As Cal Poly Wrestling’s lone competitor remaining, redshirt junior Bernie Truax took the mat on the final day of the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Tulsa.
The Mustang won his consolation semifinal before falling in the third-place bout to wrap up the 2023 tournament for Cal Poly.
Consolation Semifinal Bout
After fighting through Friday night’s blood rounds, Truax needed one more win to advance to the third-place bout. The obstacle to overcome was Rider’s Ethan Laird, the fourth seed.
Mirroring his previous four wins, Truax struck hard and fast, taking down Laird halfway through the opening period. With Laird earning an escape, Traux held a 2-1 advantage at the end of the period.
Truax deferred his position preference to the third quarter, so Laird picked to start on bottom. The Bronc needed only four seconds to escape, notching up the score at 2-2. Neither wrestler could break the tie throughout the duration of the period.
In the third, now his decision, Truax started on bottom and escaped in six seconds to retake a 3-2 lead. In moments of desperation, Laird hurdled offensive combinations with the hopes of sneaking one past Truax.
Instinctively, Truax busted out his signature defensive splits, avoiding any takedown opportunities Laird attempted. With seconds remaining, Truax reversed around Laird for a final takedown, winning 5-2 to advance to the third-place matchup.
At the 2021 NCAA Championships, Truax finished fourth as the 12th seed. In 2022 as the fifth seed, he brought home another fourth-place finish. Fast forward to the 2023 tournament, where Truax had an opportunity to break the trend against Missouri’s Rocky Elam.
The Tiger entered the bout with a game plan. After Elam gained control of Truax’s leg, the Mustang attempted his defensive splits once again. However, Elam grabbed his free leg to go to the ground for a takedown.
Truax escaped Elam’s grasp, trailing 2-1 at the end of the first period.
In the second, Elam opted for the bottom starting position and it paid off, as the Big 12 champion escaped in four seconds. Unable to strike offensively, Truax trailed 3-1 with a period to go.
The Mustang chose to start on bottom, earning an escape after 24 seconds. Trailing 3-2, Truax threw a flurry of offensive attacks at Elam, but the Tiger’s defense deflected any threats.
As time ticked away, Truax threw one last combination. Elam saw it coming, flipping the attack into one of his own, driving Truax to the mat for a final takedown and defeating him 5-2.
The three-time All-American ended his tournament run with a third consecutive fourth-place result. In his return next season, Truax will aim to join Tom Kline and Mark DiGirolamo as Cal Poly’s only Division-I national champions.
As a team, Cal Poly Wrestling finished in 27th place among a field of 61 schools at the NCAA Championships. The Mustangs will shift their focus to the off-season with hopes of improving on their 2023 campaign.
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