BALDWIN CITY, Kan. – The Blue Hawk wrestlers stepped onto the mat at the Heart of America Conference tournament with the opportunity to extend their seasons onto NAIA Nationals. Five of the grapplers did just that. Mathew Hruby (125 pounds), Gresh Jones (133 pounds), Jamie Mullins (141 pounds), Cody Johnson (197 pounds), and Casey Jones (285 pounds) all punched their tickets to Des Moines, Iowa for the National Championships.
In their first year of official membership in the Heart of America Conference the Blue Hawks the path to get those automatic bids was not easy. The Blue Hawks qualifier had some of the best wrestlers in the nation. The Blue Hawks as a team tallied 116 points, good enough for third place, only trailing No. 1 Grandview and No. 2 Missouri Valley.
Gresh Jones, a Sophomore from Sidney, Mont., saw the most success for the Blue Hawks. Jones carved through the 133-pound bracket which had four of the top seven ranked wrestlers. He started the tournament with a victory by way of pin 1:19 into the match. Jones followed the pin with a major decision (11-0) and a decision (11-4) giving himself a spot in the title bout. There Jones faced No. 6 Trevor Murano of Grandview (Iowa). The match between the two top-ten wrestlers did not disappoint. Jones was able to come away with the tight match with a 9-7 decision.
Mullins and Casey Jones each finished third in their respective weight classes. Mullins fell in the semifinals to No. 15 Alex Gomez in a 11-7 decision. Mullins fought back through the consolation bracket. The sophomore from St. Ignatius, Mont. won a narrow decision 2-0 and then in the third-place match won in sudden victory. Mullins captured third with a take down in the overtime period, winning 9-7. Jones' journey to the third-place match was much different from Mullins'. Jones lost his first match, but followed with stringing together back to back pins. In the third-place match Jones faced up against No. 7 Max Lewis. Jones was able to inch out a victory in a 3-2 decision.
Cody Johnson finished fourth in the 197-pound bracket, securing his spot to nationals. Freshman Mathew Hruby fifth in the 125-pound weight class. There is still an opportunity for the Blue Hawks to add another to the Nationals roster with a potential at-large bid. No. 20 Tanner Stone finished the tournament just outside of automatic qualifying with a sixth-place finish. The NAIA will release the at-large bids to finalize the field in the coming week.
Gresh Jones and Johnson are the only qualifiers with past experience at nationals, reaching that level last year. Jones finished with a 1-2 record in the 2017 NAIA National Championships after a year of battling injuries, but is looking to better that mark this year. Johnson went 0-2 in 2016 as a true freshaman. The four sophomores and one freshman will prepare for the NAIA National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa March 2-3.