At-large wrestlers can make good on reprieve at NCAAs
Greg Bulsak and Nick Kiussis spent the minutes leading up to 3 p.m. March 12 repeatedly refreshing the NCAA wrestling website on their phones. Sammy Krivus kept himself busy by lifting weights.
Ultimately, all three wrestlers received the news they were hoping for the same way: from somebody else.
Bulsak, a redshirt sophomore at Clarion and South Park graduate; Kiussis, a sophomore at West Virginia; and Krivus, a redshirt junior at Virginia and Hempfield graduate, became three of the 45 wrestlers awarded at-large bids for the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament, which begins Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
“It was a stressful few days (before the announcement),” said Bulsak, seeded 25th at 197 pounds at the tournament. “I missed a little bit of sleep those few nights. But I was pretty confident that I would be able to get the bid.”
The NCAA awards a certain number of automatic bids to the wrestling championships for each conference, leaving four or five spots in each of the 10 weight class for at-large wrestlers. Those at-large bids get doled out by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee based on head-to-head competition, quality wins, results against common opponents, winning percentage, rating-percentage index, coaches’ ranking and conference-tournament finish.
The at-large process provides a reprieve for wrestlers who have an unexpectedly bad day at their conference tournament.
Bulsak, Kiussis and Krivus all went 0-2 at their conference tournaments to put themselves in limbo before the at-large bids were announced. They spent the next few days evaluating their own resumes compared to others in the running for at-large spots. All three said they felt somewhere between 75 and 80 percent confident they would make it.
“I had a horrible ACC conference tournament, but I knew at the beginning of the year and throughout the majority of the year that I had a pretty solid (performance),” said Krivus, seeded 26th at 141 pounds. “I was ranked for a decent amount, and I had some good competition matchups that I won. … I was nervous, (but) I was confident that I was going to get in.”
Krivus automatically qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2017 and ’18, so this was somewhat of a different experience, but he still treated it the same way. He continued his usual workouts, including a weightlifting session at the same time as the announcement.
“Some of the guys came in and said, ‘You made it,’ and I was like, ‘awesome,’ ” Krivus said. “I didn’t really change anything up. I didn’t let my weight fly up. I didn’t stop working out because I had to keep training as if I did make it.”
Bulsak and Kiussis, meanwhile, kept refreshing their phones, Bulsak in class and Kiussis in the residence he shares with some of his West Virginia teammates. Still, both of them received the good news from somebody else: Bulsak via text message and Kiussis from one of his roommates.
“His phone refreshes faster than mine,” said Kiussis, the 29th seed at 165 pounds. “I wasn’t too upset. I sort of wanted to see it for myself, but it was just relieving.”
Bulsak and Krivus have been through the NCAA experience before, but Kiussis, a native of Cleveland suburb Brunswick, Ohio, will be making his tournament debut.
“I’ve wrestled on pretty big stages, (like) the Ohio state tournament, before,” Kiussis said. “It’s not as similar as this. Obviously, it’s bigger and more important. I feel like I’ll be able to go and do what I do best.”
The next three days provide a chance at redemption for the 45 wrestlers who got in via the at-large process. Five wins, and they can claim a national title. A top-eight finish, and they’ll become an All-American.
“I always do feel more relaxed at this time of the year,” Bulsak said. “Last year I did, and this year I did. This is where you go out and show what you’re made of, show what you’ve been training for all year. This is where the work actually shows.”