For the first time in National Duals history Wartburg and Augsburg will not meet for the Division III championship.
Either Wartburg or Augsburg has won the NWCA National Duals title at the D-III level since its inception in 2002. However, the rivals are seeded one and four, respectively, this weekend when competition hits the mats inside the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, Ill.
The Knights will be solid favorites to claim a third consecutive title and send veteran head coach Jim Miller out in style. Miller, splitting duties with Eric Keller since the 2010-11 season, picked up his 400th dual win at the Desert Duals in December and has led the Iowa school to six Duals championships.
The orange and black juggernaut enters this weekend with, as usual, a powerful lineup. Only two weight classes do not show a Knight ranked inside the top five. NCAA champions Kenny Anderson (133) and Landon Williams (165) are ranked No. 1 with Gilberto Camacho (125) and Kodie Silvestri (149) each ranked second. Silvestri was an NCAA champion last season.
Can Augsburg challenge?
The Auggies, under Mark Matzek, won back-to-back Duals titles in 2009-10 and own five championships, including the inaugural event in 2002. NCAA champion Chad Johnson, just a junior, leads the squad as the top-ranked 285-pounder. Sophomores Will Fuenffinger (125) and Will Keeter (149) are both capable.
A Wartburg-Augsburg semifinal is certainly not set in stone. Augsburg opens with Springfield (Ma.) College and will have to get by either Centenary (N.J.) or Luther (Iowa) College in the quarterfinals. Wartburg, meanwhile, will have little trouble with Johns Hopkins in the first round, but will get a test from either No. 8 Coe (Iowa) College or No 9 Ithaca (N.Y.) in the quarterfinals.
The big question? Who comes out of the bottom half of the bracket?
Elmhurst (Ill.) College and Cortland State (N.Y.) are the top candidates. Olivet (Minn.) College and Wisconsin-La Crosse will also have a say. Elmhurst has never finished higher than fifth at a D-III Championship, but Steve Marianetti, in his 11th season leading the Blue Jays, may have his best team. Josef Rau, an All-American in 2012, is ranked No. 1 at 184 pounds, while All-American Dalton Bullard is ranked fourth at 133; the addition of former Oklahoma State starter Mike Benefiel at 174 has strengthened the squad. Two other Blue Jays are also inside the top 10.
SUNY-Cortland is as strong as anybody in the field. Red Dragon senior Jared Myhrberg, third at the 2012 Division III championships, is the top-ranked 197-pounder. Rookie 149-pounder Bobby Dierna is ranked third.
Veterans Adam Sheley (141) and William Mayer (285) lead UW-La Crosse.
Somebody besides Wartburg or Augsburg is guaranteed a spot in Sunday’s final. Finding a way to wrestle the trophy away from them is a completely different matter.
Division II up for grabs
The Division II field, especially since Nebraska-Omaha has gone away, will be as competitive as ever. UNO won three consecutive Duals titles from 2009-11 but saw the wrestling program dropped at the conclusion of the 2011 Division II Championships.
The question in DII? Can Newberry finally get over the hump and win a championship, Duals or NCAA? Three of the last four years, Newberry has lost in the finals.
The South Carolina school, seeded second, is led by a trio of All-Americans – B.J. Young (141), Taylor Knapp (157) and Travis Sheehy (174) – and is 7-0 this season. Standing in their way could be third seeded Central Oklahoma, with six wrestlers ranked inside the top 10.
Nebraska-Kearney, the 2012 NCAA champions, is the top seed. Rafeon Stotts won the 149-pound NCAA title last March and leads a Loper group that is solid top to bottom.
The 2012 Duals champion, St. Cloud State, is seeded fourth. The Huskies have three All-Americans back from 2012, including runner-up Andy Pokorny and veterans Shamus O’Grady and Jake Kahnke. St. Cloud has won 33 straight duals but will have a tough time getting by an Upper Iowa lineup that includes six ranked inside the top 10. Trevor Franklin, the top-ranked 133-pounder in the country, has won two NCAA titles for the Peacocks. 197-pounder Carl Broghammer is also ranked No. 1. Upper Iowa must first get by Kutztown State in the first round.
Grand Canyon, Notre Dame College, and Findlay are seeded sixth, seventh, and eighth. Grand Canyon will begin its transition to Division I starting in 2013-14, while NAIA power Notre Dame is making its first appearance at a major D-II event.