After having five competitors on day one, Cal Poly Wrestling’s two survivors took the mat for the second day of competition at the NCAA Championships on Friday in Tulsa.
Redshirt junior Bernie Truax earned his third All-American honor and remains in the field with a shot at third place heading into the final day. Meanwhile, sixth-year Dom Demas captured his third win of the tournament before seeing his season come to a close.
As an improbable candidate to advance to Friday, Demas survived. Those survival skills would need to follow into day two, as he faced No. 15 Colin Realbuto of Northern Iowa.
The last overall seed went on the offensive in the first period, steamrolling Realbuto for two takedowns. Taking his chance, Demas attempted a pin, coming up short for a near fall to hold an 8-2 advantage.
In the second, Realbuto looked to strike back, but Demas fended off the offensive surge, grasping onto an 8-3 lead. The Panther wouldn’t back down, forcing the Mustang into two stalling violations.
With elimination on the line, Demas buckled down in the final period to upset Realbuto, 10-7, and advance to the consolation quarterfinals.
On the championship side of the bracket, Truax had a chance to call himself a three-time All-American with a win. All that stood in the way was South Dakota State’s Tanner Sloan, the No. 7 seed at 197 pounds.
With anticipation building, Truax paced the length of the mat waiting for the media timeout to come to a close ahead of his bout.
Feeling out each other’s strategy, the opening period started slow. Two minutes in, Truax thrusted forward for a takedown. Countering with an escape, Sloan recorded a takedown of his own before Truax escaped to end the first tied at 3-3.
With Truax choosing the bottom starting position in the second, he easily escaped. In a defensive showdown, the two stingy competitors prevented the other from scoring for the remainder of the period, with Truax narrowly holding a 4-3 advantage.
Now Sloan’s decision, he optioned to start in the bottom position. The strategic selection paid off, as Sloan quickly escaped. With overtime looming, neither Truax nor Sloan could strike offensively, resulting in a 4-4 stalemate to end regulation.
In sudden victory, timing is crucial. As both wrestlers engaged on all fours, Truax took his shot. Attempting to shift his body position, Sloan snagged his leg. The Jackrabbit lifted upwards, preventing Truax from regaining his balance.
Sloan drove Truax into the mat, earning a match-ending takedown and an All-American qualification.
The heartbreaking defeat eliminated Truax from title contention and sent him into the consolation bracket, where another loss would end his season.
Demas, Tulsa’s Cinderella, looked to continue his tear through the consolation bracket. This time around, he needed to get by No. 10 Michael Blockhus from Minnesota.
Demas defeated Blockhus 5-2 in their meeting earlier this season, and 16-7 and 9-3 when Demas attended Oklahoma and Blockhus was at Northern Iowa during the 2019-20 season.
Following a scoreless opening period, the 149-pound Mustang registered an escape for the only second-period point, now leading 1-0.
Blockhus wouldn’t go down without a fight, recording an escape of his own to start the third. Both wrestlers couldn’t get anything going offensively, closing out regulation in a 1-1 tie.
With fatigue setting in for both wrestlers, Blockhus was the one to find his higher gear in overtime.
Demas attempted a takedown, but Blockhus was ready, prohibiting him from getting in position. The Gopher caught Demas’ body and slammed him to the ground, finally getting the best of the Mustang 3-1.
Cinderella was unable to find his glass slipper, coming up two wins short of being named an All-American. Demas finished his season with a 14-9 overall record and a third-place Pac-12 finish.
In a tournament as physically taxing as the NCAA Championships, it is also mentally draining.
After his quarterfinal loss, Truax found himself in the “blood rounds,” a moment in the tournament where consolation wrestlers must compete in win-or-go-home bouts with short breaks between matches if they advance.
Truax landed in the fourth round of consolation, one win away from being named an All-American. The 197-pounder needed to get past Lehigh’s Michael Beard, who he beat, 3-2, earlier this season.
Having familiarity with his opponent, Truax struck first, earning a takedown within the first minute of the bout. Beard returned with an escape to close out the first period, leaving Truax ahead 2-1.
After an eventful opening period, the second was a slow, methodical exchange. Beard earned another escape to tie the scoring, 2-2, before Truax shifted to defense, bear hugging his opponent to increase his riding time.
Truax started the third in the bottom position still tied up. Following a quick escape, he held a slim 3-2 advantage. Continuing to grind out additional riding time, Traux had enough for the riding time bonus.
With his back against a wall, Beard threw combinations at Truax, and every attempt resulted in nothing. Truax waited out the storm and the final buzzer sounded, with the Mustang advancing by a score of 4-2.
In addition to advancing to the next blood round, Truax became a three-time All-American, the second Cal Poly wrestler of this pedigree. He was named an All-American in 2021 at 174 pounds and in 2022 at 184 pounds.
Traux found out what the blood rounds are really about, having only 45 minutes between his fourth-round victory and his consolation semifinal bout against Penn State’s Max Dean.
The Mustang came out swinging early against the reigning national champion, tallying two quick takedowns in the first period. Dean recorded two escapes in the period, making it 4-2 Truax.
Dean earned an escape to start the second, hoping to capitalize on Truax’s tiredness. The Pac-12 champion held firm until Dean twisted around Truax for a takedown, taking a 5-4 lead to end the period.
In the third period, Dean added enough riding time for the one-point bonus. With elimination in the near future, Truax received a blood timeout with 37 seconds remaining, resetting the wrestlers in traditional top and bottom positions.
Following the timeout, Truax muscled to his feet, but not out of Dean’s grasp. The nifty Mustang battled to the ground, readjusting his body for a two-point reversal with 20 seconds to go.
Knowing that an escape from Dean would send him home, Truax held on for dear life, resembling a backpack on his opponent until the final whistle blew, ending regulation in a 6-6 draw.
Learning from his earlier sudden-victory defeat, Truax did not allow this opportunity to slip by him. Dean took control of Truax’s leg, forcing him to the ground. Instinctively, Truax grabbed a free leg of the Nittany Lion, twisted around his backside and leaped on his back to secure a match-ending takedown, winning 8-6.
Despite elimination on the horizon, Truax survived to the final day of the NCAA Championships and will make a run at third-place on Saturday in Tulsa.
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