March 4, 2010

By Nick Finch

Special to

CEDAR RAPIDS - The team portion of this weekend's NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships will likely come down to three contenders - top-ranked Augsburg College (MN), defending national champion Wartburg College (IA) or Coe College (IA). Both Wartburg and Coe come out of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The tournament will be March 5-6 at the U.S. Cellular Center.

Augsburg enters the final weekend with nine qualifiers, including seven title holders from the Great Lakes Regional. The Auggies easily won the regional and return Jared Massey (25-0), the defending national titlist at 197 pounds. Massey is one of six 2008-09 champions returning from an Augsburg squad that was second in the team standings last year.

Second-ranked Wartburg held off Coe, 176.5 to 167, on Feb. 16 for the Knights' 18th consecutive conference title. Wartburg's Aaron Wernimont (157) and Justin Hanson (165) won individual titles when the team won the 2008-09 conference championship. Though both are gone, Wartburg enters the national championship with 10 qualifiers, including Sean White (133) and Byron Tate (197), who each won IIAC titles.

But Coe also has 10 qualifiers - and the site for the national championship is just one mile from the Coe campus. Among the Kohawk qualifiers are IIAC champions Clayton Rush (125) and Tyler Burkle (184).

Though these three contenders are likely to dominate in the team competition, there are plenty of challengers, including Wisconsin-LaCrosse, which finished third at the 2008-09 national championship, Delaware Valley College (PA), which has six qualifiers, and Luther (IA) and Ithaca (NY), both of which have five qualifiers. Wisconsin-LaCrosse's Matt Mauseth (149) and Dan Laurent (285) both return as defending champions.

Following is a look inside the weight classes:

125: In a division where half of last year's bracket returns, the early focus is on Coe's Clayton Rush (Aledo, IL, 28-2), a junior who held off Wartburg's Mark Krist (Eagle Grove, IA, 18-3) to become the automatic qualifier. In 2008-09, Rush was the No. 2 seed, but finished fifth. Defending champion Jake Oster (Sr., Lockport, IL) of Elmhurst finished the 2008-09 regular season as the unbeaten top seed and went on to win the national championship. Other top contenders: Elizabethtown's Tyler Erdman (So., Herndon, PA) is 22-1, but lost to Oster in the 2008-09 quarterfinals, and Jon Gregory (Sr., Phillipsburg, NJ) of Ithaca is 22-4.

133: Nicholas Nothern (Sr., Salina, KS) of Cornell was last year's runner-up and has a 21-7 record. Bebeto Yewah (So., Lansing, MI) of Wisconsin-La Crosse is 20-1 while North Central's Nathan Fitzenreider (Fr., Winfield, IL) won 37 of 40 matches this year. Ithaca's Chad Winowich (Sr., Clarks Summit, PA) has a final chance to win a national championship after finishing eighth in 2008-09. Other top contenders: Augsburg's Paul Bjorkstrand (Sr., Burnsville, MN) is 37-7 and Wartburg's Sean White (Sr., Grand Junction, CO) won the IIAC.

141: St. John's Minga Batsukh (Jr., Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) returns to defend his title with a 14-2 mark. Batsukh entered last year's tournament as the No. 4 seed, but went on to defeat Wartburg's Zach McKray in the finals, 5-2. Wisconsin-Whitewater's Austin Bautista (Sr., Des Plaines, IL) comes in at 33-4, but lost to Batsukh in last year's semifinals. Other top contenders: John Starzyk (So., Crest Hill, IL) of North Central is 18-4; Concordia-Moorhead's Ben Anderson (Jr., Frazee, MN) is 28-6; and Augsburg's Jafari Vanier (Sr., Edina, MN) beat Starzyk in the Great Lakes Regional to become an automatic qualifier.

149: Blaine Woszczak (Jr., Manasquan, NJ) of Ithaca is 35-5 and won the Empire Wrestling crown, but defending champion Matt Mauseth (Jr., Rochester, MN) is back. Mauseth was the No. 4 seed in 2008-09 and is 25-3. Other top contenders: Augsburg's Tony Valek (So., Belle Plaine, MN) is 30-4 and fresh off a Great Lakes Regional victory over 25-3 Justin Berns (Jr., Perham, MN) of Concordia-Moorhead.

