Mountaineers perform well at SoCon championship sends four wrestlers to NCAA championships

Garrett Wold, Sports Reporter

Following its fourth consecutive regular season Southern Conference title, the App State wrestling team participated in the SoCon Wrestling Championship on March 10 at the Holmes Convocation Center.

Eight teams traveled to Boone hoping to secure their tickets to the NCAA wrestling championships, including fellow regular season title winners Campbell University and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Three App State wrestlers secured automatic berths into the NCAA championships. Senior Randall Diabe, junior Cary Miller and sophomore Codi Russell all won their respective weight classes, clinching a spot for each of them.

Junior Matt Zovistoski will also participate in the NCAA championships after receiving an at-large bid following his third place finish in the SoCon championship. In the most recent AP coaches poll, Zovistoski ranked No. 28 in the country at the 149-pound weight class.

“I’m really proud of all four of these guys,” head coach Johnmark Bentley said. “They’re all four great wrestlers with the potential to win matches. I’d like to see each of them on the podium and see them earn All-American honors.”

Diabe, who had a first round bye, won both of his matches by decision. His first bout with junior Rodney Jones of Chattanooga ended in a 9-0 major decision, with his second match against senior Sawyer Root of The Citadel ending in a 5-4 decision.

Miller also had a first round bye and managed to pin his first opponent of the day, junior Michael McAleavey from The Citadel, in 1:45. He defeated junior Odgerel Batkhishig of Campbell University in an 8-1 decision.

Codi Russell was the only Mountaineer of the trio to not have a first round bye, but still managed to win all three of his matches. He defeated sophomore Cliff Conway of the Virginia Military Institute in a 19-4 technical fall. He also defeated freshman Kyle Gorant of Davidson College by a 10-1 major decision and redshirt junior Noah Gonser of Campbell University by 9-4 decision.

“I came really close to qualifying (for the NCAA championships) last year, so to finally get this monkey off my back feels amazing,” Codi Russell said. “Wrestling in front of all those people really gets your adrenaline pumping. I can’t wait.”

Codi Russell’s older brother Sean Russell will represent the University of Minnesota at the tournament.

Zovistoski had an impressive day at the SoCon championship, winning all but one of his matches by major decision. His third place finish was a result of his second round loss to freshman Tanner Smith of Chattanooga, where Smith edged out Zovistoski in a close 3-2 decision.

Zovistoski reached the championships his sophomore season, making this his second NCAA championships appearance. He wrestled in multiple tournaments as an unattached wrestler the following season while taking a redshirt year.

“Last time I was there, I didn’t quite wrestle to the level I wanted to,” Zovistoski said. “It’s nice to get a second chance. Nationals are what the whole season is about really.”

Bentley and the four Mountaineer qualifiers will head to Pittsburgh for the opening round of the championships on March 21. ESPN and ESPNU will televise the championships.