When wrestling commences at the 2012 Division III Championships on the campus of Wisconsin-La Crosse this week, one thing will be certain: Wartburg is the favorite.

In fact, the Knights -- the 2011 champion and winners of eight national team titles including three of the past four -- may be primed for a record-setting performance.

Wartburg finished 22-1 in dual meets this season, the only loss coming on a tiebreaker to Division I Wisconsin on Nov. 13. The postseason began with a 20th consecutive Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title while automatically qualifying nine wrestlers in the process. The top-ranked squad in DIII made it an even 10 wrestlers advancing to La Crosse when 149-pound freshman Drew Wagenhoffer was added as an at-large selection.

27 -- states which will be represented at the Division III Championships. Illinois’ 21 qualifiers leads the pack.
25 -- schools with one qualifier each. Only three schools – Wartburg, Augsburg and Coe – qualified more than six.
7 -- wrestlers enter the final weekend with unblemished records. They are: Augsburg’s Tony Valek (29-0 at 149) and Orlando Ponce (20-0 at 157), Wilkes’ Anthony Dattalo (30-0 at 149), TCNJ’s Mike Denver (30-0 at 184), Cortland State’s Jared Myhrberg (29-0 at 197), Centenary’s JD Zitone (25-0 at 285) and Mount Union’s Derrick Hesson (35-0 at 285).

“I’m just proud of them,” Wartburg co-head coach Jim Miller told The Gazette after the IIAC Championships. “They’ve knocked down everything we’ve put in front of them.”

The firepower speaks for itself.

All 10 starters enter the final tournament of the 2011-12 campaign ranked inside the NWCA’s top 10. Senior 197-pounder Byron Tate is 37-3 and, barring a major upset, will finish his career with a third Division III national title.

“Byron Tate has been special,” Miller said. “He’s been fun to sit in the chair and watch.”

The squad’s other senior, 174-pounder Bradley Banks (24-3), was an NCAA runner-up a year ago.

A trio of sophomores -- Kenny Anderson (30-1 at 125 pounds), Cole Welter (29-9 at 157) and Landon Williams (30-5 at 165) -- are all ranked inside the top five, with Anderson and Williams at No. 2.

Two juniors -- Thomas Mirocha (23-8 at 133) and Dylan Azinger (28-2 at 184) -- are returning All-Americans from the 2010 Championships.

Another junior, 141-pounder Kodie Silvestri is 18-2 and ranked second in the country.

Wagenhoffer (23-8) is joined by sophomore Ryan Fank, who is 26-8 at 285 pounds.

Could 10 All-Americans be in store?

It wouldn’t be the first time. The Knights had 10 All-Americans in 2003.

“I take a lot of pride in wearing this singlet,” Silvestri told the WCF Courier. “That is what coach talks about a lot is recognizing who you are wrestling for and he makes that real clear that we should be really appreciative of what we have. It means a great deal to me to represent myself as a Wartburg Knight.”

“I don’t know where I would be right now if it wasn’t for wrestling at Wartburg,” Azinger said.

Augsburg, along with Wartburg, is the only program to win a DIII title since 1995. The Auggies won a 10th consecutive Great Lakes Regional title two weekends ago as Wartburg was claiming the IIAC. Augsburg will take eight wrestlers to La Crosse.

Coe had a strong IIAC showing, with seven in the finals and three champions. However, the Kohawks were still second by more than 30 points. John Oostendorp’s squad will have eight representatives at the Division III Championships.