Eight of the nation's best non-scholarship community college wrestling programs, including No. 8-ranked Ridgewater College and No. 9 Nassau Community College, converged on the Sports and Wellness Center at Harper College on Saturday for the NJCAA non-scholarship Invite.
The occasion marked the first time Harper has hosted the event. The Hawks entered Saturday hoping to prove this year's team could compete with the nation's elite.
"Our goals were to come in here and win this thing," said Harper coach Dan Loprieno.
And the Hawks came close, but ultimately left the day with as many questions as answers.
Rochester Community College took the top spot (128 points). The Hawks were second, 6 points behind.
"I am surprised that we cut that gap as much as we did," Loprieno said of the final score.
The second-place finish is the best for the program in the history of the meet, but Loprieno had hoped to get six individuals into the finals. Instead, the Hawks only had two competing for championships, Steven Dewitt and Conor Infelise.
In his championship match, 10th-ranked Dewitt found himself facing the nation's top-ranked wrestler, Shane Fessenmaier of Ridgewater. Dewitt earned a 4-1 decision.
"At the end of the third period, he wasn't able to move as well as I was," Dewitt said. "I was able to come away with the win because of it."
Dewitt was named tournament co-MVP alongside Ridgewater's Klayton Van Heuvin, who won at 157.
Infelise was not as fortunate as his teamate, suffering a 9-1 loss in his title match. Infelise got his afternoon off to a strong start by earning a pin in his first match.
Dewitt's title at 157 was not the only positive for the Hawks. At 285, freshman Larry Carter was able to get back on the mat for the first time since having knee surgrey in December.
Carter lost his third-place match to Patrick Hope of Springfield Tech (Mass.) by fall at 4:50 of the first period.
"It's nice to have him back," Loprieno said of his heavyweight.