I kept refreshing Safari browser pages, waiting for the brackets to fill up with results as the weekend went by. Practically throwing my laptop off the table, I flipped out at the headline: “Carrillo and Armendarez Qualify for NCAA Championships.” I immediately drafted an email to Carter Armendarez ’18 in all caps.
“YOU PLACED THIRD!?!?!??!” I wrote.
This referred to the confidence that I had picked up on during our interview last week at Espwesso, a self-assurance that had driven Armendarez well beyond his goal of sixth place. He’s now headed to Wisconsin for the NCAA Division III Championships alongside celebrity teammate Devon Carrillo ’17.
The Northeast Regional Championships took place at Roger Williams University in Providence, R.I. The Cardinals, as a team, tied for seventh with No. 14 U.S. Coast Guard Academy, beating out Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Southern Maine, Williams, Rhode Island College, Castleton University, Plymouth State University, Norwich University, Trinity, Bridgewater State University, New England College, and Western New England University. No. 3 Johnson and Wales University (JWU) placed first, No. 4 Ithaca College second, and No. 15 SUNY Cortland third, followed by No. 7 Roger Williams (RWU), SUNY Oneonta, and Springfield College.
Amir Daouk ’20 represented Wes in the 125-lbs. weight class, going 1-2. Dylan Jones ’19 (133) lost in the first round but went on to win three straight matches in the losers’ bracket. James Matias ’19 (141) went 2-2, while Robert Rosenberg ’17 (157) went 0-2. Roy Forys ’19 (165) received a bye, won in the second round, lost to the bracket champion, and then fell again in the back draw to go 1-2 on the day.
Captain Dominic Pirraglia ’18 (184) received a bye for the first round, then bulldozed through to the semifinals where he lost to JWU. Pirraglia then lost in the race for third and dropped the fifth place match due to injury. The captain snagged the final spot in the top-six of the bracket, comprised of 17 wrestlers. Matt Winchester ’18 (184) went 0-2, and captain Isaiah Bellamy ’18 (285) received a first round bye, and like his co-captain, cruised through to the semis. There, Bellamy fell to the eventual bracket winner. Bellamy continued to mirror Pirraglia as he lost in the race for third then dropped the fifth place match due to injury. Happily, however, the captain also earned a spot in the celebrated top-six of his 18-person bracket.
Armendarez competed in the 149-pound weight class, securing a bye for the first round. He swept his way to the semifinals, falling to the bracket champion from Ithaca, nationally ranked No. 3 Sam Schneider. Feeding into the back draw, Armendarez defeated Tyler Gazaway from RWU to find himself head to head against Marsh from WPI for the final ticket to Nationals.
I convinced Armendarez to meet up and walk me through his thriller performance. Of course he suggested Espwesso, where our loud banter and wrestling jokes clashed with the zen ambiance. Armendarez was eager to spill the details.
“I made it to the semis the first day,” he said. “One of the top seeds was upset early in the tournament and I was nervous to wrestle that guy, but he lost, luckily. My third place match was against a guy I’d lost to two weeks ago. I wasn’t freaking out because it was close last time. I knew I shouldn’t have lost to him, but in my head I was like, ‘Alright, this is going to be super close. I’ve got to take him down once and win by a point.’ That’s basically what happened. It was 1-1 and I took him down in the last 45 seconds. When I got the takedown, I was so hyped. The whole match I was like, ‘Man, I’m pretty tired and I cannot take this guy down. I really want to but it’s just not happening.’”
Armendarez summed up the atmosphere surrounding his wild, nail-biting encounter.
“Most people were done with their matches and everyone was sitting around me,” he said. “I’d been in this position so many times, where you’ve got to win a one-point match. It’s super stressful. I was up by one point and just had to stall him. If you mess up, if you make one mistake, you’re done. Guys are always up by one in the last 20 seconds and guys get desperate and start going crazy. It happens all the time that guys take them down and get two points to come back and win the match. They are just shooting at you, doing whatever they can do to take you down. If you’re backing up too much they’ll call stalling on you, so at the end of the match if you have two stalling calls then your opponent can get that point they need and send the match into OT.”
Strategy was something key to Armendarez, who handled the late stages of his match differently, due to the fact that he had an advantage.
“I was definitely backing up a lot due to time and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll take a stall call,’” he said. “But I didn’t get it, I wasn’t running away too much. This guy was trying to get all crazy with his shooting and I got him into a front headlock and looked up at the clock and saw five seconds left and I just watched the clock go down as I held him there. At that point you know you won and you can just see the clock counting down. Out of a movie. Some people get super fired up, but I wasn’t freaking out or anything. Everyone else went crazy. Funniest thing though, I saw Coach [Drew] Black after the match throw up a little in a trash can. I had to do a double take, like is this really happening. It was the weirdest thing. I didn’t know he was so nervous about it!”
Armendarez will be joined by his teammate who is making all kinds of headlines this year. Carrillo was recently named the Male Athlete of the Year by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance. On Apr. 30, the Middletown native will be honored at the 76th Gold Key Dinner for his now two-time appearance at the NCAA Division III wrestling championships and his influential performance as wide receiver and running back for the Cardinals’ football team. Carrillo helped lead the football team to a NESCAC Championship and two Little Three titles.
At Regionals this past weekend, the No. 1 seed and nationally ranked No. 3 Carrillo (197) received a bye for the first round and then, within 28 seconds, quickly pinned his first opponent to start off the tournament. Carrillo then swept through the bracket to meet No. 2 seed and No. 4 nationally ranked Carlos Toribio of Ithaca College in the finals. Armendarez recalled the match.
“Right off the bat Devon puts him on his back and he’s up 6-1,” Armendarez said. “The guy just came back and kept turning him and the match ended up tied.”
Carrillo lost the championship match in overtime, breaking his undefeated streak. His frustration was clear, but his ambition was unwavering.
“Still pissed but screw it,” he said. “This will fuel the fire.”
Armendarez and Carrillo leave Wednesday of next week for Lacrosse, Wisc., the site of the 2017 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.
“Carrillo and Toribio both could see each other in the semis at Nationals since they are ranked so high,” Armendarez said. “Devon totally could win Nationals. There is one guy who is super tough in his weight and is a two-time National champ, but Devon could totally win. Personally I’m really hyped about Wisconsin. It’s weird, it’s hard to put into words. Everyone’s been asking how I feel. I know it’s going to be tough. My top goal was to go to Nationals, and that is happening. I haven’t thought at all about gaining All-American status, which means placing top-eight. I’ll just go and see what happens, but now I think I can do it, be an All-American. Now I’m really legit. In my senior year of high school, I lost the match to place in state and that has stuck with me. Haunted me! Now that I qualified for Nationals, I don’t have to worry about that high school states nightmare anymore.”
Joking with Armendarez is always a blast and as we watched videos of the famous wrestling move the “Flying Squirrel,” he made me a deal. He would attempt the move if he made it to the finals. Hopefully, he passes along the dare to Carrillo, because if there’s going to be anything that tops Carrillo’s final season, it’s going to be an Olympic style move in the finals of Nationals to win it. All daydreaming aside, this pair of Cards are pushing into a higher gear than they ever thought they could as both wrestlers refuse to get comfortable with the current accolades. They want more.