner-up at the CAAs and is making his second trip to Nationals. Cibula was the 2011 CAA Championships' Most Outstanding Performer, and competed in the NCAAs hosted by Rider in Philadelphia.
"The atmosphere at the National tournament is like no other," Cibula said. "The intensity that everyone brings is really amazing."
"Zac has been a standard in this program for five years," Hangey said. "He's a great team leader for us. He's beaten some nationally ranked kids this year and we look for big things from him at Nationals."
"Having experienced it before will certainly help this week," Cibula said. "I realize that once you are here it is anybody's match to win."
At Nationals he will face the ninth seed, Frank Hickman of Bloomsburg in the first round.
"I'm looking forward to winning the tournament and getting on the podium," Cibula said.
McNeil (20-15) placed third at the CAAs and will face the second seed, Quentin Wright of Penn State in the first round. McNeil lost 12-4 to Wright earlier this year.
"Donald really came on the second half of this year," Hangey said. "He worked his tail off and got stronger. We preach that you get out of it what you put into it and Donald has truly deserves this opportunity."
"I'm going to a National tournament as a sophomore," said McNeil, a two-time Mass. State Champ who attended Wyoming Seminary School in Pennsylvania and went to NC Greensboro for a red-shirt season before coming to Rider, "so my travels to get to Rider have worked out pretty good."
Morris (25-12, 12-4 duals) was seeded second in the CAA but lost in the semifinals, but received an at-large berth to Nationals several days after the CAAs. "I was in between classes and my phone rang and immediately I was so happy," said Morris, who was out for three weeks with an ankle injury before coming back for the CAA Championships.
"I was so disappointed at the CAAs and didn't really know if I'd get in (to Nationals)," Morris said. "Looking back, I did have some quality wins this year and that gives me the confidence to know I belong in this tournament. At Nationals, anything can happen."
"We were a little disappointed at the CAAs because he was just coming off an injury, but for him to get this opportunity is great," Hangey said of Morris. "He has put himself in position to be one of the better 133s in the country."
At the NCAAs he will face the 10th seed, Scotti Sentes of Central Michigan in the first round.
Wrestling begins Thursday morning and ends Saturday evening with the 88 All-Americans on the 10 podiums. The Broncs look forward to being on one of those podiums.