Panthers don't lose any prowess by crossing Alps

Naples' Andres Tavarez pins Stuttgart's Harrison Aiton in 4 minutes, 22 seconds on his way to a spot Saturday in the 132-pound championship match of the DODDS-Europe Southern Sectional. Stuttgart's Connor Fortier got some revenge there with a pin of his own.

Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes

By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 13, 2016

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – If Stuttgart fails to defend its DODDS-Europe wrestling title, it won’t be because of the Panthers’ performance on Saturday.

Led by six unbeaten wrestlers – three of them defending European champions – Stuttgart qualified at least 20 wrestlers at the Southern Sectional.

“Only” 13 of them will be allowed to score points, though, as just one wrestler from each school in each weight class is designated to do so in the championships. The Panthers didn’t qualify a wrestler at 182 pounds, so won’t score any in that weight class.

But they will score plenty elsewhere. Benjamin Fielding (120 pounds), Isaiah Phillips (126), Connor Fortier (132), Christopher Matzke (138), Robert Call (145), Jared LuGrain (152), Elijah Phillips (160), Kevin Wentland (170), Eli Spencer (195) and Ian Cass (220) all finished first in  their classes Saturday.

Fielding, Isaiah Phillips, Matzke, Call, Wentland and Spencer haven’t lost this season and will be favored to win titles. But if no other Panthers medal, that probably won’t be enough to defeat Ramstein, which similarly dominated the Central Sectional on Saturday, and out-pointed Stuttgart in a pair of meets this season.

“No,” said Call, a two-time defending champion. “A lot of our second- and third-place finishers are going to have to come through for us. And we believe they will.”

Matzke, another two-time defending champ, said he thinks that more than the six undefeated  Panthers will win titles. And they might need to.

“We have gaps in our weight classes,” he said. “It’s going to be hard. If (Ramstein) places all 14 of their guys, it’s going to be tough to win.”

Spencer, who has medaled in all three of his years in high school including last year’s title, said he didn’t mind his short time on the mat Saturday. He and his teammates spent more than 10 hours on a bus while crossing the Alps. He was on the mat less than a minute with two quick pins.

“It’s fun,” he said, adding that he enjoys watching his teammates grow into better wrestlers (and win). “We’re trying to build a legacy here.”

It wasn’t all Stuttgart in Aviano, though.

Vilseck qualified eight wrestlers, including three  weight class winners. The Falcons’ best shots at Europeans will be on the light end – Diego Martinez (106) and Blaise Markley (113) – and the heavy : Juan Oestereich (285).

Naples’ Davis Steiner won at 182 and the Wildcats qualified six wrestlers. Sigonella, which brought only five wrestlers, sent three of them into third-place battles and won two of those. The top three in each weight class with at least four wrestlers automatically qualify and coaches are allowed to lobby for wild card entries for others.

Vicenza and Aviano each had three automatically qualify for the championships, set for Wiesbaden, Germany on Friday and Saturday.


Stuttgart's Robert Call, a two-time DODDS-Europe wrestling champion, defeated Naples' Justin Lalmandier on his way to a top finish at 145 pounds in the DODDS-Europe Southern Sectional.
Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes


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