Bleaken wins NAIA championship
Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- Cumberland University's Corey Bleaken claimed the school's first individual wrestling national championship since 2005 with a 4-3 overtime victory Saturday over No. 3 Thomas Straughn of Notre Dame College at the 54th annual NAIA Wrestling National Championships at the US Cellular Center, Saturday night.
The redshirt 157-lb, senior, who was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler for the tournament, closed the season with 15 straight wins, including two over Straughn.
"This means everything," Bleaken said. "All of the hard work that I've put in with my coaches and teammates has paid off. Standing above everybody was a special moment."
Bleaken and Straughn faced each other three times this year with the Cumberland wrestler claiming two victories. All three matches were decided by a single point.
"We've wrestled before, so I knew he was a stud," Bleaken said. "I knew he was a stud and was going to come hard."
In the championship bout, the two battled through the first period with neither wrestler earning a point.
Bleaken won the coin toss for the first decision of position and began the second period down. The Clifton, N.J., native broke free from the Falcon grappler, claiming the first point of the match and the only tally of the period.
The Notre Dame grappler, who defeated Cumberland's James Casadaban in the national title match last year, started the third period in the down position and was quickly credited with an escape to knot the match at a point apiece.
Straughn recorded a takedown to take a 3-1 lead late in regulation. Bleaken escaped his grasp to make it a one-point contest.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period, Bleaken was awarded a penalty point after Straughn was called for stalling. The point tied the match and neither wrestler scored again before the final horn of regulation.
"When I heard (the referee) call the penalty, I was almost relieved," Bleaken said. "I knew I had more in the tank."
Straughn began the first 30-second overtime down, but Bleaken never let loose of the Falcon wrestler and didn't surrender a point through the first half of the period.
Bleaken quickly earned an escape in the next half and survived the remaining time without giving up a point as he claimed the first individual national title since Keith Cupp brought home a banner six years earlier.
"It's unexplainable and it was such a rush," Bleaken said. "I was on top of the world. Keith won it and now I'm the second (at Cumberland). It's going down in history and is something that can never be erased. You get the trophies and the plaques, but the feeling will never go away."
Casadaban finished in eighth place, ending the tournament with a medical forfeit. His All-American finish marked the second straight year that CU had two wrestlers end the year in the Top Eight.