Cowger, McWatters second at nationals
TOPEKA, Kan. — Set up by surprises on Friday for an exciting finish Saturday at the NAIA Championships, the Southern Oregon men's wrestling team was forced to leave the Kansas Expocentre pondering what could have been.
The Raiders were shut out in four placing matches, including heartbreaking losses by decision for junior Tyler Cowger in the 149-pound final and senior Ryan Mcwatters in the 184-pound final. They settled on runner-up finishes, while Casey Coulter (125) and Hunter Hodges (157) both placed eighth.
SOU, which was in eighth place to start the day, finished at 10th in the team standings with 52 points. Grand View (Iowa) ran away with its fifth straight team championship, breaking the NAIA points record with 210 thanks to 10 All-Americans and three champs, and Montana State-Northern was second with 104 points.
With four All-American finishes, SOU brought its all-time total to 223, but its NAIA-leading number of national champs stayed at 36.
Cowger — who became the 28th three-time All-American in SOU history — started his day with a 7-4 semifinal win over seventh-ranked Jaedin Sklapsky of Campbellsville (Ky.), giving him a date in the finals with ninth-ranked Victor Hughes of Baker (Kan.).
Cowger led the title bout 3-2 with an escape at the end of the first period, and Hughes' escape tied it with the only points of the second. Hughes eclipsed one minute of riding time with 1:16 left — giving him a bonus point at the end of the round — and had Cowger flattened for most of the closing moments. The buzzer sounded as Cowger was maneuvering his way out of Hughes' control, but no points were awarded.
SOU head coach Mike Ritchey challenged the no-call, believing that Cowger should have scored on a reversal, and after a couple tense minutes of video review the no-call stood and the riding-time point made Hughes the winner, 4-3.
Cowger, who had placed fifth the last two years, finished the season with a record of 28-6. He also joined 2013 champion and current SOU assistant Jimmy Eggemeyer as the only Raiders to ever notch top-two finishes at 149 pounds.
At 184, McWatters took his semifinal with his third straight tight decision, a 6-4 upset of second-ranked LJ Grayson of Indiana Tech. He matched up in the final with Grand View's top-ranked Michael Pixley, who came into the match with a 27-0 record and 24 of those wins by fall. McWatters proved to be a feistier-than-usual foe but trailed 3-0 going into the final period.
Down 5-3 with 18 seconds left, he was awarded one point for stalling but penalized one point for a hit to the head, and Pixley held him off in the final seconds for a 6-4 victory.
McWatters finished his season with a record of 29-6, and his two-year SOU career mark is 50-16. He failed to place in 2015 but became the fifth runner-up at 184 pounds in SOU history.
SOU was one of three teams to have multiple wrestlers in the finals.
The consolation bracket was tougher on the Raiders: After pulling out two upsets apiece to become All-Americans on Friday, Coulter and Hodges both went 0-2 on Saturday.
Coulter, who came into the tournament unranked, was defeated 13-0 by MSU-Northern's Quintel Fuchs in his first match and was pinned in 4:16 by ninth-ranked Jake Sinkovichs of Cumberlands (Ky.) in his second. Hodges dropped a pair of decisions — 7-3 to top-ranked Tanner Werner of Grand View and 11-5 to 11th-ranked Nate Croley of Cumberland (Tenn.).
Coulter is the sixth individual to become an All-American at 125 pounds in SOU history, and Hodges is the seventh at 157.