By Matt Bowker
Senior Zach Zotollo took the mat for the final time in his impressive career in the final round of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships on Saturday, March 14, in Hershey, Pa. Zotollo entered the match looking to become a national champion, but he fell short in one of the most dramatic finishes in recent tournament history.
Zotollo was taken down early in the first period to give Wabash College’s Conner Lefever, the No. 1 seeded wrestler at 174 pounds, a 2-0 lead. Zotollo fought back and was able to pull off an escape later in the period to cut the lead in half.
“The only thing you can think about is getting that next score. Whether you are winning by a point or down by 10, the only the thing that matters is the next point,” Zotollo said. “Push the pace, that’s always my approach.”
Zotollo, the No. 3 seed, pushed the pace in the second period, scoring an early escape to tie the match. He followed that up with a takedown of his own to allow himself a 4-2 lead heading into the third and final period.
Lefever scored an escape to cut Zotollo’s lead to 4-3, before regaining the lead at 5-4 with a takedown with only 30 seconds to go.
Zotollo would not let his championship slip through his fingers without a fight, though. As the clock expired, Lefever held on for dear life, trying to run out the clock on Zotollo’s dreams. Zotollo attempted an escape, which would have tied the match, sending it to overtime. The officials conferred, and after a video review, upheld the ruling on the mat: Zotollo had lost.
“Honestly, it’s heartbreaking to lose a close match like that, but it was a great match,” Zotollo said. “I know how hard I worked to get to where I am and that’s what’s most important.”
Earlier in the day, Zotollo earned his third-consecutive All-American honors, becoming only the 17th wrestler in program history to do so. The second-place finish was the best of his career, beating his fourth in 2013 and sixth in 2014.
Junior Antonio Mancella also earned All-American honors in Hershey, the first of his career.
After a terrific opening day on Friday, March 13, Mancella dropped his opening match on Saturday morning to place him in the seventh-place match later that day. Mancella lost that match by injury default to fourth-seeded Jon Garrison of Mount Union. Mancella finished eighth in the nation at 157 pounds.
Senior Nathaniel Leer also participated in the championships, finishing with a 1-2 record at 197 pounds.
As a team, the Lions wrapped up a 17th-place finish, putting them in the top 20 for the fourth consecutive year.
Before the championships began, the life of former Lions’ Coach Dave Icenhower was celebrated with a short video montage of his accomplishments on and off the mat. Following the match, the National Wrestling Coaches Association renamed their coach-of-the-year award after Icenhower, who passed away in October.
Looking back, Zotollo admits that Coach Icenhower had a big impact on his decision to come to the College.
“I met Coach Ice, and he made me fall in love with the program,” Zotollo said. “Coach Ice was awesome.”