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SOU wrestling team fourth after first day of nationals

Southern Oregon pushed five wrestlers into the quarterfinals and five more remain alive in consolation brackets as the Raiders climbed to fourth through the opening day of the NAIA National Championships Thursday at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Top-ranked Notre Dame of Ohio took the lead heading into Day 2 with 39.5 points and fifth-ranked Missouri Valley is second with 35. No. 8 Southern Oregon scored 28 points to finish the day five points behind third-place and third-ranked McKendree (Ill.).

"Like I said, I think we're going to surprise some people, and we did," SOU head coach Mike Ritchey said. "We probably could have had a couple more people in (the quarters), but we're OK. Now tomorrow we've got to wrestle. Right now we have a shot at having 10 All-Americans, and if we get 10 we're going to be in the trophy hunt."

The top eight wrestlers in each weight class are awarded All-American status.

The tournament continues today with quarterfinal and semifinal matches — in addition to consolation matches — and the championship bouts will take place Saturday night.

Raiders Kyle Wirkuty (141 pounds), Tommie Hooper (157), Justin Mills (157), Austin Vanderford (174) and Derek Rottenberg (184) each have qualified for the final eight in their respective weight classes.

Wirkuty, a finalist last year who entered the tourney ranked fourth, advanced to today's quarterfinals with three straight wins, including a hard-fought 3-2 decision over 11th-ranked Marty Carlson in the round of 16. That comeback victory — Carlson led 1-0 early — was particularly sweet for the Raiders because it eliminated from title contention a wrestler from frontrunner Notre Dame.

Wirkuty won by the slimmest of margins thanks to a third-round escape.

"That was another great win to stay alive in the front door," Ritchey said.

Hooper, the fourth-ranked 157-pounder and a two-time All-American, scored a pin of Cumberland's Bryce Neff in his first match and later came away with a 12-8 decision to advance to the quarters, where he will face second-ranked Corey Bleaken of Cumberland (Tenn.).

Mills entered the tournament unranked but will join Hooper in the 157 quarters thanks to back-to-back major decisions followed by a 6-5 victory over Montana State-Northern's Taylor Todd. Mills, who will face third-ranked Thomas Straughn of Notre Dame in the quarters, had two takedowns against Todd, including one in the third round that proved to be the difference.

Vanderford, ranked second at 174, looks poised to earn his first All-American honor after pinning Caleb Browner in the opener and scoring a major decision victory over Midland's Kody Kersten. Next up for Vanderford is seventh-ranked Dirk Hurrin of Lindenwood, and after that a potential semifinal date with third-ranked Glenn Rhees of Grand View.

Rottenberg, ranked No. 11, opened the day with a pin then scored a thrilling 10-8 upset victory over seventh-ranked Luke Evjen of Northwestern. Against Evjen, Rottenberg trailed 7-5 after a wild first period and 8-7 heading into the third, then used a reversal to complete the dramatic comeback.

Next up for Rottenberg is ninth-ranked Andrew Hairston of Lindsey Wilson, followed by a possible showdown with top-ranked Evan Hinebauch of MSU-Northern.

"We've got some challenges (today), but we're going to see where the dust settles (tonight)," Ritchey said.

Also for SOU, Jared Dalgleish (133), Jimmy Eggemeyer (149), Tucker Van Matre (165), Tyler Thomas (174) and Ron Lee (184) are alive in the consolation bracket.

Justin Eldred (141) was eliminated after going 0-2.

Ritchey said SOU's performance in those consolation matches will play a major role in determining where the Raiders end up in the final team standings.

The Raiders are still in the hunt for what would be their fifth national title after finishing second two years in a row.

"The key is putting our (consolation) guys mentally back together and keeping the team concept going," Ritchey said. "It's hard for a kid to give up his dreams "… but our young kids just need to step up and think about setting up for next year."