On top when it counts

Byrne, 3 UM teammates, 5 Mids going to nationals

college wrestling

March 18, 2009|By Patrick Gutierrez | Patrick Gutierrez,patrick.gutierrez@baltsun.com

It's not surprising that Brendan Byrne's confidence is peaking as he prepares for his first appearance at the NCAA wrestling championships.

Byrne captured an Atlantic Coast Conference title last week after previously finishing second and third, and he beat a ranked opponent for the first time in six tries this season when it mattered most.

The redshirt junior said his 7-6 win over eighth-ranked Jarrod Garnett of Virginia Tech in the 125-pound final in Blacksburg was as much a relief as anything else.

"It definitely helped," Byrne said as he prepared to board the plane that was to take him and three Maryland teammates to St. Louis, where the nationals begin tomorrow. "I was well prepared against all the other ranked guys. I think all of [the matches] were fairly close. ... A couple of things didn't go my way. It was nice to finally get over that hump."

The victory was especially satisfying because Byrne (21-8) had lost to Garnett four weeks earlier in a tight match that got away from him, 10-5.

For Byrne, this trip is the culmination of more than three years of chasing his lofty expectations. The Cape May (N.J.) High graduate arrived at Maryland in 2005 after winning a school-record 98 matches and then spending a year at Blair Academy in New Jersey. He was ACC runner-up at 133 pounds as a freshman, and his future seemed loaded with potential.

In August 2006, however, Byrne had surgery on his right shoulder to repair a nagging injury he had suffered near the end of his freshman year. A grueling rehabilitation period followed, but 10 days after Byrne was cleared to wrestle again, he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season.

He bounced back to take third in the ACC tournament in 2007-08 and is now a conference champion about to compete for a national championship.

"He had a real tough schedule with some of the best guys in the country," said Maryland coach Kerry McCoy, whose team took the overall title at last week's ACC tournament for the second straight season. "He's peaking at the right time."

Joining Byrne at the NCAA tournament are teammates Steven Bell (133 pounds), Alex Krom (141) and Hudson Taylor (197). Like Byrne, Bell (24-4) and Krom (21-4) captured individual ACC titles, while Hudson (31-7) was upset in the final by Virginia's Brent Jones.

Navy is sending five wrestlers to St. Louis, led by senior Joe Baker (133), who will be only the fifth Midshipman to make four appearances at nationals. Despite battling injuries, Baker finished the season 14-0 and was rewarded with an eighth seed. He will try to become Navy's first national champion since Dan Muthler in 1973.

Sophomore Bryce Saddoris (149 pounds), freshmen Prescott Garner (125) and Luke Rebertus (174), and senior Kenneth Caldwell (184) also are competing for the Mids.

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