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Phoenix grad Amuchastegui earns spot in NCAA finals

Nick Amuchastegui is no stranger to the NCAA Championships, yet the former Phoenix High wrestling standout will be embarking on new territory tonight at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Amuchastegui has advanced to the championships in three straight seasons for Stanford but clinched his first shot at a national title on the collegiate level with another stellar performance Friday.

Amuchastegui, the No. 7 seed at 174 pounds, secured his spot in tonight's finals with a pair of victories Friday, the last coming thanks to a steady 5-2 triumph over No. 3 seed Mack Lewnes of Cornell.

"It feels great. It's what we've been hoping for and what we've wanted to happen all year," Amuchastegui said of advancing to the finals shortly after his upset of Lewnes. "You put in the time and hope that the hard work pays off, and I'm fortunate for that and awfully thankful."

Amuchastegui, who placed fourth at last year's NCAA Championships, will face Iowa State's Jonathan Reader in the finals. Reader, the No. 1 seed, edged Virginia's Christopher Henrich 4-3 in the other semifinal.

The championship finals will begin at 4 p.m. Pacific, with an Internet link to live streaming of the finals available at www.ncaa.com/sports/wrestling/d1

"He wrestles hard, ties up hard and is real aggressive," Amuchastegui said of his finals foe, "but he also opens up some. I need to get back and look at some more film but we'll start dealing with that here real soon."

Along with Amuchastegui, another former Southern Oregon standout is still in the mix for the Cardinal in 197-pounder Zack Giesen. The former four-time state champion at North Valley High maintained his run through the consolation bracket with a handful of victories, and the No. 12 seed has a chance at a third-place finish should he garner two more victories today.

"We work awful hard to think we're going to take matches to people," Amuchastegui said of the Stanford presence in the tournament. "We came in here not ranked the highest but we've wrestled awful well."

Amuchastegui, a junior, and Giesen, a senior, are both assured of All-American status thanks to their efforts.

Amuchastegui initially advanced to the quarterfinals for the second straight season with a major decision over Wisconsin's Benjamin Jordan (13-1), then defeated Ohio State's Nick Heflin 6-1. On Friday, Amuchastegui shrugged off an early takedown by No. 2 seed Edward Ruth of Penn State to open a 9-2 advantage in the third period before Ruth opted to take an injury default.

"Their injury time was done and the (Penn State) coaches said they were not going to wrestle him anymore in the match," said the Talent native. "I had been riding him pretty hard and he might have tweaked his knee."

In Friday night's semifinals, Amuchastegui broke the tension with a takedown toward the end of the first period to open a 2-0 lead. He added a second-period escape and a takedown in the third to close out the match with 57 seconds of riding time.

"I felt pretty good about it," Amuchastegui said of the match. "The first period was close with no score until the very end. I was just out there giving it my all hoping something would open up by just trying different things. I felt I had to push him a little harder those last 20 seconds (of the first period). I ended up spinning behind him and catching a leg. That was a big turning point made possible by going hard that last little bit."

Amuchastegui improved his season record to 31-3, and has now compiled a 94-17 record in his three competitive seasons for the Cardinal. Amuchastegui finished up his undergraduate degree this past quarter and is currently working toward his master's degree in mechanical engineering. Carrying a 4.0 GPA, he was honored for a second straight year with the NCAA's Elite 88 Award, given to an athlete with the highest grade point average of those competing in each of the NCAA's 88 championships.

A fellow standout in the classroom as well as on the wrestling mat, Giesen recovered nicely after a second-round, 8-3 loss to No. 5 seed Luke Lofthouse of Iowa to score four wins Friday. He opened the day with a 9-1 decision over Michigan State's Tyler Dickenson, then kept things moving with a 12-4 win over American's Daniel Mitchell and a 3-1 decision over No. 6 seed Micah Burak of Pennsylvania.

Giesen then secured his spot in the consolation semifinals with a 3-2 decision over Minnesota's Sonny Yohn, the No. 9 seed. Giesen faces top-seeded Cam Simaz of Cornell this morning, with the winner wrestling for third place and the loser wrestling for fifth place.

COVINGTON VYING FOR THIRD — Oregon State senior Colby Covington will advance to today's placing matches, still in contention for third place at 174 pounds, but more importantly earning his first All-America honors.

The Beavers are currently in 22nd place with 25 points, the most an Oregon State wrestling team has earned under head coach Jim Zalesky.

Penn State, with a total of 92.5, is in line to win the team championship. Cornell (75) is in second place.

Covington scored victories over Hofstra's Ryan Patrovich (3-2) and Maryland's Mike Letts (6-1).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Kris_Henry