There's a vacant spot in the Johnson & Wales University wrestling room for the program's first national champion. That spot now has its first name.
Junior Jay Albis got a takedown in the final seconds to win JWU's first NCAA National Championship in any sport. He defeated Carlos Fuentes of Wheaton, 11-10, to capture the title at 125 pounds. In addition, he won the award for having the most technical falls of any wrestler in the country.
"It still hasn't sunk in," said Albis, a Criminal Justice major. "It's so unreal. Everyone goes to practice. Everyone does a little extra here, little extra there. I was consistent throughout the whole year. Made sure my conditioning was the best that it can be."
As a team, the Wildcats finished sixth at 43.5 points, coming in just a half point behind Wabash. Wartburg won its third team title in a row.
Joining Albis on the podium was JWU senior Joao Vicente in sixth place, while juniors Joe Ferinde and Khamri Thomas placed eighth. For Ferinde, it's his second-straight top-eight finish.
A first-period takedown gave Albis an early lead in his semifinal match against Jonathan Haas of SUNY Brockport. He dominated the riding time to get the bonus point needed to move on to the finals.
Albis reflects back to his freshman year when he got hurt and couldn't compete that season. "It motivated me for my sophomore season," he said. "I made sure I worked hard. I got to the finals, and I got pinned, which wasn't the outcome I wanted. I made sure that I worked even harder this year and left no stone left unturned. I was going to be on top of the podium at the end of the year." And he was.
JWU Wrestling Head Coach Lonnie Morris started the Wildcat program with four wrestlers in 1997. "He is so much more than a coach," said Albis. "He's a life mentor. I'm at a loss for words. I am who I am today because of him. I really can't thank him enough. I owe him so much."
Congratulations to Jay Albis and the Wildcats! Check out this highlight video of the win.