Freshmen wrestlers advance to national championship

Freshman wrestler Justin Ruffin, right, at 157 pounds, competed at the NCAA Wrestling Championships this year.

Two of SIUE’s freshmen wrestlers advanced to the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this past weekend. Although they put up a tough fight, neither wrestler was able to make it to the finals.

The “two true freshmen,” as Head Coach Jeremy Spates described, were Justin Ruffin at 157 pounds and Colton McKiernan at 285 pounds.

The two wrestlers attended the Mid-American Conference Championship in Norfolk, Virginia, at the beginning of March. Ruffin placed fourth at the Mid-American Conference while McKiernan took second in his weight class.

“Coach Spates and Coach [Barlow] McGhee prepared me well for the tournament and what to expect from my opponents,” McKiernan said.

Ruffin lost his second match against University of Minnesota’s No. 10 seed redshirt senior Steve Bleise with a final loss of 7-5. McKiernan lost his first round against Lehigh University senior Jordan Wood with a loss of 6-4, and went on to the consolation round against George Mason University redshirt senior Matt Voss, with a loss of 7-3 .

“I feel I did well and had a good match the first round of the tournament, but the second match I felt more fatigued. I think I did a good job getting out on bottom, which I have struggled with in some of my matches, and I need to work on defending shots,” McKiernan said.

Bleise won the match after an extended scramble where he got to Ruffin’s leg, according to University of Minnesota wrestling webpage.

“I felt pretty good. I was excited for the opportunity to compete at the NCAA tournament for the first time,” Ruffin said after going into the tournament.

Both Ruffin and McKiernan have stated that they will be working in the offseason to stay healthy, work on their weaknesses and prepare themselves to return to the tournament next year.

“It was a good experience. It’s cliche, but we try to prepare for everything the same. When it comes to the end run we try to prepare them to be healthy and prepared mentally and physically,” Spates said.

SIUE finished the tournament No. 56th out of 70 teams.

“I feel like I could have performed better. I mean, overall I was able to come out of the tournament with a win, but I would have liked to perform better,” Ruffin said.

Ruffin finished the season with a record of 18-11 while McKiernan finished with a 21-14 record. The team finished with a 2-13 record overall and a 1-6 record in conference.

“I feel like I went out and left it all on the line. I don’t regret anything from the tournament. I definitely need to attack more, that’s one thing I need to work on is attacking more,” Ruffin said.

Redshirt junior Tyshawn Williams and redshirt senior Nate Higgins, who advanced to Nationals last year, did not advance this year.

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