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WLU’s Laya Earns 2nd Straight All-American Honor

MANHEIM, Pa. — West Liberty University sophomore Cole Laya has been honored as an NCAA Division II All-American for the second straight year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA).

The NWCA traditionally recognized the top eight placers in each weight class at the NCAA nationals as All-Americans but that option went out the window when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NCAA to cancel the tournament even as wrestlers were wrapping their final practice session in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The coaches’ organization still felt it was appropriate to identify a roster of All-Americans for the 2020 season and weighed a variety of options while polling the membership.

Based on each wrestler’s overall body of work through the super-regional tournaments, the NWCA selected 10 student-athletes from each of the 10 weight classes for All-America honors.

“We’re happy to make the best of an incredibly unfortunate situation,” NWCA Division II President Jason Warthan said. “Although it’s not the same as having a national tournament, we felt these individuals should be recognized for their amazing results throughout the regular season and at the super-regional championships.

Congratulations to all of our 2020 All-Americans and national qualifiers.”

A returning All-American who placed third at 125 pounds as a true freshman a year ago, Laya battled through injury for much of the season but still posted an impressive 14-2 record with several impressive victories.

Laya, who was honored earlier this week as a repeat NWCA Scholar All-American, qualified for nationals with a runner-up finish in the Super Region 3 tournament.

He was primed for a run at the top step of the podium at Sioux Falls in a deep 125-pound field featuring six returning All-Americans, two nationally-ranked freshman and the returning national champion only to see the tournament canceled less than 24 hours before his opening match.

“Obviously, everybody wants to compete for All-America honors on the national stage,” head coach Danny Irwin said, “but when that possibility is taken away, being voted in by a coaches’ committee based on your body of work through the season has to be the next best thing.

“Cole has been one of the most consistent and meticulous workers I have ever had the privilege of working with since the first day we met. The fact that he is now two-for-two in both All-America categories is no surprise to me or to anyone who has spent time with him.”

A three-time high school state champion from East Fairmont High School, Laya has put together an eye-popping 39-5 record in his first two collegiate seasons while working through some daunting physical challenges in terms of injury and illness. And he’s done so while maintaining a lofty GPA in a rigorous Pre-Nursing curriculum.

“This honor holds special meaning for me due to all the things I’ve had to fight through this year,” Laya said. “I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to wrestle at nationals but super stoked to be named an All-American for the second year in a row. I can’t wait to see what next year has in store.”

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