Historic Little Rock Wrestling Season Ends with Two National Placers

(All images via lrtrojans.com)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Little Rock wrestling team collected All-Americans, and now officially claimed NCAA placers. The medal matches at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships concluded today after three full days of March Matness, Stephen Little and Nasir Bailey ended their season on the podium within the top eight finishers in the nation. The pair helped the Trojans to a top-20 finish as a team at the National Tournament. Head coach Neil Erisman was awarded Coach of the Year by the NWCA and voted Coach of the Tournament by his peers.

Coach Erisman was at a loss for words when describing the momentous week. “It’s been incredible. If I had to come up with one word, it’d be incredible. From start to finish, from ups to downs, it’s just been an incredible ride. It’s indescribable to explain every feeling that I feel. Proud, grateful, thankful. Amped. Emotionally exhausted. There’s a lot of words for a lot of incredible moments.”

NCAA Tournament Day One Recap | NCAA Tournament Day Two Recap

This week was special not just for the Little Rock wrestling program, but for the sport as a whole. “When I was going through the interview process, I talked about the responsibility that this program had to do it the right way and be successful since it was the first time in 23 years a wrestling program had started from scratch,” said Erisman. “For us, it’s bigger than us and our success; it shows people that you can create something from nothing with the right plan and the right people behind it, and find success for this sport that we desperately need right now.”

Once Coach Erisman took the reins, they stuck to his plan. “It took a lot of grit, hard work determination. We stuck to our values, what we said we were gonna do, and didn’t waiver. A lot of good comes out of that consistency. God blessed us with a lot of different things at a lot of different times, even when it didn’t seem like it in the moment.”

Day Three Recap

In the consolation semifinals, Nasir Bailey took out no. 5 seed Dylan Ragusin from Michigan with a decisive 5-0 decision, scoring points off of a pair of two-point near falls in the third period. Michigan picked down going into the final two minutes of the match, but Bailey rode out the period in addition to his turns to claim the path to the consolation finals and third place match.

While Bailey had two fights to get through today, Stephen Little had just one match on the line, battling for seventh place against no. 4 seed Michael Beard from Lehigh. Like Bailey’s match, Little picked up momentum as the match went on, getting more comfortable as time went on and eventually taking complete control of the offensive.
The redshirt freshman jumped to a 6-2 lead after period two before extending the gap with another takedown in the third plus riding time. His opponent didn’t score a single takedown, and Little walked away with a 10-3 decision to secure seventh place in the nation at 197 pounds. With the win, he became the program’s first-ever medalist.
Bailey concluded Little Rock’s saga at the NCAA Tournament in the third-place match, going head-to-head with Lehigh’s Ryan Crookham for the second time this week. On Friday, the score between the two was 4-2 in favor of Crookham, dropping Bailey to wrestlebacks. Today, Nasir got in a shot on his own, but it wasn’t enough to take out his opponent. The true freshman’s national tournament debut ended with a 4-3 decision for his foe.

Before the final session of the NCAA Championships, Coach Erisman was honored as the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Coach of the Year for guiding the Trojans to such a level of competition in just five years of the program’s existence.

Between Coach Erisman at the helm and three years of eligibility ahead of Bailey and Little, the future is bright for the Little Rock wrestling team. Seeing five Trojans represented at the NCAA Tournament was a cherry on top of a season that included program-firsts such as ranked team wins, national dual rankings, and more.

Thank you for following Little Rock wrestling this year and over the past five seasons.

For the latest information on Little Rock Wrestling, make sure to check out LRTrojans.com. You can also find the team on social media at @LittleRockWRES on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.


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Written by Arkansas Wrestle