157: Augsburg's Jason Adams (Sr., Coon Rapids, MN) is the highest returning finisher in this class. Adams was third last year and is 39-4 this year. Jesse Harrington (Jr., New Providence, NJ) of Delaware Valley captured the Midwest Regional and is 22-4. One of four qualifiers with a 32-2 record, Nicholas Loughlin (So., Cherokee, IA) of Cornell won the IIAC. Other top contenders: Jesse Milks (Sr., Rock City, IL) of Wisconsin-Platteville won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Ohio Athletic Conference winner Luke Miller (Jr., Indiana, PA) of Ohio Northern is 35-4.

165: Eight of the 15 qualifiers from last year return, all looking to follow Justin Hanson of Wartburg, who won the 2008-09 championship in his senior season. But Carrington Banks (Jr., Stockbridge, GA) will try to get Wartburg another individual title. Banks, 23-3, cruised to the IIAC final last month, only to fall to Dubuque's Josh Terrell (Jr., Round Lake, IL). Terrell lost to Hanson in the 2008-09 semifinals, but is 21-5 entering the tournament. Coe's Nick LeClere (So., Coggon, IA) was highly ranked all season and is 27-3. Other top contenders: Southern Maine's Michael Morin (Sr., Fryburge, ME) is 40-3 and Orlando Ponce (Jr., Miramar, FL) of Augsburg won the Great Lakes, beating St. Olaf's Josef Waples (Jr., Evergreen, CO) in the final. Ponce is 27-10 and Waples is 22-8.

174: Dubuque's Evan Brown (Jr., Nevada, IA) is the defending champion and won from the No. 8 seed last year. Brown (28-2) won this season's Iowa Conference. Zach Molitor (Jr., Cambridge, MN) of Augsburg is 27-3 and made it to the semifinals last year before finishing sixth. This season, he won the Great Lakes with a major decision over Ross Dankers (Jr., Cambridge, MN) of Concordia-Moorhead. Other top contenders: Mike Schmitz (So., Stewartville, MN) of Wisconsin-La Crosse was fourth last year, but, in 2009-10, won the WIAC and is 28-5, while Dylan Azinger (Fr., DeWitt, IA) of Wartburg is 32-9 and fell to Brown in the IIAC finals.

184: Concordia-Moorhead's Phil Moenkedick (Jr., Perham, MN) lost to Michael Wilcox of Delaware Valley in the championship match in 2008-09. Now Moenkedick returns with a 26-2 record after beating Gabe Youel (Sr., Crystal Lake, IL) of North Central in the Great Lakes Regional. Youel was the No. 4 seed in 2008-09 and finished fourth. Coe's Tyler Burkle (Sr., Coggon, IA) is 31-2 and won the IIAC. Burkle held off Wartburg's Todd Becker (Jr., Gilbertville, IA) for the victory, leaving Becker at 25-9. Highly-ranked Ben Engelland (Jr., Neenah, WI) of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is the WIAC champion and is undefeated. Other top contenders: College of New Jersey's Mike Denver (So., Bayville, NJ) is 42-2 and OAC champion Ben Adams (Grad., Livonia, MI) of John Carroll is 30-5.

197: Last year, Jared Massey (Jr., Centennial, MN) of Augsburg and Ryan Malo (Jr., Georgetown, MA) met in the finals, with Massey winning 11-2. In 2009-10, Massey is 25-0 and Malo is 43-4. Wisconsin-LaCrosse's Andy Moore (So., Brookfield, WI) lost to Malo in the 2008-09 semifinals before finishing fourth. Moore is back at 15-2 and is the WIAC champion. On his way to winning the Great Lakes Regional, Massey defeated Chicago's Troy Carlson (Sr., Cary, IL), leaving Carlson with a 32-4 record. Other top contenders: Wartburg's Byron Tate (So., Clinton, IA) is 35-6 and the IIAC champion after beating Coe's Rob Kramer (Sr., Swisher, IA) in the conference finals. Kramer was fifth in 2008-09.

285: As with the 197, there are plenty of repeat qualifiers. Wisconsin-La Crosse's Dan Laurent (Sr., Manitowoc, WI) is the defending champion and returns with a 29-3 mark after winning the WIAC. Laurent outlasted Mark Corsello (Jr., Park Ridge, IL) in the 2008-09 final, 6-3. Now Corsello is unbeaten (32-0) and is the No. 1 seed. John Helgerson (Jr., West Union, IA) of Wartburg was third last year and is 26-5. Luther's Allyn Plattner (Sr., Sabetha, KS) is 16-3 and riding a wave of momentum after beating Helgerson to win the IIAC. Other top contenders: Lakeland's Adam Sutter (Sr., Gladstone, MI) took second behind Corsello in the Great Lakes and Coe's Mitch Sander (Sr., Clarence, IA) is 25-3.