App State wrestling finds another hidden gem


Courtesy of Andy McLean, App State Athletics

Redshirt freshman Ethan Oakley takes on North Dakota State’s McGwire Midkiff at the NCAA Championships March. 16, 2023.

Trey Blake, Reporter

Over the last three months, 133-pound redshirt freshman wrestler Ethan Oakley has turned heads with his performances. These performances include winning 16 out of his final 20 matches, 8-0 as a starter to end the season and a win at the NCAA championships. 

Oakley, who was a four-time state finalist and three-time champion in high school, didn’t see much success during the 2020-21 season. After his 0-4 opening campaign, Oakley came into his second season as an unattached redshirt. During this time, he picked up three top-40 wins and a title in the open division at the Mountaineer Invitational. 

“You know, this is my third year here,” Oakley said. “So being in the program for that long, and getting my feet under me was a big plus.” 

When former Southern Conference champion and NCAA qualifier junior Sean Carter went down for the year, there was little worry within the coaching staff that Oakley would be able to perform at the same level as Carter.

 “I knew we had someone that was capable of stepping up and filling that spot when Sean went down,” head coach JohnMark Bentley said. “Even going into the year, I wasn’t sure who was going to start, so just seeing that I had so much confidence in him.” 

When Oakley was told he was named the starter in place of the injured Carter, Oakley wasted little time in telling his family he was the guy at 133 pounds going forward. 

“He told me and I couldn’t have been more excited for him,” Ethan Oakley’s brother Nathan Oakley, who was a wrestler at Belmont Abbey, said. “I knew he would be getting a chance to make the most out of this spot and I know he’s going to use it to make himself better.” 

When Ethan Oakley reached the mat, he wasted no time in letting his opponents know there was little drop-off between him and Carter. He finished his first three matches 3-0 with a total score of 30-10, and was ready for his first test as he was preparing to face two ranked opponents back-to-back. 

“Once I got the spot I was ready,” Ethan Oakley said. “I knew what was expected and once I got out there I was excited to show what I can do.”

Ethan Oakley made the most of those two ranked matchups, taking down UT Chattanooga’s No. 13 Brayden Palmer 6-2 and Campbell’s No. 22 Domenic Zaccone 3-1 in overtime. Ethan Oakley proceeded to dominate Presbyterian and Davidson in Boone, coming up with a combined 14-1 match record within those two matches. 

Coming into the postseason on such a hot streak can be challenging for someone in new waters like Ethan Oakley. Ethan Oakley fell to UT Chattanooga’s Brayden Palmer in the 133-pound SoCon championship match,a wrestler he defeated earlier in the season. 

“You know what happened at the conference tournament happened,” Ethan Oakley said. “I’m going to let it fuel me to get better.”

Despite the challenges he faced, Ethan Oakley brought some hardware from the conference tournament, winning the SoCon’s Pinnacle Award for the winning team’s highest GPA. 

Ethan Oakley’s conference tournament was not the end of his season. Ethan Oakley was an injury replacement and started the NCAA Championships with a win against North Dakota State’s No. 32 McGwire Midkiff. 

“That match that Ethan won at the NCAA championships was my favorite of his this season,” Nathan Oakley said. “I know that’s what everyone will say, but to see him succeed on that stage must have felt so good for him.”

He then went on to face the No.1 wrestler at 133-pounds, Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young, who was unbeaten since the 2019 season. Ethan Oakley lost the match 12-3 to the eventual runner-up in the weight class. The loss knocked Ethan Oakley into the consolation bracket, where he lost to Rutgers No. 16 Joe Heilmann. 

Although the season didn’t get the finish he was hoping for, a 21-win season and a win at the NCAA championships was a major step up from where Ethan Oakley was a year ago. 

“You know, a win for a guy going to his first NCAA championships is a big deal for anyone,” Bentley said. “He’s going to be in that moment again and he’s gonna be ready for it, he’s shown it this spring.”