LA CROSSE, Wis. – The pressure is on.

Not only will Friday night’s session at the Division III Wrestling Championship determine the All-Americans – only eight will remain in the winners' bracket – but it’s going to play a long way into the team title race.

As expected, Wartburg, the champion three of the past four years, leads after the morning session, holding a slight 4.0-point advantage over Coe. The Kohawks aren't giving up any ground to the Knights, advancing six in the winners' bracket.

DIII Championships
Session One: StandingsBrackets
Top Contenders

Head coach John Oostendorp’s squad is thinking big.

“We talk about trying to score bonus points. I guess we don’t exactly talk about where people are at, but we’re always preaching bonus points, build our leads because those make a difference in the team race,” Oostendorp said. “In this tournament you just try to stay on the front side [of the bracket] as much as you can. If you get put on that back side, you just have to come out fighting every time.”

Along with Wartburg and Coe, perennial power Augsburg and Wisconsin-Whitewater are third and fourth.

North Central (Ill.), which brought only two wrestlers, was tied for fifth after the first session. Nathan Fitzenreider, the top seed at 125 pounds who finished third a year ago at 133, breezed into the quarterfinals with a pin and major decision while sixth-seeded Andrew Zobac advanced at 141.

It wasn’t that easy for all the seeds. In total, 15 seeded wrestlers fell in the opening session. Three were in the 125-pound class, the most of any weight. Only 141 and 197 pounds went according to seed.

The biggest upset?

Early on it looked like top-seeded Jules Doliscar of Ithaca might take that honor as he headed into the third period of his 174-pound bout tied 3-3 with Josh Kohler of Augsburg. But Doliscar scored two-point and three-point near falls in the final 60 seconds to pull away for a 9-4 win.

Instead, heavyweight Derrick Hesson of Mount Union was the first top seed to fall. The prevoiusly undefeated No. 1 (36-0) dropped a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker to George Saliba of York (Pa.). Saliba didn't come in with shabby credentials though; he won 35 of 39 matches before the championship. With Hesson's loss, eight undefeated wrestlers still remain.

Coe wrestling fans are part of the 'O-Zone.'
NCAA.com

Kohler’s loss was the only setback in the winners' side for the Auggies, who advanced five into the quarterfinals. Wartburg leads the way with seven still with unblemished records while Coe has six.

Each of the top three schools head into the night session with a wrestler alive at 157, but the key matchup could be at 174 where fourth-seeded Bradley Banks (Wartburg), a national runner-up last season, faces fifth-seeded Scott King (Coe).

The key in matchups like that?

“There is such a fine line out there,” Oostendorp said. “Hopefully the kids are taking the mat with the right mindset just staying on that attack, staying a step ahead of the other guy. When there’s two great athletes out there, there’s a fine line between winning and losing.

“That all-American match is a big pressure. But we need our guys to come out and wrestle wide open, no pressure. We got a lot of tough matchups [Friday night], like everybody does, but hopefully our training prepares you for that type of environment. I thought a couple of our guys wrestled a little tight [in the first session], we left that last one out there when I thought we had a little opportunity there. We quit attacking a little bit but I thought it was a good first round.”

That ‘one we left out there’ was nearly a doozy. Unseeded Ethan Ball had TCNJ’s top-seeded Mike Denver on the ropes at 184. Denver was hurt early and used nearly all his injury time before shaking off what looked like an ankle injury. He then shook Ball to the side, pulling out a late 6-5 victory, but it wasn't easy.

It was obvious Ball was in the lead early in the match. The large O-Zone, as the Kohawk fans are known and proudly display on their T-shirts, gave the large contingent from Wartburg and Augsburg a run for their money in the noise department.

“I had nothing to do with that and I wouldn’t wear one myself,” Oostendorp joked when asked about the shirts in the crowd that numbered more than 100

On the mat, the Kohawks hope to keep the same pressure on the Knights and Auggies.