Ajayi ’13 is DIII All-American to Cap Off Wes Wrestling’s Historic Campaign
Two weeks removed from snagging the NEWA (New England Wrestling Association) team championship in dramatic fashion for the second time in school history, four Wesleyan grapplers headed to La Crosse, Wis. on March 9 to participate in the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. NEWA champions Jefferson Ajayi ’13 at 184 pounds, tri-captain Luke Erickson ’12 at 197, and Kyle Roosa ’13 at 174 were joined by Joey Schwartz ’14 at 133, who came in second at the New England Championships and was selected to the field as an alternate. The top eight finishers in each weight class in the double-elimination style bracket are honored as All-Americans.
Jefferson Ajayi ’13, in his first trip to the NCAA Championships, took home seventh place at 184, becoming Wesleyan’s fifth All-American and first since 1996. Ajayi opened with two overtime matches with opposite results, dropping a hard-fought battle in the opener to an opponent from Messiah before snagging an overtime victory in his second bout against his opponent from U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. After getting a second win by way of injury forfeit, Ajayi found himself in the quarterfinals and assured of All-American status. He faced off with the number three seed Dylan Azinger of Wartburg. Azinger prevailed, leaving Ajayi with a record of 2-2, before Ajayi prevailed in his final match to place seventh in the class.
Ajayi reflected on his achievement, discussing his journey to the championships and his senior year campaign.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” he said. “Helps make my team, my school, and my family really proud. It’s been a long, pretty hard process, but hard work and believing I can do it finally came through. This gives me the motivation to do better next year and win the tournament. I’m not really that satisfied.”
Roosa, coming off his second NEWA championship, made his second appearance at the NCAAs. In his final action as a Cardinal, Erickson, who sealed the NEWA team title with his individual championship, lost both his matches, the second of which was a close 3-2 decision. Schwartz, whose 9-1 mark in seasonal dual meets gave him the highest win percentage on the squad, went 2-2 in his four matches, defeating a 2011 All-American opponent in the process.
The 2011-2012 Wesleyan wrestling team enjoyed a historically successful season, as the three NEWA individual titles matched the program’s best from 1982, and the team’s only other New England team title since 1984. After holding a 1-5 mark in dual meets in mid-January, the team ran off with ten victories in its final eleven duals to finish with an 11-6 mark. The most lopsided defeat for the squad came at the hands of Springfield College, the same team Wes relegated to second place at the New England Championships.
With the season at a close, Ajayi offered some perspective on what this year will mean to the program down the road.
“All of the accomplishments we’ve had this year are a big catapult for better recruiting, and an overall better program for years to come,” he said.
With the success of the 2011-2012 campaign in recent memory, expectations for the 2012-2013 campaign will be huge for a squad losing only four seniors. Nobody knows what the future will bring. But it is safe to say that the sky-high level of expectations will be eclipsed by the Wesleyan wrestling team’s level of hard work, togetherness, and talent.