5 UALR wrestlers headed to NCAAs

Redshirt sophomore Matt Bianchi (above) is one of five wrestlers from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock who will compete at the NCAA Championships, which start today in Kansas City, Mo.
(UALR Athletics/Benjamin Krain)
Redshirt sophomore Matt Bianchi (above) is one of five wrestlers from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock who will compete at the NCAA Championships, which start today in Kansas City, Mo. (UALR Athletics/Benjamin Krain)

Five members of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock wrestling team will compete at the NCAA Championships, which start today at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The No. 18 Trojans took second at the Pac-12 Conference meet March 10, finishing a spot behind Arizona State in what has been the most successful season in the five-year history of the UALR program.

Three Trojans won individual conference titles.

Freshman Nasir Bailey won the conference championship at 133 pounds with an 8-3 decision over Arizona State's Julian Chelbove. Bailey was also named "Wrestler of the Meet."

UALR's Joseph Bianchi won the 165-pound title after a 2-1 win over Stanford's Hunter Garvin in the final, and Stephen Little defeated Oregon State's Justin Radenmacher 175 for the 197-pound title.

UALR's Josiah Hill also received an invitation after placing third at 285 pounds, while Matthew Bianchi also earned an at-large bid at 157 pounds.

"We've never had a Pac-12 champion until this year," UALR Coach Neil Erisman said. "Having three is pretty special. I was just really excited and happy for what these guys did. I felt like we did about the best we could do for what we had."

Bailey was one of the top high school recruits UALR has ever landed and his true freshman season did not disappointed. The native of Park Forest, Ill., enters the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed at 133 pounds.

"In wrestling, most athletes redshirt," Erisman said. "What [Bailey] is doing is incredible. But it's actually even more incredible because he's an 18-year-old kid that is kind of fresh out of high school competing with the big dogs. He's really established himself quickly and showed that, in my opinion, he can be a national champ. That's a pretty special talent to have and his work ethic backs it up."

After receiving an at-large bid to compete at 157, Matthew Bianchi will be joining his older brother Joseph at the NCAA Tournament. Matthew had to wait a few extra days before knowing if he would get an invite.

"Matty has been a guy who has been top-20 all year, so it was fitting that he got to go," Erisman said. "He's just a pit bull. He's just tough, hard-nosed and he always finds ways to win. He does a lot with a little, so I'm excited about him."

"His brother Joey has really come on this year and established himself. At one point he was not even in the starting lineup. He earned his spot, went on a roll and started beating a bunch of really good dudes. He won the conference championship and earned himself a 13 seed at the NCAA Tournament. It will be cool to watch the brothers back-to-back go do what it takes to win."

Little, a redshirt freshman who was a three-time Kentucky state champion in high school, enters the tournament as a No. 9 seed at 197 pounds.

"Honestly, he is one to watch and that you need to pay attention to," Erisman said. "I think he has a great shot to be a national champ this year. He's really on a roll and we have a lot of confidence in him. He really set the tone for our program. He's really helped change the entire direction of our program from a work ethic standpoint."

Hill will have his hands full in a very competitive heavyweight division. He is one of the more experienced wrestlers on the roster in his fourth season with UALR.

"Josiah is a guy that has been here since the beginning and has been through the ups and downs," Erisman said. "He's really changed physically, mentally and emotionally. He's put himself in a good spot for this NCAA Tournament. I'm just really excited and happy for the hard work that he's put in and I'm proud of the person he has become."

It has been a milestone season for the young UALR program that has only had one athlete (Paul Bianchi, 2021) reach the NCAA Tournament until this season.

"Being a brand new program at a mid-major, putting five guys in the NCAA Tournament is an incredible feat," Erisman said. "Not to mention two seeded in the top 10. We're not here to just compete, we're not here to be a team, we're here to be good and we're here to be great. To grow through every step of the process of what that takes. It's an incredible feat."

At a glance

NCAA Division I Wrestling Tournament

WHEN Today-Saturday

WHERE T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, Mo.




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