March 6, 2010

By Nick Finch
Special to

CEDAR RAPIDS – Once again, it is a two-team race is at the top of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. Augsburg advanced three wrestlers to Saturday night's title round at the U.S. Cellular Center, and they were joined by a surprising team in the chase for the team championship.

Not Wartburg, but Wisconsin-La Crosse, which also advanced three wrestlers. Bebeto Yewah (133), Michael Schmitz (174) and defending champion Dan Laurent (285) will all try for individual titles. That matches Augsburg's numbers for the finals as the Auggies sent three of their six semifinalists, Paul Bjorkstrand (133), Tony Valek (149) and Orlando Ponce (165) into the finals.

Wartburg had four wrestlers still in the hunt for individual titles at the start of the early session but advanced only two. Coe, Ithaca, Ohio Northern and Delaware Valley were the other teams with at least two semifinal wrestlers in Saturday's round. Of these four schools, only Delaware Valley did not advance a wrestler to the finals.

The Auggies continue to hold the overall team lead with 110.5 points. Wisconsin-La Crosse is in second with 88.5. Wartburg has 79.5, Coe is in fourth place with 71. Delaware Valley has 50.5.

Every year since 1984, either Wartburg or Augsburg has won the Division III team title.

In the individual weight classes:

In the 125-pound class, No. 1 seed Clayton Rush of Coe continued his dominance, this time with a victory over 2008-09 titlist Jake Oster of Elmhurst. Rush broke through in the third period, racking up points and winning 10-3.

“I came here with the goal to be the national champion,” said Rush. “My goal isn't reached yet but it feels good to be in the finals. Two years ago, we got third and we're trying to make it better each year.” Rush will face No. 3 seed Tyler Erdman of Elizabethtown, a winner over No. 7 Joshua Roberts of Augsburg.

High seeds also advanced in 133-pound class. Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Bebeto Yewah, the top seed, worked through a physical battle against No. 5 Chad Winowich of Ithaca. Yewah and Augsburg's Paul Bjorkstrand will meet in the final.

The final four wrestlers left in the 141-pound class may be the most interesting mix. One defending champion is angling against three unseeded wrestlers for the title. St. John's junior and No. 1 seed Myanganbayar Batsukh burned his energy to pull out a 3-2 decision over Matt Kelly of Wartburg. Batsukh, the defending national champion, is no stranger to success.

“It was kind of a slow match but he's very good defensively,” said Batsukh of Kelly. “It's all going according to plan by making it to the finals.” Batsukh will challenge the bracket's other great story, Ithaca's Jeremy Stierly, who held off Matt Ulrich of Southern Maine, 4-2, in a battle of unseeded semifinalists.

The first No. 1 seed to fall Saturday morning was in the 149-pound semifinals. Delaware Valley's Emanual Ajagbe pushed through with a victory by fall over top-seeded Blaine Woszczak of Ithaca. Ajagbe exploded off the mat, fists pumping, in the seconds after his victory. Ajagbe, the No. 5 seed, will lock arms with Augsburg's Tony Valek, a 7-3 winner over Luther's Jason Pyle.

“I don't have enough takedowns but I've ended up scoring,” said Valek. “I do like how I'm wrestling.”

In the 157-pound class, Zach Mizer of Heidelberg and Wartburg's Adam Weber were locked in a 6-6 match, heading into the final seconds, and Mizer's 7-6 victory sends him to the finals against Luke Miller of Ohio Northern. Miller knocked out the second No. 1 seed of the day, Delaware Valley's Jesse Harrington.

Another showdown of giant killers was the feature for the 165-pound semifinals. Vincent Renaut of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, who had already beaten the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the early round, beat Delaware Valley's Justin Barowski, 3-2. The other end of the 165-pound class showcased an intense match between Coe's Nick LeClere and Orlando Ponce of Augsburg. In a back-and-forth contest, LeClere and Ponce jostled for points. Ponce finally broke though in the final seconds with a takedown to win, 11-9.

Wisconsin-La Crosse's Michael Schmitz (174) became the second Eagle to land in the finals. As a No. 3 seed, Schmitz broke a 2-2 score by notching the final three points to beat No. 2 seed Zach Molitor of Augsburg, 5-2. Dubuque's Evan Brown, the No. 1 seed, did just enough in the final minute of action to hold off Kyle Kwiat of Ohio Northern.

In the 184-pound class, North Central's Gabe Youel and Phil Moenkedick of Concordia-Moorhead didn't have to face a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed as their semifinal opponents had already pulled those upsets. Youel, the No. 4 seed, was trying to play defense against Brennan Ward of Johnson & Wales. Down 3-2 in the last minute and with hope running out, Ward executed a “gator roll” and took down Youel to earn a 4-3 victory.

“I knew he was a real good defensive wrestler and he had taken my shots,” said Ward. “I was down by one and had to go all out.”

Josh Wake of Oneonta State opened some eyes on Friday night by knocking out the second seed. Yet Moenkedick smothered Wake in the semifinals with a 3-0 decision.

Defending 197-pound titlist Jared Massey of Augsburg was trying to become the fourth Auggie to advance to the championship round but he was in a deadlock with Byron Tate of Wartburg. With a 1-1 score in the second overtime period, Tate landed one point for an escape and held off Massey, dashing his hopes for a repeat and undefeated season.

“We had close matches earlier in the year,” said Tate. “He got me earlier. It feels great to be in the finals and maybe be a first time champ.” Tate will take on Ryan Malo of Williams.

The heavyweight division closed out with defending champion Dan Laurent of Wisconsin-La Crosse making the finals with an 8-4 victory over Delaware Valley's Kyle Bilquist. Laurent will go up against Wartburg's John Helgerson for the championship.

The championship session starts Saturday night at 8pm ET.