March 5, 2010

By Nick Finch
Special to NCAA.com

CEDAR RAPIDS – Through all of the weeks and months of preparation, Mark Kist of Wartburg knows he may see plenty of familiar faces in the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.

Kist, the No. 2 seed, has an 18-3 record in the 125 weight class and captured third place in the 2008-09 championship. Yet the clear top-seed is Coe's Clayton Rush, a wrestler Kist knows all too well. Same weight. Same state. Same conference. Same habit of racking up victories.

Even with Kist's solid season, he has been unable to solve Rush. In their last seven matches, Rush won them all – but by four points or less. Last season, Rush knocked Kist out in the quarterfinals with a 2-1 decision. Just last month, Rush won again over Kist, to take the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.

“After every single match, you go back and see what you did good and make some changes where he got the upper hand,” said Kist.

Wartburg coach Jim Miller said instances like Kist and Rush meeting seven times in two seasons is not planned but it is unavoidable.

“We try and avoid it but it's inevitable in the Iowa Conference with a number of people in the weight classes,” said Miller. “You try and take each one as a separate incident and try and go back to the drawing board and do something different whether you won or lost.”

Yet even the best plans can run into an unexpected detour. A 125-pound title match between Kist and Rush was pushed aside forever on Friday as unseeded Lloyd McKinney of Wisconsin-La Crosse upset Kist in the opening round by a 9-6 decision.

“I had lost to him 5-4 earlier and that gave me a lot of confidence,” said McKinney after his upset and trip to the quarterfinals. He said being able to locate the mistakes he made in the previous match led to the win.

Before any matches and any upsets, Myanganbayar Batsukh of St. John's (Minn.) said he isn't looking ahead to a possible rematch with Wisconsin-Whitewater's Austin Bautista. Batsukh is the No. 1 seed in the 141-pound weight class and the defending national champion. In the 2008-09 semifinals, Batsukh outlasted Bautista, then the No. 1 seed, with a 4-3 decision on his way to the title.

This time around, Bautista is the No. 3 seed, meaning that a rematch would have to be for the national title. At this point in the tournament, Batsukh still needs to win throughout Friday and Saturday.

“If it gets to that point again, I'll have to think back to last year's match and how I did it,” said Batsukh.

These athletes respect each other on the mat, especially when they square off with national titles in the balance.

“It's very tough at this level and having highly ranked guys going after each other,” Batsukh said. “We know each other very well.”

With video content so easy to create and post on the Internet, any mystery between top wrestlers is also fading.

“A lot of guys post their videos on-line and you take the opportunity with that,” said Elmhurst's Mark Corsello, the top seed in the 285-pound weight class with a 32-0 record.

This particular bracket is packed with student-athletes who faced off against each other the season before.

“I wrestled pretty much everyone here,” Corsello said as he stretched before his first match on Friday morning. “Me and the Lakeland heavyweight, Adam Sutter, are pretty good friends. When we go head to head against each other, you get on the mat, it's nothing personal and you have to do what you have to do.”

In 2008-09, Corsello was the No. 5 seed in the heavyweight class but surged to the finals, knocking off No. 1 seed Kyle Bilquist of Delaware Valley before falling in the finals to Wisconsin-La Crosse's Dan Laurent.

Laurent said there is definitely a respect there for all of the opponents who qualified.

“If you are wrestling at this level, you have definitely earned it,” said Laurent.

If Corsello works his way to the 2009-10 finals, he will likely find himself in battle against a familiar opponent. Laurent is the No. 3 seed, his friend Sutter is the No. 6, and Bilquist is the No. 2.

“Last year, all of the All-Americans are returning this year so it was like 'see ya next year',” said Corsello.