Navy's Edwards is ready to give nationals a distinctly local flavor

165-pound junior only Mid to qualify for the NCAAs

College Wrestling

March 20, 2003|By Luke Broadwater | Luke Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's not quite Cancun, but to Frank Edwards, the U.S. Naval Academy's wrestling room isn't a bad place to spend spring break.

After all, if a college wrestler is still training come spring break time, it means he's on his way to Kansas City, Mo., this year's home of the NCAA Division I tournament today through Saturday.

Last weekend, Edwards, a 165-pound junior with a 26-7 record, became Navy's only tournament qualifier when he finished second to No. 3 ranked Troy Letters (Lehigh) at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association tournament.

But just because he's the only Navy wrestler going to the big show doesn't mean he has to train alone: Eight U.S. Naval Academy wrestlers stayed during the break with Edwards.

"Those guys gave up their spring break to help me train," he said. "That really means a lot."

In preparing for the nationals, Edwards and eight of his teammates performed a drill known to wrestlers as "Shark Bait," in which an exhausted Edwards took turns wrestling energized teammates. Edwards became increasingly tired, as fresh opponents rotated sparring against him.

Last year, the academy had two national qualifiers, including an All-American in then-senior Mark Conley, who was literally one second away from reaching the finals.

Edwards said he hopes to follow in Conley's footsteps. "Mark is an example of what you've got to be to be at All-American level. He came into every match believing he would win it. He had the right mental attitude."

A three-time state champion wrestler out of Sherwood High School in Montgomery County, Edwards posted a career record of 119-14 in high school. This year, three of his 26 wins came over former Maryland high school standouts.

He beat DeMatha two-time National Prep Champion Kevin Gabrielson of North Carolina State, 8-4, and downed two-time Glenelg state champion Jim O'Connor of North Carolina, 8-2.

Edwards split matches with Columbia freshman Matt Palmer, a three-time National Prep Champion (Bullis/Blair Academy N.J.). At the Penn State Open, Palmer defeated Edwards, 4-3. But last weekend, Edwards controlled Palmer, who is ranked No. 12 in the country, in a 12-4 major decision victory in the semifinals of the EIWA tournament.

"It's kind of exciting wrestling the Maryland guys. ... It almost becomes a grudge match," Edwards said. "

This season, Edwards also beat Penn State's Doc Vecchio, a returning All-American ranked No. 9 nationally, 8-3, at the Penn State Open. Vecchio, Palmer and O'Connor have all qualified for the national tournament in Edwards' weight class.

Maryland 184-pound senior Jake Stork, a Pennsylvania native, is also the only wrestler from his team making the trip to nationals. Stork, ranked No. 17 nationally, leads the nation with 23 falls.

River Hill three-time state champion Brandon Lauer (West Virginia) also qualified. The 133-pounder is scheduled to open against Zach Roberson (Iowa State), who is ranked No. 5 in the country and defeated Lauer earlier this year by technical fall.

Edwards also has a difficult first-round opponent in Hofstra's Noel Thompson, who is ranked No. 8 in the country.

At a glance

What: NCAA Division I wrestling tournament

Where: Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo.

When: Today through Saturday (finals 2:30 p.m.)

TV: Saturday's finals on ESPN2 (tape delay), 7 p.m.

Defending champion: Minnesota

State qualifiers: Navy's Frank Edwards (26-7 at 165 pounds), West Virginia's Brandon Lauer (River Hill, 16-10 at 133), North Carolina's Jim O'Connor (Glenelg, 21-11 at 165), Maryland's Jake Stork (36-5 at 184)

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