BIRMINGHAM, ALA. – Midnight struck for Cinderella Saturday night (March 9) in Birmingham as Lake Erie College junior Zak Vargo (Stow, Ohio/Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy), unranked heading into the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships, fell to top-ranked Cory Dauphin of the University of Central Oklahoma, 4-2, in the 157-pound championship match.
Zargo, whose season finishes with a 29-8 record and the highest individual placing in the program's three-year history, went on the attack right from the get-go but was unable to pick up early points as Dauphin fought off his advances. Dauphin picked up two points for a takedown and after a Vargo escape, led 2-1 after one period.
It was 3-1 Dauphin to start the third. Vargo cut it to 3-2 with an escape late in the period, but Dauphin';s riding time advantage gave him the extra cushion that was too much to overcome.
"Getting those early points definitely would have changed my game plan, because I feel like I wrestle better with the lead," Vargo said. "But he's a great competitor and definitely worthy of being a national champion, and it was a close match throughout.
"I didn't reach my ultimate goal, but I am still happy with my overall performance, I felt like I wrestled at the top of my game for most of the week," Vargo added. "And being here at the festival was such a great experience to share with my teammates. But, finishing second give me something to work towards next year and motivation for my offseason training."
Vargo's qualifying for the national meet was unlikely in itself. He was seeded fifth at the Super Region 2 Championships two weeks ago and lost his opening bout before winning four straight in the consolation bracket to claim third place and earn a berth to the Championships.
From that regional loss, a third-round pin by Limestone College's Jeremy Bommarito, Vargo went on a tear. He defeated then fourth-ranked Bobby Williams of Ouachita Baptist University in the regional consolation bracket semifinals and then defeated the number six, four and two ranked wrestlers in the first three rounds to advance to the finals.
The four points scored by Dauphin in the finals were the only points scored against Vargo in four tournament matches.
His first victory, a 7-0 decision, was followed by a pair of pins, including a stunning first-round fall of St. Cloud State University's second-ranked Clinton Poster earlier in the day Saturday. Vargo led 5-0 at the time before he locked Poster up in a cradle and got the pin just 2:07 into the match.
Vargo picked up 19 total points in his four matches, placing the 19th-ranked Storm tied with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside at 17th overall in the team standings out of 45 competing squads, just a ½ point behind Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rivals Ashland University and the University of Findlay. Last year the Storm finished 29th in their first national appearance.
"I can't say enough about Zak's performance this week," said head coach Kevin Hoogenboom. "I'm very proud, not just of him and Ian (Ross) and Dylan (Zivcic), our two other national qualifiers, but our team and our program as a whole. We've solidified that we can go out and compete at a very high level in a short period of time. This week was a good experience for them. Now, we have set a new bar that we will work very hard to go above next season."