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Mountaineers power to (another) SoCon Wrestling Championships title, send at least four to NCAAs

By Bret Strelow for App State Sports. BOONE, N.C. — App State’s Jon Jon Millner flashed four fingers on each hand as he exited the mat following another conference title.

Millner’s swan song in a dominant SoCon career contributed to another team championship in a dominant 2022-23 season for head coach JohnMark Bentley’s program.

Millner (149 pounds), Caleb Smith (125) and Tommy Askey (157) won individual championships Saturday in Boone as the Mountaineers produced eight finalists at the 10 weight classes and claimed the team tournament title with 103.0 points, or 24.5 more than second-place Campbell’s total.

Will Miller (who earned the SoCon’s second automatic NCAA Championships berth at 174 pounds), Ethan Oakley (133), Will Formato (165), Carson Floyd (197) and Jacob Sartorio (heavyweight) also made finals as App State finished with the largest winning point margin since 2013. Heath Gonyer took third at 141, and Luke Uliano was fourth at 184.

No. 20 App State went 8-0 in SoCon duals and clinched its first title sweep since 2018, the year before the tournament started its current run of being held at the Holmes Center.

Photographic image by David Rogers

Millner cemented his status as the King of Holmes with his fourth straight conference title in the building, part of a 41-0 career record in SoCon duals and tournament matches — the highest win total with no losses in the league’s modern history.

One of just four wrestlers to be a four-time All-SoCon pick, Millner became the first four-time tournament champion since Chattanooga’s Nick Soto (2012-15).

Millner’s unbeaten mark in SoCon matches during his career included a 30-0 dual record and 11-0 tournament record. Soto totaled a 34-0 mark in SoCon matches, and four-time All-SoCon selection Leslie Apedoe of VMI totaled a 26-0 record in SoCon matches from 1996-99.

Thanks to the big lead that App State established through the quarterfinal, semifinal and consolation rounds, the night session was another coronation from a team standpoint.

App State went 10-0 in the quarterfinal round and stood at 20-2 in individual matches heading to the third-place bouts. With the eight finalists who won semifinal matches, compared to four from Campbell and three from two other schools, App State had 87.0 points to lead by 36.0 going into the consolation matchups.

App State’s unblemished quarterfinal run included pins from Millner and Floyd along with two tech falls, two major decisions and four decisions.

Millner added another first-period pin in the semifinal round and needed just 12 seconds to record a takedown of Chattanooga’s Noah Castillo en route to a 4-0 win the final.

Photographic image by David Rogers

In a 6-3 finals decision against Presbyterian’s Dominic Chavez, Smith gave up the first takedown before taking a 3-2 lead on a first-period takedown and finishing the period on top. He started the second period with an escape and added a critical takedown with four seconds left in that period.

In his 5-1 title win against Davidson’s Tanner Peake, Askey took a 2-1 lead on a takedown midway through the second period. He added a final takedown with 33 seconds left in the third period.

The Mountaineers have four wrestlers who already have earned their way into NCAA brackets for the event in Tulsa, Okla., from March 16-18. Oakley and Formato are ranked wrestlers with the best chances of receiving at-large bids.

After a 2-0 start, Oakley dropped a 4-3 nailbiter to Brayden Palmer in the 133 final and lost 6-3 to Campbell’s Dom Zaccone. A first-period takedown was the difference in Formato’s 3-1 loss to Gardner-Webb’s RJ Mosley in the 165 final.

The semifinal round featured a pair of dramatic wins from the Mountaineers.

Oakley fell behind 5-4 in the third period against Gardner-Webb’s Todd Carter before producing a tying escape with 1:13 left. Oakley turned defense into offense to deliver a tiebreaking takedown with 22 seconds remaining, and staying on top allowed him to push riding time over a minute in an 8-5 victory.

Another semifinal highlight was Sartorio’s 4-2 decision against second-seeded Jonathan Chesser, who had pinned Sartorio in the App State heavyweight’s dual debut earlier this season. Sartorio followed that outcome by going 7-1 to finish the regular season.

He used a second-period reversal against Chesser from The Citadel to lead 2-0 and added a takedown late in the period to move ahead 4-1.

Of the non-finalists, the third-seeded Gonyer went 3-1 to secure third place at 141 and the fourth-seeded Uliano went 2-2 to place fourth in a 184-pound bracket with three ranked wrestlers.

125: #1 Caleb Smith, App State
QF: W (TF, 16-1) vs. #8 Devon Diaco, Davidson
SF: W (Dec, 8-1) vs. #4 Drew West, Gardner-Webb
Final: W (Dec, 6-3) vs. #2 Dominic Chavez, Presbyterian

133: #1 Ethan Oakley, App State
QF: W (Dec, 4-1) vs. #8 Dyson Dunham, VMI
SF: W (Dec, 8-5) vs. #4 Todd Carter, Gardner-Webb
Final: L (Dec, 4-3) vs. #3 Brayden Palmer, UTC
True 2nd-place match: L (Dec, 6-3) vs. #2 Dom Zaccone, Campbell

141: #3 Heath Gonyer, App State
QF: W (Dec, 9-4) vs. #6 Freddy Junko, VMI
SF: L (Dec, 8-1) vs. #2 Zach Price, Gardner-Webb
Conso Semi: W (Dec, 4-0) vs. #4 Franco Valdes, UTC
3rd-place match: W (Dec, 8-4) vs. #5 Jacob Silka, The Citadel

149: #1 Jon Jon Millner, App State
QF: W (Fall, 2:00) vs. #8 Parker Corwin, Gardner-Webb
SF: W (Fall, 1:46) vs. #4 Ryan Vigil, VMI
Final: W (Dec, 4-0) vs. #2 Noah Castillo, UTC

157: #1 Tommy Askey, App State
QF: W (TF, 17-2) vs. #8 Michael Ramirez, Presbyterian
SF: W (MD, 14-5) vs. #5 Job Chishko, VMI
Final: W (Dec, 6-2) vs. #3 Tanner Peake, Davidson

165: #1 Will Formato, App State
QF: W (MD, 10-1) vs. #8 Brodie Porter, The Citadel
SF: W (Dec, 4-1) vs. #4 Dom Baker, Campbell
Final: L (Dec, 3-1) vs. #2 RJ Mosley, Gardner-Webb

174: #2 Will Miller, App State
QF: W (MD, 13-3) vs. #7 Zach Wells, Presbyterian
SF: W (Dec, 5-1) vs. #3 Ben Haubert, The Citadel
Final: L (Dec, 4-2) vs. #1 Rocky Jordan, UTC

184: #5 Luke Uliano, App State
QF: W (Dec, 3-0) vs. #4 Cordel Duhart, Presbyterian
SF: L (Dec, 3-0) vs. #1 Caleb Hopkins, Campbell
Conso Semi: W (Dec, 3-0) vs. #6 Tim Fitzpatrick, The Citadel
3rd-place match: L (Dec, 4-3) vs. #3 Matthew Waddell, UTC

197: #2 Carson Floyd, App State
QF: W (Fall, 3:11) vs. #7 Gavin Henry, Davidson
SF: W (MD, 15-5) vs. #6 Malcolm Wiley, Presbyterian
Final: L (Dec, 3-1) vs. #1 Levi Hopkins, Campbell

HWT: #3 Jacob Sartorio, App State
QF: W (Dec, 7-1) vs. #6 Jake Fernicola, Davidson
SF: W (Dec, 4-2) vs. #2 Jonathan Chesser, The Citadel
Final: L (Fall, 1:42) vs. #1 Taye Ghadiali, Campbell


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