LA CROSSE, Wis. – The media area was not the place to be Saturday night at the Division III Wrestling Championship. No, this was a night to be in the stands and be a fan because there was too much going on to hold in the cheers, gasps and sighs.

There were electrifying moments that nearly brought you out of your seat. Kodie Silvestri’s first national title comes to mind, an upset considering he was facing two-time defending champion Bebeto Yewah of UW-La Crosse. It was heart-wrenching for the hometown crowd.

There were touching moments that made up for it, like Ithaca’s Jeremy Stierly. The senior missed half of the season with injury but came back to win his first title after a pair of runner-up finishes. He finally can be called a national champion.

And it was inspiring.

King’s (Pa.) 184-pounder Mike Reilly, the No. 6 seed, gave it his all, so much so that it was almost painful to watch as he limped around the mat after injuring his ankle late in the first period of his title match with TCNJ’s Mike Denver. The injury was severe enough to limit his mobility, and Denver took advantage, coming away with a pin. Denver then helped Reilly off the mat when Reilly was struggling to get up under his own power, displaying the type of sportsmanship that runs throughout the sport.

Final:  Brackets | Standings
All-Americans | Photos | Full Replays
Session III: Wartburg wraps up ninth title
Session II: Closing in on a championship
Session I: Interesting results across board
Feature: Yewah driven to succeed
Feature: Ithaca aims to 'stir things up'

But most of all it was exciting.

Silvestri led the way in that category, matching Yewah with strength, speed and athleticism. Matching Yewah in anything is nearly unheard of. It played to Silvestri’s advantage.

“Looking at all my opponents throughout the day, I didn’t really have my full potential style of wrestling other kids,” Silvestri said after he fended off Yewah for an 11-9 victory. “But Bebeto, he had the type of style where he’s more opened up. I had more room to work my style and everything worked out the way I wanted it to.

“Wartburg emphasizes that you have to fight somebody to win the tournaments out there, and that's what made [me a champion].”

Like the fans, Silvestri got some motivation from another exciting Wartburg win. Kenneth Anderson started the championship round with a 5-2 victory against top-ranked Nathan Fitzenreider at 125 pounds. The thrilling finish gave Silvestri, who is Anderson's roommate, a jolt. 

“I was right there toward the end of the match and you could see the celebration,” Silvestri said. “To see him win the national title, that just riled me up a little bit and got me jacked up. It was his turn and then this was my turn to do the same thing.

"Now we get to share that when we get back to Wartburg.”

Just one part of the full range of emotions running throughout the La Crosse Center on Saturday night.

Upsets. Bittersweet redemption. Painful endings. Now the celebration.

The Burg better watch out.  

Points Galore
Wartburg scored 141.5 points to run away with the team title, the fourth-highest total in championship history. Augsburg finished with 86.5 points while Coe was third (74.0) and host Wisconsin-La Crosse (65.0) grabbed the fourth-place trophy. 

Only the Wartburg squads from 2003 (166.5 points), 2004 (156.5) and 2006 (145.5) have scored more in a national tournament. That’s not a misprint; Wartburg now owns the four highest team scores in the championship history.

While the Knights didn’t set the record, they did tie one with four national champions, going 4-1 in the finals. That’s happened only six other times at Division III, the last time by the 2004 Wartburg squad.

“This group has knocked down every single thing we’ve put in front of them,” coach Jim Miller said. “From National Duals to the conference title to the national championship, it’s really surprised me in a positive, gratifying way the way this group’s come together, bought into everything we’ve done and asked them to do. And they’ve just grown, week by week and it’s been really pleasing to be part of.”

The Knights could have had more. Wartburg’s total actually would have been 142.5 but Landon Williams’ show-boating at the end of his 165-pound championship led to a one-point deduction from the team score.

Byron Tate became the 12th wrestler in history to record three national titles, earning his third consecutive 197-pound crown.
NCAA Photos
Three’s a Charm? Sometimes, Not Always
Wartburg’s Byron Tate joined an elite club Saturday as he became the 12th wrestler in Division III history to win three consecutive titles. He won all three titles at 197 pounds, the only wrestler to match the mark at that weight.

It was the third consecutive year a DIII wrestler won his third title. Most thought Tate wouldn’t be alone, but Bebeto Yewah, the 141-pound champion for UW-La Crosse the past two years, failed to repeat.

Two others were competing in the national final for the third consecutive year. Ithaca’s Jeremy Stierly finally got over the top, winning his 149-pound title after being runner-up each of the past two seasons. Augsburg’s Olando Ponce wasn’t as lucky as he was the runner-up for the third consecutive year. Ponce is only the fourth wrestler in DIII annals to be in the title match three years in a row and fail to win a title.

Host with the Most
From all accounts, the Division III Championship has been a success the past two seasons while in La Crosse, Wis. It’s gone exactly as UW-La Crosse coach Dave Malecek expected when he took over the program six years ago.

“They’ve always had good wrestling here, but not a lot of people in the community knew about it,” Malecek said. “My first year here, I said we need to let people in cities and communities around us know about wrestling here. So I said let’s host the national tournament.

“It’s been a phenomenal tournament; attendance is high, the community is involved. It’s been great for our wrestling program, and I get goose bumps as I’m driving in on highway and there’s a billboard. And I’m listening to the radio and there are adds there, and TV. The interviews, newspapers. I’ve had people walk up and say, Good luck in the championships, people you don’t even know. To get people excited in this community, it’s rewarding.”

Malecek said the main question was how to grow Division III wrestling, the same nagging problem among all college coaches. The answer? Give everyone a great experience.

“No one else has this facility, this experience,” Malecek said. Coaches, administrators, wrestlers and fans seem to agree. 

Elite Status
Augsburg’s Tony Valek, who finished third at 149 pounds while suffering only one defeat on the season, was named the Elite 89 winner for Division III wrestling, a national award given to the top student-athlete in each sport. An accounting/management major with a 3.87 grade-point average, Valek is a three-time NWCA scholar All-American and CoSIDA Academic All-American.

125 Kenneth Anderson (Wartburg) dec. Nathan Fitzenreider (North Central, Ill.) 6-2
133 Seth Ecker (Ithaca) major dec. Jordan Westfall (Coe) 8-0
141 Kodie Silvestri (Wartburg) dec. Bebeto Yewah (UW-La Crosse) 11-9
149 Jeremy Stierly (Ithaca) dec. Anthony Dattalo (Wilkes) 3-1
157 Nazar Kulchytskyy (UW-Oshkosh) dec. Orlando Ponce (Augsburg) 10-9
165 Landon Williams (Wartburg) dec. Nick LeClere (Coe) 7-4
174 Kyle Kwiat (Ohio Northern) dec. Bradley Banks (Wartburg) 7-4
184 Mike Denver (TCNJ) pinned Mike Reilly (King's, Pa.) 3:55
197 Byron Tate (Wartburg) dec. Dustin Baxter (St. John's, Minn.) 7-2
285 Chad Johnson (Augsburg) dec. Corey Anderson (UW-Whitewater) 6-1