CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Four Blue Devils punched their tickets to the 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships and Jacob Kasper brought home the heavyweight crown to highlight a strong showing by Duke at the 2018 ACC Championships in Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, N.C. Duke finished fourth of six teams with 47.5 points.
Jacob Kasper, Matt Finesilver, Mitch Finesilver and Zach Finesilver all will be competing at the NCAA Championships. The four NCAA bids tie for the second most in program history. Jacob and Mitch will be making their third appearances at the postseason event, Zach his second and Matt becomes the fourth true freshman in Duke history to get a bid to NCAAs.
“I thought our guys competed hard,” said head coach Glen Lanham. “I heard that from a lot of coaches and spectators today. I’m really happy for Zach [Finesilver]. You go in as the six seed and you get to the finals and beat two guys who beat you pretty good. He had a really good tournament.”
The fourth-place showing is the best finish for Duke since it took fourth in 2015. The best finish prior to that was third of five in 2005. Under head coach Glen Lanham, the Blue Devils have finished fourth of six teams twice, a feat that happened only in 1957 when Duke took third of six teams. Duke has finished third of five teams four times in program history.
Duke’s three All-ACC wrestlers match the three in 2015, tying for the second most in program history.
“We had some peaks and valleys today,” Lanham said. “We need to work on consistency, but we have four guys going to nationals and four guys who can compete really well for us.”
Jacob Kasper, after going unbeaten in his dual season, captured his first ACC title and the 32nd for Duke as a program. The redshirt senior and top seed in the championships, won by injury default in the semifinals and bested Cory Daniel in the title bout 8-4.
The title match was a thriller with Daniel grabbing the early 4-0 lead on a takedown and nearfall. Kasper remained calm, got the escape to start the second and then tacked on a takedown to make it 4-3 after two periods. The Lexington, Ohio native evened the match 4-4 and then wasted little time in adding four more points to his total to take home the crown.
He improves to 34-2 overall on the year and is three wins shy of breaking the Duke single-season wins mark. Kasper has not lost since December 2, 2017 and is ranked third nationally.
“It’s huge for him and huge for our program,” Lanham said about Kasper getting to the top of the podium. “Other guys can see what he does and what he sacrifices and the payoff. There are a lot of guys in that same situation in that final match who can’t find a way to win, but Kasper found a way to win. If he can put together seven minutes he can win a title and I truly believe that.”
Perhaps the best story in all of the ACC Championships is the path of redshirt junior Zach Finesilver. Seeded sixth at 165 pounds, Zach upset No. 3 seed Brian Hamann of NC State 12-6 in overtime, scoring the two points on the new danger rule. The Greenwood Village, Colo., native battled Hamann throughout the first two periods and headed into the third down 6-3. With Hamann looking exhausted, Zach capitalized and evened the score 6-6 to force overtime where he notched the danger points for the win.
In the semifinals, the dream day continued for Zach as he upset No. 2 seed Andrew Atkinson to secure one of the two at-large bids to the NCAA Championships. The win, an 8-3 decision, left Zach with tears in his eyes knowing he was headed to Cleveland for the NCAA Championships for the second time in his career. After a scoreless first period, Zach outscored Atkinson 6-3 in the second as he got to his offense. He tacked on an escape in the third for the 7-3 upset win and a chance at the title.
The title bout was a tough one for Zach. Fourth-ranked David McFadden of Virginia Tech took control early and posted the 22-9 major decision. Zach’s runner-up finish is the highest for him and earned him his first All-ACC award.
At 157, second-seeded Mitch Finesilver cruised past Kennedy Monday 6-0 in the semifinal to set up a rematch with Hayden Hidlay of NC State in the championship match. Third-ranked Hidlay scored the first points of the match, but Mitch quickly escaped. The pair continued to trade shots with neither finding success as both wrestlers were excellent on their feet as Hidlay held off any final offensive attacks from Mitch for the 3-2 victory.
Matt Finesilver rounded out the Duke contingent headed to Cleveland with a fourth-place finish at 174. The true freshman dominated NC State’s Tommy O’Brien in a 10-1 major decision to start the day and set him up for a semifinal rematch against Ethan Ramos of UNC.
With a bid to NCAAs on the line, Ramos grabbed the early lead only to have Matt storm back in front in the third period. The veteran Tar Heel escaped Matt’s grasp and scored the final points of the bout for the 11-5 decision and one of the four NCAA berths.
Matt came back in the consolation semifinals and turned in a thrilling third period to edge Virginia’s Will Schany 3-2. Tied 2-2 after two periods, Schany elected to take the bottom position and Matt made it count as he rode out the two minutes for the riding time bonus point and victory. The win put him in the consolation final and put him in the NCAA championship field.
At 197, redshirt junior Alec Schenk had a strong showing. Seeded fifth overall, Schenk upset No. 4 seed Kellan Stout 6-3 in the opening round and then used a reversal with three seconds left in the consolation semifinal against Virginia’s Jay Aiello. In the third-place match, Schenk battled No. 3 seed Daniel Chaid tough, but couldn’t score on his attacks in a 3-1 setback to take fourth.
The NCAA will officially release the NCAA championship qualifiers this week. The NCAA Championships run from March 15-17 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The action will be televised live on the ESPN family of networks with every match available on WatchESPN.