July 23, 2009

 

With the 2008-09 season fading into memory and fall practices still a month away, NCAA.com is spending two weeks in July looking back on 10 athletic programs that stood not just once, but twice (and, in three cases, thrice) atop the college sports world with national championships in '08-`09. From Messiah's magic soccer runs to Washington's scintillating softball title, this 10-part series showcases the schools that helped to define another unforgettable year of college sports.

Messiah (July 9) | Texas A&M (July 10) | Penn State (July 13) | Messiah (July 14)
Maryland (July 15) | Cortland State (July 16) | Washington (July 17) | North Carolina (July 20) | USC (July 21)

By Douglas Kroll
NCAA.com

Wartburg. Waverly, Iowa. Wrestling.

Those three W’s have gone together nicely since the Knights took home their first wrestling national championship in 1996. After a successful 2009 campaign, they now have seven.

While wrestling has become the staple of Wartburg Athletics, the Knights were able to snag two other Division III national championships during the 2008-09 school year. The Women’s Indoor Track & Field and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field programs also claimed titles – the first and second, respectively, in school history.

It’s only fitting that Jim Miller’s wrestling team got things started in the first week of March.

In his 18th season at the helm, a year removed from a 2008 national championship, Miller led his squad to yet another Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship – the 17th straight that the Knights have taken home.

But then it was off to Cedar Rapids, and time for senior Aaron Wernimont to shine. And shine he did, finishing his collegiate career with 80 straight wins, including a perfect 44-0 in his senior season.

It wasn’t just the seniors. Freshman Justin Hanson won in Marietta as well, helping secure his first national championship, with a 7-3 win over North Central College of Illinois’ Gabe Youel.

When all was said and done, the Orange and Black had 117.5 points, 12.5 more than Augsburg, the only other team to win a national championship since Wartburg’s first 13 years ago.

“We’re very excited,” Miller said after winning the title. “(This team) overcame a little bit of adversity during the year, and it came down to the fact that everyone bought in into what we trying to tell them.”

Exactly a week later, it was the women’s indoor track & field team’s turn.

It took a school record triple jump and a blazing fast 4x400 meter relay team to seal the deal.

Senior Akeya Aimable had never even participated in the triple jump until two months earlier, when assistant coach Dave Sage told her she’d be a natural. Thirty nine feet, six inches and a school record later, she had the Knights in position to win the school’s first national title.

Hannah Baker crossed the finish line in the 4x400 relay with her arms in the air, knowing they had held off Wisconsin-La Crosse, who had been just half a point behind in the standings.

Head coach Dave Newsom knew he had a special group.

“This isn’t just about the group that competed here,” Newsom said. “This is also about the team back at the college, some of whom drove out here to watch their teammates. That is what is so great about Wartburg track and field. It’s the family aspect.”

And Wartburg Track and Field wasn’t done with just one title in 2009.

The outdoor team followed suit, holding off Wisconsin-Oshkosh by two points to win the school’s second women’s outdoor title, the other coming in 2005.

Maybe more impressive was that Wartburg made its way to the top spot on the team awards stand behind three individual event championships and scoring all 52 of its points on the final day of competition.

Newsom again couldn’t be happier with the results from his squad.

“This was a total team effort,” Newsom said. “There were some peaks and valleys, at times, this year, but, in the end, the team just believed they could reach this goal. It’s something really special to see a group of individuals do what they did in four and a half hours.”