School's hopes ride with one wrestler
Fitzenreider out to bring first title to North Central program
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- North Central College, located in the state of Illinois, is not known as a wrestling powerhouse. The program has never produced a national champion.
Senior Nathan Fitzenreider hopes to change that this weekend.
As a freshman, Fitzenreider, a native of Winfield, Ill., was seeded No. 2 but failed to reach the medal stand. A year later, as a 133-pounder, he finished third at the Division III championships. In 2012, Fitzenreider won 34 of 39 matches, but the final bout was a loss in the NCAA finals to Wartburg’s Kenny Anderson.
On Friday morning during the first session of the 2013 NCAA Division III Championships at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, Fitzenreider opened with a dominating 15-0 technical fall to move his season record to 32-1. Seeded second at 133 pounds behind Anderson, Fitzenreider faces Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Grant Sutter in Friday night's quarterfinals.
“Coming up short the last couple of years, I am going to do whatever it takes,” Fitzenreider said. “If that means working out two, three, four times a day then that is what I was going to do.
“It is hard not to look ahead, but you really have to be ready for each match at this tournament. This year has been about going out and having fun for me. I know I am good enough to win a championship this year, and knowing these are my last matches, it really is about having fun out there.”
“Right now [Fitzenreider] is our program,” North Central head coach Kevin Bratland said. “He obviously has some talent, but he is a guy that is a student of the sport; he loves wrestling. He puts in the time; it is not a 3:30 to 5:30 thing for him because to be at his level it has to be a lifestyle. Not everybody buys into it like he does.”
North Central coaches provide more than just mentoring, they are the All-American Fitzenreider's primary workout partners.
“I give a lot of credit to my coaches because they are the ones who really started pushing me to not stay stagnate. I’ve been good, capable of winning a national championship the last couple of years, but the coaches have forced me to keep getting better.”
“And we have coaches of all different sizes, so that gives me plenty of challenges.”
The first session, as usual, provided plenty of surprises. Among those surprises, however, was not the leader in the team standings. Wartburg, winners of the past two DIII titles, won all 12 matches Friday morning and lead by six points against Wisconsin-Whitewater 21-15. Elmhurst is eleven points behind Wartburg with St. Johns (Minn.) and Wisconsin-La Crosse rounding out the top five. Augsburg scored 3.5 points in the opening session and is tied for 15th.
Head coach Jim Miller’s Wartburg squad scored bonus points in five bouts, getting major decisions from Anderson and at 149 pounds from Kodie Silvestri, and pins by Punahele Soriano at 197 and Ryan Fank at 285. Thomas Mirocha won a 1-0 match at 141.
“That was a good round, but there is still a lot of work to do,” said Miller, in his final year as coach of the Knights. “That is what we are hoping for, something like that … get off to a good start and get some momentum going.”
The 125-pound bracket saw four of the eight seeds taken out, including second-seeded Nathanial Giorgio of the Coast Guard Academy, who lost the first bout of the tournament. The top seed at 197 pounds, Jared Myhrberg of Cortland State, who entered 33-1, lost to Heidelberg’s Andrew Lovins in the second round. Each bracket has 18 wrestlers with two first-round matches.
The top dogs at 165 pounds both needed overtime in their openers. Wartburg’s Landon Williams and Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Nazar Kulchytskyy, both champions in 2012, each needed overtime to escape the opening session. Williams (27-1) needed a riding-time point to force overtime with Waynesburg’s Sam Guidi, then scored with a slick pass-by to win 6-4. Kulchytskyy (41-1) was hit for stalling twice in the final period and went to extra wrestling tied at 3-3 with Luther College’s Garrett Bonte. The opening 10 seconds of OT saw a wild scramble where Bonte avoided a takedown; the Ukrainian Kulchytskyy countered a Bonte shot with 16 seconds left to win 5-3.
All six returning champions will wrestle in the quarterfinals beginning at 7 p.m. ET Friday.