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March 04, 2009

 

Dragons duo off to nationals

Wrestling

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland junior heavyweight Joe Murphy (left) is unseeded heading into the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships that start Friday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

This is where SUNY Cortland senior Paul LeBlanc expected to finish his college wrestling career, battling for a national title at the NCAA Division III Championships.
Already a two-time All-America as a Red Dragon, LeBlanc will get the chance for a memorable finish as the third seed in the 149-pound weight class when the nationals get underway Friday morning at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
On the other hand, this is an unexpected reward for teammate Joe Murphy who will battle a rugged class of heavyweights while looking to pull off a surprise in his initial NCAA appearance. The Red Dragon junior is unseeded, and hopefully unflappable being on this national stage for the first time. As Cortland head coach Brad Bruhn noted, sometimes a newcomer is simply in awe of the surroundings at nationals and sometimes “they don’t know enough to be nervous.”
Bruhn hopes the latter is true for Murphy, who has certainly earned this trip to Iowa — advancing by winning the Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference tournament bracket capped by an 8-1 decision win over Jason LaMonica from Oneonta in the finals.
“He’s come a long ways from being an above-average high school kid to where he’s at now,” said Bruhn, Murphy coming to campus from Smithtown High School on Long Island. “He’s one of the hardest workers I have ever had here and now the confidence is starting to come along.”
Working with assistant coach Jason Reynolds, providing a bigger body to drill against in the practice room, has helped this Murphy development throughout his Cortland career. The heavyweight brings a 35-12 record with a dozen pins into a tough opening round assignment on Friday.
Murphy will face third seed John Helgerson from Wartburg, who has a 29-6 record this season including a 5-4 decision victory over Murphy in a meeting during the Las Vegas Duals back on Dec. 21.
“He kept hitting the same move on us,” is how Coach Bruhn recalls that earlier match-up with Helgerson, which is why Murphy has been working this week against smaller, quicker wrestlers in preparation for the Helgerson rematch. “We know what we have to do. We just have to go out and wrestle smart and execute.”
Kyle Bilquist from Delaware Valley is 28-3 and the top-seed in this weight class with the 285-pound limit. Murphy has been going up against tough competition all season long, which should have him prepared.
“He’s wrestled a lot of good kids this year,” said Bruhn. “Heavyweight is a good class throughout the country and he’s wrestled a lot of the seeded kids already.”
LeBlanc is 26-2 with nine pins in a senior season where a rib problem curtailed his mat time. “We had a couple of relapses in January, but I think we have it figured out now,” said Bruhn, LeBlanc taking a two-week break for an injury that normally requires two and a half months to heal.
There was come contemplation of red-shirting LeBlanc, though Bruhn noted: “He had too much invested in this season and he decided he could compete well at the national level this year.”
LeBlanc, whose brother Treavor LeBlanc was a talented Red Dragon teammate before parental duties and financial obligations caused him to miss out his senior season to work towards finishing up his degree, has been potent ever since arriving from Morrisville-Eaton.
He captured his fourth straight ECWC title back in February when he defeated Ithaca’s Blaine Woszczak 4-3 in an overtime battle.
Now LeBlanc will take on Joey Massman (30-4) from Concordia in his first round match Friday looking to advance in a tough weight class. Top seed Willy Holst (25-1) from Augsburg and second seed Jason Naig (21-2) from Wartburg are both Division I transfers of note. There is the potential of a LeBlanc-Woszczak rematch in the quarterfinals, too — the Bombers making the NCAA field as a “wild-card” selection.
Coach Bruhn labels LeBlanc as a “well-rounded” wrestler with few weaknesses, with a conservative style which has led to a bunch of close matches and overtime battles.
“He’s more concerned about giving up points than scoring points, which sometimes makes matches closer than they should be,” said Coach Bruhn of LeBlanc, who has 125 wins in his Cortland career. “He just needs to wrestle to his ability. We’re shooting for the top. If we don’t win it then it won’t be a successful season. I see us standing on the podium somewhere, but we’re thinking of winning it all.”
LeBlanc was fourth as a freshman and seventh as a junior at nationals, where the Top 8 finishers are All-Americans. He won a state title at Morrisville-Eaton as a scholastic senior.
It’s already been a successful season for the LeBlanc family, where younger brother and Morrisville-Eaton senior Ryan LeBlanc — coached by his father Duane — won a second state this this past weekend at 160 pounds. He, however, will not follow his brothers’ footsteps to Cortland having earned a Division I scholarship to Indiana in the Big 10.
Coach Bruhn does have heavyweight Alex Meyers from Morrisville-Eaton picking between Cortland and Cornell at the moment, is hopeful that if things don’t work out in Indiana that the younger LeBlanc would wind up in Cortland — where brother Paul will be working as an assistant coach for the next couple of seasons.
But that’s the future, and now Bruhn and the Red Dragons are concentrating on this weekend. Wrestling starts at 11 a.m. on Friday, where two to three matches are possible depending on the results. The quarterfinals are at 6 p.m. Friday, the semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday and the title matches at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
“Our goal with both kids is to get into Saturday and see how high up the podium they can get,” said Bruhn of his Red Dragon duo, LeBlanc and Murphy also serving as team captains for this year’s squad.