There are some wrestlers who are known around the country. And there are those who will try and join that group over the next three weeks.

By the time competition concludes this weekend, 160 student-athletes through nine qualifiers at the Division III level will have punched their tickets to the 2012 Division III Championships in La Crosse, Wis., on March 9-10.

The Great Lakes Regional and Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference combine for 63 qualifiers. The other end of the qualifying spectrum shows the Centennial, Midwest and Ohio Athletic conferences earning just 11. Do the math and that means you had better be a champion in the smaller conferences if you want to guarantee your spot at the NCAA Championships.

“It’s tough. You have to be at your best [this weekend],” Gettysburg head coach Andy Vogel said. "The way to get more qualifiers is to perform better at the national tournament."

Im going to be a national champion. Im going to make a run this year, but Ive still got three more after this.
-- Gettysburg 165-pounder Zach Thomson

Gettysburg hosts the nine-team Centennial Conference tournament on Saturday. Ursinius is the only squad ranked among the top 30 and the Feb. 21 Division III rankings show only five wrestlers from the league among the top 10 in their respective weight classes. However, three of those wrestlers compete at the same weight – New York University’s David Rice, Gettysburg’s Zach Thomson and Stevens Institute’s Joe Favia.

With the 10 champions qualifying for the NCAA meet, that leaves one spot available for coaches to debate. One of Division III’s top 165-pounders will not be making the trip.

"I don't remember, at least since I've been [at Gettysburg], where there have been three in the top 10 at the same weight," said Vogel, who is in his fifth year as head coach. "That shows the conference is making progress."

Rice, a senior, is 28-1. His only loss this season came to Thomson, a freshman for Gettysburg who is 38-1. Favia, a junior at Stevens Institute, is 27-7 with one of the losses against Thomson, whose only loss came to ninth-ranked Derrick Longo of Springfield (Mass.).

Thomson is ranked third. Rice is fourth and Favia eighth.

“It's going to be tough,” said Thomson, who takes a 21-match winning streak into the weekend. "But I've gone into every match this season believing I was going to win. I've had that mindset. I think everybody should think that way. I'm not completely surprised at the success I've had this year. If you aren't confident going out there you won't win tough matches.

"I know [Rice and Favia] will be on the other side and I won't see either of them until the finals. But I'm wrestling one match at a time."

Thomson is aiming to become Gettysburg's first national champion since Craig Helmuth did so in 1975. The program has just two NCAA champions in its history. Joseph Bavaro also won titles in 1965 and 1966.

"I'm going to be a national champion," Thomson said. "I'm going to make a run this year, but I've still got three more after this."

"Somebody like [Thomson] can make a big difference in your program," said Vogel, whose squad could have four athletes with at least 30 victories by the end of the season. "The team has been making strides and it's still a building process. [Thomson] is really committed to this and I believe he has the ability and the drive to make it happen."

Along with a commitment to the mat, Thomson, a member of the ROTC program and U.S. Army Reserve, has a plan laid out. A 12 Bravo (Combat Engineer), he certainly understands the significance of his surroundings.

His hometown of Mechanicsburg, Pa., provided a headquarters for a Confederate brigade during the Gettysburg campaign in the American Civil War. Gettysburg was the site of one of the war's epic battles and Abraham Lincoln's timeless Gettysburg Address.

"I think a lot of people around here take it for granted just how special this place is," said Thomson, who may seek a minor in Civil War studies. "The history of this place is such a big part of this country, where so many things happened that shaped the country."

Thomson would like nothing more than to become a member of the U.S. Army's officer corps or enlisted ranks. He will spend his summer at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri negotiating basic training.

However, Thomson first has an appointment in Gettysburg this weekend, then hopefully La Crosse next month.

Bebeto Yewah is a two-time national champion.
UW-La Crosse Athletics

Another qualifying tournament this weekend that will have little margin for error is the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. With only 16 qualifying spots and 14 wrestlers currently ranked among the top 10 at their respecitve weight classes, an upset here or there could prove costly.

Unlike Thomson, who is trying to find his way into the national conversation, UW-La Crosse's Bebeto Yewah is already there. The senior 141-pounder is 25-2 and already owns two national titles. During the last three campaigns, the native of Lansing, Mich., is 76-5.

"It's kind of funny," UW-L coach Dave Malacek said. "His freshman year, he missed the bus to the arena, then ran like 7 or 8 miles down the interstate to get there. He was covered in sweat. But since then, he's been running 100 miles per hour."

Yewah enters the weekend ranked No. 1.

"The thing about Bebeto is that he didn't really have any bad habits because he started wrestling so late," Malacek said. "He's such a student of the sport; it's amazing how much he absorbs from everybody around him. He's been watching film of Jordan Burroughs [two-time NCAA champion and World champion in 2011].

"We are going to miss him. This year we had more people coming out to watch him wrestle, so our crowds were bigger. It kind of hit me that he is leaving."

Yewah will wrestle his final collegiate tournament on home his mats.

DIVISION III QUALIFIERS BY REGION (160)
Qualifiers Region/Conference Site
32 Great Lakes Regional Minneapolis, Minn.
31 Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Cedar Rapids, Iowa
20 Metropolitan Wrestling Conference Elizabethtown, Pa.
16 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Whitewater, Wis.
16 Empire Wrestling Conference Ithaca, N.Y.
12 New England College Wrestling Association Middletown, Conn.
11 Centennial Conference Gettysburg, Pa.
11 Ohio Athletic Conference Tiffin, Ohio
11 Midwest Regional Cleveland, Ohio

 

Related:
Conference Championship Central