Navy wrestling breaks into national rankings for 1st time in almost a decade
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: December 16, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Joel Sharratt has worked hard to restore Navy wrestling to national prominence since taking over as head coach in 2014.
Sharratt, who spent six seasons as an assistant in Annapolis under predecessor Bruce Burnett, followed a strategy of bringing in highly-rated recruits then instilling them with the technique, tenacity and toughness to succeed at the Division I level.
"Since I came back in 2014 it's been a process of hitting the recruiting trail strong, solidifying our team culture in terms of standards and just implementing a philosophy for what we want Navy wrestling to be," Sharratt said.
Those efforts have already paid dividends as the Midshipmen sent nine wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament over the previous two seasons and are coming off their best team finish at the EIWA Championship since 2013.
Navy achieved another notable milestone this past week when it broke into the Top 25 for the first time in nearly a decade. The Midshipmen, who are 3-0 in dual meets, debuted at No. 24 in the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.
Navy's last appearance in the Top 25 came when it was ranked in the 2008-2009 preseason poll.
"I think any time you are recognized by external organizations for the hard work and effort the wrestlers are putting forth on the mat it's a positive thing," Sharratt said. "That hasn't happened in a while so it shows the program is on an uptick right now. Our plan is to continue to ride that momentum and continue to trend upward."
Navy returned nine starters, including six that have qualified for the NCAA Tournament at least once. The Midshipmen, winners of the 17-team Navy Classic, currently have three wrestlers ranked nationally by InterMat in 174-pounder Jadaen Bernstein (No. 8), 141-pounder Jared Prince (No. 11) and 184-pounder Michael Coleman (No. 17).
"Going into the season, Navy had some respect from the ranking committee in terms of some individuals. We had four wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Tournament last March and they all went out there and won at least two matches," Sharratt said. "However, I knew we had more than just those four and that has been proven early on. I think our balance and depth is what has impressed the team ranking committee."
Bernstein, the 2015 EIWA champion and a three-time NCAA qualifier, has compiled a 12-2 record with the losses coming to a pair of ranked wrestlers in No. 6 Myles Amine of Michigan and No. 7 Taylor Lujan of Northern Iowa.
The New Jersey native, who boasts a career record of 101-39, thinks the national ranking makes a statement that "Navy wrestling is back" and wants to see the team build on that accomplishment.
"It's good that we're getting recognized nationally, but internally I don't think it means that much because everyone inside this program knows where we stand in relation to other teams regardless of whether we are ranked or not," Bernstein said. "We're climbing, but we're not where we want to be. I think 24 is a nice place to start, but all our guys are hungry and want to go even higher."
Coleman overcame an elbow injury to post a 22-9 record with a runner-up finish at the EIWA Championship. The Ohio native is off to a 13-3 start this season with all the losses coming to wrestlers ranked ahead of him by InterMat.
Prince was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of Palm Harbor University High and lived up to that billing by going 27-9 and taking third at the EIWA Championship as a freshman. Prince, who is ranked based off past accomplishments, is set to make his season debut at the Southern Scuffle (Jan. 1-2).
Sharratt held Prince out of early competition so he could focus on academics and the sophomore sustained a slight knee injury prior to competing in the Navy Classic on Nov. 18. "Jared is back on the mat and ready to go. We're expecting big things out of him," Sharratt said.
Navy has a nice problem at 141 pounds, where Prince will now battle junior Nicholas Gil for the starting slot. Gil advanced to the NCAA Championship as a freshman in 2016, but could not beat out Prince as a sophomore. The Illinois resident has gone 14-2 this season in Prince's absence.
"At 141 we have Jared Prince and Nick Gill stacked on top of each other. Is that situation going to sort itself out or are they going to knock one another out?" Sharratt asked rhetorically.
Senior Steban Cervantes, who returns as the team's starting 197-pounder, earned an at-large berth into the NCAA Championship to join Bernstein, Coleman and Prince. The California resident is off to somewhat of a slow start this season with a 6-4 record.
Senior captain Corey Wilding may be Navy's most improved wrestler after battling through an injury to finish 19-14 last season. The returning starter at 149 pounds is currently 12-4 with an upset victory over No. 19 Davion Jeffries of Oklahoma.
Zach Davis was an NCAA qualifier at 133 pounds as a sophomore in 2016, but is now wrestling three weight classes higher. Davis seems to be settling in at 157 as he's posted a 12-4 record that includes a close loss (6-3 decision) to No. 12 Clay Ream of North Dakota State in the Cliff Kean Las Vegas Invitational.
Senior Drew Daniels is another returning starter who is performing at a higher level this season, going undefeated (11-0) at 165 pounds so far. Sharratt said Daniels has been "a practice room terror" over the years and is starting to translate that intensity into matches that count.
"We have 10 quality wrestlers, six of which are really top tier on a national level. Those six are setting a high standard and providing superb leadership," Sharratt said. "Drew Daniels has really stepped up and wrestled to his ability. Corey Wilding is wrestling incredibly well and has beaten some very tough opponents. Zach Davis has moved up three weight classes and is knocking on the door of being nationally ranked."
Navy has a pair of freshman starters at the bottom of the lineup with Aslan Kilic and Cody Trybus getting things started at 125 and 133 pounds. Trybus, an Elkton resident who prepped at Mount St. Joseph, is 7-6 to date.
"We're being smart with what we're doing with those two plebes -- resting them at times so they can get through the physical grind of training," Sharratt said.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff likes the potential of senior Austin Faunce at 285 pounds. That weight class has been a weak link over the years and Sharratt is pleased that "Faunce is wrestling at a level we haven't been getting at heavyweight."
Navy's depth is exemplified by the fact Bernstein lost in a wrestle-off to sophomore AJ Alford early in the season while highly-touted freshman Quentin Hovis has challenged Davis at 157.
"In recent years, we've had some talented wrestlers, but also some gaps in our lineup," Sharratt said. "It's a credit to the staff with the hard work we've been doing on the recruiting trail that we now have talent and depth at all 10 weight classes."
Wilding, who could find himself in competition with Prince if the sophomore standout decides to bump up a weight class, acknowledged there are no easy days in the sweat shop on the first floor of Lejeune Hall.
"We've had so much competition at every single weight class and wrestle-offs have been intense," Wilding said. "The competition in the room is incredible, which is pretty cool thing to be part of."
Wilding credits the coaching staff with ratcheting up the intensity within the practice room. Sharratt, who was an NCAA champion and three-time All-American at Iowa, is assisted by Nate Engel (Missouri Valley College), Cody Cleveland (Tennessee-Chattanooga) and Lloyd Rogers (Tennessee-Chattanooga).
"Coach Sharratt is a great leader and does a great job of getting the best out of every wrestler in the practice room," Wilding said. "Coach Cleveland, Coach Engel and Coach Rogers are very good at refining everyone's technique. All their collective efforts combined have been able to create a pretty impressive product."
Navy has not captured an EIWA Championship since the 1989-1990 season, finishing as runner-up five times since then. This season, the Midshipmen are considered a legitimate threat to challenge perennial powers Cornell and Lehigh at that event.
"We're going to bring a very solid team to EIWA and I definitely think we're knocking on the door to compete for that championship," Sharratt said. "Navy wrestling program is very strong right now. I think anyone can see this is a different program in terms of talent and depth. It's not just the starting 10, but also the next 10 that are pushing them."
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