Title streak will be tough to defend
Challengers ready to crash Augsburg-Wartburg party
Roger Moore, NCAA.com
Here’s a trivia question: Name the last team other than Augsburg or Wartburg to win a Division III national team championship. And what year was it?
Answer: In 1994, Ithaca College edged second-place Wartburg by 2 ¾ points at the Division III Wrestling Championships hosted by Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Augsburg was a distant fourth, 15 ½ points back.
At the 2011 Division III Wrestling Championships hosted by Wisconsin-La Crosse this March, a handful of schools will try to end the Wartburg-Augsburg dominance, which has now reached 16 years.
During that span, Wartburg has won seven titles under head coach Jim Miller. Augsburg earned eight trophies during that same time under Jeff Swenson. Mark Matzek led the Auggies to the 2010 title in his second year as head coach. For 22 consecutive years, Augsburg has finished among the top four at the national meet, the longest active streak of any NCAA wrestling program.
“The legacy of Augsburg College is more than Jeff Swenson, but he’s the one who started it, no doubt. He is my mentor,” said Matzek, a national champion at Augsburg in 2004 and 2005. “There is something about those guys in the room that Coach Swenson instilled in them, the tradition in (athletes), in the assistant coaches which we are still instilling into our wrestlers to this day.”
Two months into the 2010-11 campaign, the Division III landscape appears to include a few capable squads ready crash the party.
The NWCA Division III preseason rankings had Augsburg back in the No. 1 spot. Wartburg, Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Coe and Ithaca rounded out the top five. On Dec. 22, the rankings looked a bit different with Wartburg, Saint John’s (Minn.), UW-LaCrosse, Coe and Ithaca leading the pack. Augsburg checked in at No. 6.
Only Ithaca, at 7-0, remains unbeaten in duals among the top five. Saint John’s, which was ranked No. 9 in the preseason, stole the December spotlight when it upset Wartburg (8-1) and Coe (7-3) at the Desert Duals on Dec. 20 in Las Vegas. Although the Johnnies (8-1) picked up the 21-15 victory when top-ranked Wartburg heavyweight John Helgerson was disqualified for an illegal slam, head coach Brandon Novak thinks the gap may be narrowing.
“It speaks volumes as to where we’ve come as a program,” Novak said last week. “But it is still really early. It’s only December; we are only approaching that half-way point of the season. It’s still a long ways out there before we get to the national level.
“But we’ve been able to build some depth. So when you go out there against the Wartburgs and Augsburgs and La Crosses, the guys know they’ve been in some battles in the room that have already helped prepare them. It’s unfortunate we won the dual by disqualification. You never want to win that way.”
Could Saint John’s crash the March party? Novak has seven wrestlers ranked among the top 10 in their respective weight classes. Two-time national champion Myanganbayar Batsukh and Matt Baarson, both seniors and ranked among the top five, lead the way.
“It’s really exciting, but at the same time it’s scary because you look at our regional and it’s going to be tough to get out of there,” Novak said. “As nice as it is throughout the year, you have to be poised for that (regional) at the end of the year.”
On Dec. 10, Saint John’s picked up a 21-17 win over Wisconsin-La Crosse (5-2). Dustin Baxter’s pin at 184 pounds and a Mitch Hagen decision at 197 pounds gave the Johnnies an 18-17 lead heading into the final bout at heavyweight where Tony Willaert, normally a 197-pounder, beat Billy Mayer.
UW-La Crosse has six wrestlers ranked among the top 10 with juniors Bebeto Yaweh and Mike Schmitz ranked No. 1 at 149 and 174, respectively. Both won national titles last March. UW-L’s other loss this season came to Division II power St. Cloud State.
Coe could also be a factor. Under head coach John Oostendorp, the Kohawks finished fourth at the 2010 national championships and have six wrestlers ranked among the top 10 this winter. Defending 125-pound champion Clayton Rush is back while Dale Handley is ranked third at 157 pounds and Nick LeClere is second at 165.
Ithaca College, which finished sixth at nationals in 2010, also has three wrestlers ranked among the top five and could be a factor in March.
But at the end of the day, everyone still has to catch the big two.
After winning back-to-back national team titles in 2008 and 2009, Wartburg heads into January with nine wrestlers ranked among the top 10 in the country. Although a 28-match dual win streak ended on Dec. 20, the Knights still have five wrestlers ranked in the top two, including Carrington Banks, Byron Tate and Helgerson each holding the No. 1 slot. Tate returned after winning the 197-pound title last March.
And, of course, don’t count out the Auggies. Lineups can quickly change in January and the Division III Championships are still more than two months away.