Heavily favored Wartburg begins title defense on Friday
This weekend’s NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships are eerily similar to a 1997 gathering honoring another Iowa legend.
Dan Gable won NCAA titles for Iowa State, a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics and coached Iowa’s Hawkeyes to 17 team championships. His final year, 1997, saw the Hawkeyes run away with the Division I championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Gable’s squad scored an NCAA tournament-record 170 points, crowing five champions along the way.
Fifteen years later, in the same Iowa community, Jim Miller might get a similar experience.
Cedar Rapids’ Ice Arena will host the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships Friday and Saturday. And Miller’s Wartburg squad will not only look to send their old coach out in style; they will look to do in dominant fashion. Winners of the last two DIII championships, Wartburg is a heavy favorite to do so -- again.
“It will take something really out-of-the-ordinary for [Wartburg] not to win,” said one DIII head coach who did not want to concede anything but admitted “the race is for that second-place trophy.”
On paper, by the numbers, however you want to look at it … Wartburg, who qualified all 10 wrestlers during a 38.5-point victory at the Central Regional, is DIII’s best.
At the 2012 championships, the Knights scored 141.5 points in route to a 56-point margin. The point total was the fourth highest in tournament history, behind only 2003 (166.5), 2004 (156.5), and 2006 (145.5), all put up by Wartburg squads.
The 2013 squad looks equally capable.
Kenny Anderson, a junior, is 24-0 as a 133-pounder. He finished 33-1 as a sophomore and as the 125-pound national champion.
Kodie Silvestri knocked off two-time champion Bebeto Yewah of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the 2012 141-pound NCAA final. As a junior, he is 20-1 and the man to beat at 149 pounds this weekend.
Landon Williams, also an NCAA champion as a sophomore, is 30-1 this season at 165 pounds.
That trio will get plenty of support.
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Eight Knights wrestled in the finals of the Central Regional, Gilberto Camacho (30-5, 125) and Cole Welter (19-3, 157) joining Anderson, Silvestri and Williams as champions. Veteran Dylan Azinger (15-4, 174), Punahele Soriano (22-7, 197) and Ryan Fank (27-6, 285) each lost in the Regional finals. Senior 141-pounder Thomas Mirocha (24-5) was an All-American in 2011.
The March 6 NWCA rankings showed Wartburg as the only team with 10 qualifiers. Wisconsin-Whitewater and Augsburg each qualified eight, with SUNY Cortland, Springfield (Mass.), Concordia-Moorhead, Luther and Saint John’s (Minn.) each with six. UW-Whitewater won the Midwest Regional by 13 points above Elmhurst. Augsburg and SUNY Cortland each won regionals by 10.5 points.
In other words, this weekend’s festivities will be about the individual battles.
Along with the Warburg group, three others will defend titles this weekend.
Wisconsin-Oshkosh junior Nazar Kulchytskyy finished 44-2 last season, winning the 157-pound title. Now a 165-pounder, the talented Ukrainian is 40-1. He could be on a collision course with Wartburg’s Williams, the top seed at the weight class who also has just one defeat in 2012-13. Call it Division III’s version of Kyle Dake and David Taylor.
Ohio Northern senior Kyle Kwiat is 41-3 this season after winning the 2012 174-pound title. Kwiat was 38-1 a year ago.
Augsburg 285-pounder Chad Johnson was another sophomore to win a national title in 2012. He went 35-1 in doing so. This season he is 33-1 and the top seed.
Like his 165-pound teammate, Anderson might be on course with a particular foe. In the 2012 NCAA final, Anderson beat Northern State’s Nathan Fitzenreider. Both are now at 133 pounds, Fitzenreider, a graduate student, with a 34-1 record who outscored three opponents 23-0 at his regional.
Division I-transfer Brandon Jones, formerly of Iowa State and now of New York University, is 14-0 and might have a say in the 133-pound outcome.
Another former Big 12 wrestler, Mike Benefiel, who started at Oklahoma State as a 174-pounder, is 20-1 and in the 197-pound bracket for Elmhurst.
Two of the three All-Americans in the 125-pound bracket -- Coast Guard’s Nathanial Giorgio and Johns Hopkins’ Paul Bewak -- meet in the first round. Two All-Americans also meet in the first round at 165 pounds, Steven’s Institute’s Joey Favia and Olivet’s James Myers. Favia beat Myers in the fifth-place match last March.
A few freshmen could be in the mix for All-America honors, two from Concordia (Wis.); 125-pounder Sean Ambrocio (33-5) was the West Regional champ, and Greg Sanders (36-2, 149) was a runner-up. Others include: Wisconsin-La Crosse 125-pounder Isaac Balsinger (26-3), Elizabethtown 141-pounder Jesse Meaney (18-5), Messiah 184-pounder Josh Thomson (36-2), the Mideast champion and Loras heavyweight James Buss (34-4).
Three All-Americans from 2012 did not qualify for the 2013 meet - TCNJ 133-pounder Dan Herr, SUNY Cortland’s Brian Bistis at 141 pounds and Ithaca 157-pounder Derek Brenon.
The biggest question concerning DIII competition? Who has the best mascot? Try these on for size:
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