March 6, 2010

By Nick Finch

Special to

CEDAR RAPIDS - Riding out a strong showing in the early session on Saturday, Augsburg College had already clinched the its 11th NCAA Division III Wrestling team title before the final session at the U.S. Cellular Center on Saturday night.

Yet the mix of top seeds, defending titleists out to repeat and unseeded wrestlers who earned their way to the finals provided an exciting final evening.

Augsburg's team victory kept alive the stranglehold that the Auggies and rival Wartburg stranglehold have on the championship - they are the only two teams to win the team title since 1994.

While Augsburg is the 2009-10 team champion, all three of the Auggies who reached the finals dropped their title matches, marking only the third time in championship history the team champion did not have an individual winner. Augsburg finished with 110.5.

Both Augsburg and Wisconsin-La Crosse sent three wrestlers to the final round.

Wisconsin-La Crosse trailed Augsburg by 22 points entering the last session, but the Eagles closed the final margin dramatically, with all three finalists, Bebeto Yewah (133), Michael Schmitz (174) and Dan Laurent (285) capturing individual titles. The Eagles picked up plenty of team points late to end with 100.5 points. Wisconsin-La Crosse also finished in second place in 2006 and 2008.

Wartburg, the team champion of the last two seasons, finished third with 83.5 points. Wartburg and Coe (76 points) each brought the maximum 10 wrestlers to the championship meet.

"There are a couple of matches that we'd like to have back," said Coe head coach John Oostendorp. "We've been top four and top five and, hopefully, we can keep working towards our goal."

Delaware Valley took fifth with 50.5 points. Ithaca was sixth at 41.

For the individual weight classes:

125: Coe junior Clayton Rush continued his domination of the 125-pound weight class. Rush, the top seed, jumped to an early lead over No. 3 seed Tyler Erdman of Elizabethtown. Leading 4-1 and 8-2 after the first two periods, Rush pulled out a 14-3 major decision to win his first title.

In 2008-09, Rush took fifth place but.

"We've had adversity, losses and we overcame them," Rush said. "I'm usually the one starting us off and now I'm the one capping off the night. It's a great feeling."

"He just put it all together here and I'm pretty happy for him," said Oostendorp. "When you have kids who work that hard, you're going to see good things happen to them at the end."

133: In the 133-pound class, another No. 1 seed was chasing his first national title. Yewah, a Wisconsin-La Crosse sophomore, entered the final with a 23-1 record as he took on Paul Bjorkstrand of Augsburg. With Wisconsin-La Crosse working to lock down second place behind Augsburg, Yewah closed the gap. After a series of early takedowns, the match settled into a defensive struggle before Yewah pulled away to a 13-9 decision.

"We had a high scoring match earlier so I was ready for it," Yewah said. "I feel pretty good knowing that all of my hard work paid off."

141: St. John's junior Myanganbayar Batsukh (141) became the first repeat titlist of the evening. Ithaca's Jeremy Stierly came in riding an improbable run, being unseeded and knocking off a No. 6, a No. 3 and a No. 2. Batsukh forced his way to a 5-1 lead after the first two periods and worked to hold off Stierly's attempts to score, winning 7-4.

149: Even with the team title locked up for Augsburg, Case Western's Isaac Dukes was able to keep the Auggies out of the individual championship slot early. Dukes got up early on Augsburg's Tony Valek. With a forceful third period takedown, Dukes pushed through to the 7-3 victory and the 149-pound title.

"Might be the greatest night of my 19 years here," Dukes quipped while holding his trophy. "The whole year, we talked about it and I felt I was the best one out here. If not the best, one of the best and we were able to prove it." Dukes closed out his title run with victories over the defending champion, the top seed and No. 2 seed Valek.

157: The 157-pound final featured two wrestlers who had been in the 2008-09 bracket but with differing success. Ohio Northern's Luke Miller grabbed fourth last season while Zach Mizer of Heidelberg was finished after two opening losses. This time around, Miller held a 4-2 lead in the third period and went on to stifle any offensive attempts by Mizer to rally as Miller earned the national title.

165: This weight class featured the first rematch from a previous championship. Last season in the consolation bracket, Augsburg's Orlando Ponce outlasted Vincent Renaut of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, 7-6. It was another tight match for the 2009-10 national title as No. 7 seed Ponce and the unseeded Renaut were deadlocked 3-3 in the third period. Vernaut scored a takedown with nine seconds left in the third period to capture the lead before winning, 7-3.

As an unseeded wrestler, Renaut didn't know what to expect but, after his two victories Friday, he said his mother, father and grandmother flew to Cedar Rapids from Massachusetts on Saturday morning.

"My mother, being the forceful woman that she is, told me, 'you'd better not lose in the semifinals since we're coming out there!' " said Vernaut, the first national champion from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

174: Defending champion Evan Brown of Dubuque came ready to face Wisconsin-La Crosse's Michael Schmitz, who earned fourth place in the 2008-09 championship. As Brown looked to repeat, he fell behind early and ran into Schmitz's relentless defense. Hanging on to a 3-2 lead, Schmitz, the No. 3 seed, avoided Brown's last-second charge and landed a clinching takedown for the 5-2 win. Brown became the only top seed and defending titlist in the final round not to win.

185: Concordia-Moorhead's Phil Moenkedick was the 2008-09 runner-up, but this year, he rallied from an early deficit to beat No. 8 seed Brennan Ward of Johnson & Wales, 7-4.
197: Wartburg qualified wrestlers in all 10 weight classes and sophomore Byron Tate was able to break through for the Knights' only individual title. Facing 2008-09 runner-up Ryan Malo of Williams, Tate jumped out to a 6-2 lead. Malo executed a furious comeback, closing the gap to 7-5 in the final minute but Tate was able to prevail with the 8-5 win. Tate drew plenty of attention on the final day as he knocked out defending champion and previously-unbeaten No. 1 seed Jared Massey of Augsburg in the semifinals.

285: The heavyweights brought the pounds but not the points. Two-time defending champion Dan Laurent of Wisconsin-La Crosse scored an early point and burned through his gas tank against Wartburg's John Helgerson with a 1-0 victory to repeat as 285 champion.

"A lot of people counted us out this year," said Laurent, a senior. "We came in ranked No. 1 and got a loss and dropped down to No. 6. We had a lot of confidence in ourselves and always peak this time of the year." Laurent's victory marked the Eagles' sixth heavyweight title in the past seven seasons.