Owls set for 35th MHS Invitational
SPRINGFIELD -- If the results from the Marshall wrestling team's first individual bracket meet of the season is any indication, the Birds could be tough in tournaments.
The Owls placed fourth out of 20 teams Dec. 21-22 at the Parkview Holiday Tournament in Springfield, sending eight of 12 entries into the championship mix for top-eight medals. In fact, Marshall led the field after the first day, putting together a combined 26-9 record -- with 15 wins by fall and six undefeated grapplers.
It wasn't just the headliners, like the Owls' five returning all-staters, who made their marks. For example, senior Jason Browning (152 pounds) and junior Jerrad Kelly (160), both 0-7 a year ago, won three first-day pool matches between them.
Kelly wound up winning five of seven bouts and came in ninth, the highest finish possible for those assigned to the middle tier for the second day. Browning did nearly as well, his 4-3 mark good for 11th place as he lost only once in four outings on Saturday.
On the other hand, defending 215-pound champion Aaron Gibson suffered his first loss of the season. The all-state senior swept Friday and won his opener the next day to stretch his season-opening winning streak to 12 matches, but dropped back-to-back close matches -- the first by a 3-0 score to the finalist and the second in overtime -- to wind up in fifth place.
Marshall's other finalist from a year ago, senior Corey Smith (125), returned to the title match with five wins in a row -- again losing, this time by fall, to all-state senior Michael Merritt of tourney-champion Monett.
Senior Jeremy Fisher (119), who missed last year's meet, also reeled off five straight victories before suffering a technical fall to Monett's Ethan Davis in the finals.
Three of the Owls' seniors improved their positions from '06. Drew Hoffman (135), fourth last year, won five times before being stopped in back-to-back matches -- recovering to claim the third-place medal with his third pin, to go along with a pair of impressive tech falls, of the weekend.
Coldy Finnley (112) was ninth at 119 pounds a year ago, but won twice the first day and split four matches the next to claim fourth place. With a split of two bouts the first day, Brian Beck put himself in medal contention, ultimately placing eighth.
Senior Josh Gochenour (189) repeated his fifth-place performance of the previous season with a 4-3 mark.
Also coming in fourth was sophomore Brian Bergstrom (160), who was fifth at 152 last year. Bergstrom was unbeaten in three matches on Friday, but lost two narrow decisions against Class 4 wrestlers on the second day.
Freshman Mike Marburger (140) rebounded from two losses to begin the tourney by winning three of his next four matches to come in 11th. However, if that varsity rookie had a promising meet, junior heavyweight Dustin Hackett's ended up tragically with a broken arm -- after putting himself into the medal bracket with two wins on the first day.
Marshall, eighth last year, added 74.5 points to finish fourth -- a respectable 13.5 points behind second-place Willard. The Owls hope they can make similar gains Saturday when they host the 35th annual Marshall Invitational, in which they were fourth last year while attempting to defend the title.