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No. 2 Coast Guard squad preparing for season opening match

Head coach Kevin Bratland’s Coast Guard wrestling team is tied for the No. 2 ranking in the country in the first NCAA Division III poll of the season. (Photo courtesy Coast Guard Academy)

The Coast Guard Academy wrestling team doesn’t know if there are enough programs in NCAA Division III that will field a team this winter to enable the NCAA to host the national championship tournament in March.

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic that has turned the sports world, our nation and our world upside down, the Bears don’t know how many matches they will wrestle this winter.

But seventh-year coach Kevin Bratland and his Bears are working out in New London and preparing for several dual meets in February. The team hopes to begin with a match on Saturday, February 6 against Castleton University if the testing protocols to keep everyone safe can be worked out.

“This has been extremely challenging,” Bratland said. “It is like the unknown and you don’t know what will happen and what you can do.”

The wrestlers have been in quarantine since arriving back on campus after the holiday break and began wrestling early last week. Bratland everyone has been tested multiple times and are wearing masks during practice. The Bears are doing two practices a day and are limiting practice partners to one to help prevent any spread of the virus.

In terms of the NCAA championships, D3Wrestle.com reports that there are 113 Division III programs and the COVID-19 guidelines that NCAA shared earlier this year state that at least 70 percent of the teams (at least 79) have to compete this season.

Either way, the Bears are preparing to compete wherever they can.

“They’re making the most of it,” Bratland said. “They really do want to compete even if it is just for a few dual meets.”

Coast Guard is tied for the No. 2 ranking in the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) poll with Iowa’s Wartburg College and John Carroll in University Heights, Ohio. It is the highest national ranking for the Bears.

“It’s cool,” Bratland said. The rankings were a mathematical formula based on the individual rankings. “It is something we are proud of. But we still have to get in the room and work. (Championships) are not decided with rankings. They will have to do it on the mat.”

Coast Guard has four wrestlers ranked in the top 10 of their individual weight classes led by junior Paul Detwiler from Fleming Island, Fla., who is ranked No. 1 in the country at 184 pounds. Detwiler was 28-0 a year ago, winning the NCAA Division III Northeast Region championship. He was named the New England Wrestling Association’s wrestler of the year last March.

Senior Jon Wagner of Huntington, Pa., is seeded No. 2 at 197 pounds. Wagner also won the NCAA Div. III Northeast title a year ago along with junior Phil Rogers from Delran, N.J., who is seeded No. 5 at 165 pounds.

The final top 10 wrester in the preseason polls for Coast Guard is Montville’s Noah Caskey, a sophomore, who is seeded No. 7 at 141 pounds. He was third at the Northeast Regional last February with three consecutive victories in the consolation bracket.

Bratland doesn’t expect any spectators to be allowed at the matches but said they will broadcast live on Facebook through the team’s Facebook page.

The Bears, who were 7-2 a year ago, also hope to host dual meets with Western New England University, Springfield College, Rhode Island College and the Merchant Marine Academy if arrangements can be made to hold them safely.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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