March 4, 2010

By Amy Farnum

Over the last several years, Augsburg College has deservingly earned a reputation as one of the top Division III wrestling programs in the nation. When the Auggies arrive at the 2010 NCAA Championships this week, there's no doubting they are ready to reinforce that notion.

Augsburg has collected 10 Division III national titles since 1991, and with 10 national qualifiers entered in this year's tournament, the Auggies will be shooting for their 11th first-place trophy, but their first since the 2007 season.

Last year, Augsburg fell short by 12 points to Wartburg - another national powerhouse that has won the last two championships and seven titles since 1998.

Although the Auggies have many accomplished wrestlers throughout their lineup, junior 197-pounder Jared Massey is the only returning NCAA champion, as well as the team's lone No. 1 seed in the national tournament on the merits on his flawless 25-0 record.

Now, the undisputed team leader on the squad, Massey's road to Augsburg endured a few twists and turns. A highly-touted recruit from Centennial High School in Circle Pines, Minn., Massey headed to Division I's University of Wisconsin following graduation.

Although he competed in a few matches as a Badger in 2003-04, Massey was plagued with injuries that sidetracked him from his athletic and academic goals. Massey eventually left Wisconsin, and went out into the working world for a few years. A few years passed, but Massey found himself wanting to achieve those goals he had abandoned. With Augsburg just 30 minutes down the road from his hometown, Massey knocked on head coach Mark Matzek's door.

"He came to me and was interested in wrestling, but number one getting back into college because he wanted to finish his degree," said Matzek. "He also wanted to wrestle again at a high level."

Despite a four-year absence from collegiate wrestling, Matzek did not show many signs of rust when he showed up in Augsburg's mat room last year.

"He's such a phenomenal athlete, and he kept himself in pretty good shape already, but did it hurt the first couple weeks?" said Matzek. "Yes, it hurt. He had never let himself go too far, so it was pretty easy for him to get his body readjusted."

Massey compiled a 30-1 record last year, culminating in the 197-pound NCAA title, but it is not only his wrestling talents that Matzek boasts about.

"(Jared) has a high level of maturity when he is training versus an 18-year-old student-athlete," said Matzek. "He's a big, strong guy and is older than the rest of the guys on the team, so the other guys really look towards him to lead. As a coach, that is one of those intangibles you need to be successful - internal leadership. Coaches can lead all they want and do their best, but if you don't have internal leadership, you're not going to be as successful as another team that does.

"He's explosive. Everything that he does, he does it with purpose. When he's in practice, he just doesn't do a light drill - he shoots his body. He pretty much has no regard for his body. No one works harder than he does."

Massey enters the weekend with a 6-0 mark against this year's national qualifier field as the 25-year-old aims for his second straight NCAA title, and first team championship.

"A lot of these guys were on the team last year, and we feel like we had enough talent to win it, but maybe we lacked a little bit of devotion to the team and to one another," said Matzek. "This team is different in that respect - they've been totally committed to themselves and to one another. It's a little bit different feel than last year, so of course we're excited to get out there."

The 2010 NCAA Division III Championships will be held at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on March 5-6. Preliminary round action begins at 11 a.m. CT on Friday. Massey is paired with Zach Pizarro of Wilkes (31-3).