Casey Kent's long road back to wrestling heads toward NCAA finaleAfter watching his teammates struggle on the second day of the NCAA wrestling championships, 174-pounder Casey Kent made his opponents pay. Big time.
The Norristown, Pa., native finished with four wins of Friday, three by pin and one by major decision, en route to All-American honors and a spot in the consolation semifinals on Saturday morning.
Going into day two, there had been a lot of optimism following a very successful first day for the Quakers. But, after two matches and two losses, any momentum that the Quakers brought into the building from their impressive opening performance was suddenly gone.
First sophomore 157-pounder May Bethea lost a closely contested 7-4 decision in the wrestlebacks.
Almost immediately thereafter 184-pound senior Lorenzo Thomas stepped up to take on Willie Miklus of Missouri in a quarterfinal matchup between former All-Americans.
Thomas and Milkus met in the first round of the national tournament last season where Thomas built a 4-2 lead before Milkus came back and stuck him with a pin.
For the second straight year Thomas again built a 4-2 lead after the first period, taking down Milkus with relative ease. Somewhat surprisingly, Thomas chose to start on bottom in the second period despite his success on his feet.
That proved to his downfall.
Thomas failed to notch the quick escape and Milkus made him pay with a four-point nearfall cradle to take a 6-4 lead. After that Thomas couldn’t regain his footing and ultimately lost, 16-6.
Then came Casey Kent.
The senior 174-pounder entered his first consolation bout, against South Dakota State’s David Kocher, as the Red and Blue’s last chance to grab a victory before the night session.
Kent, who had already upset eighth-seeded Zach Epperly of Virginia Tech in the first round on Thursday, was fighting to stay alive in the wrestlebacks.
Right from the start it was clear that the pace of the match, and consequently the final score, was going to be determined by Kent.
He dominated his opponent, David Kocer of South Dakota State, from start to finish, earning an 8-0 major decision victory.
Because Kent began the day in the loser’s bracket he had to grapple for a second time in the afternoon session, and this time his foe didn’t go down so easy.
No. 16 Micah Barnes of Nebraska, who also secured a win by major decision in his first bout of the day, awaited the unseeded Kent.
Barnes was the aggressor from the opening whistle, jumping out to an 8-1 lead in the first period after nearly pinning Kent.
By the time the third period began Kent was still down big, 10-3, and in need of a miracle.
After 30 seconds he got one.
The two wrestlers were on their feet with their arms tied up when Kent shifted his weight and flipped Barnes off his feet and on to his back in a swift motion that sent the big Cornhusker slamming to the mat.
The move, which seemed to appear out of thin air, caught Barnes, as well as everyone else in the arena besides Kent, by surprise.
That decision ignited a fire under the senior, who rode the wave into the night session.
Thomas would join Kent in the second session but unfortunately he was pinned by Navy’s Mathew Miller just as Kent was competing in his blood round match.
As Thomas fell, Kent picked up right where he left of against Oklahoma’s Matt Reed — only this time he dominated from the start.
Up 3-0 in the third period Kent stuck the Reed for the fall and became Penn’s first All-American since Thomas in 2014.
Only 30 minutes later Kent was back out on the mat, wrestling seventh-seeded Cody Walters of Ohio.
Miraculously, for the third straight time, Kent recorded the pin, leaving the World’s Most Famous Arena on a ridiculous streak.
Tomorrow Kent will test his luck in the consolation semifinals which will determine whether he wrestles for third or fifth in the afternoon. Regardless, he’s an All-American, and no matter what he just together a performance for the ages.
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