CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- The road to the big stage is often filled with potholes. How they are negotiated determines champions.

Wartburg’s Kodie Silvestri proved as a sophomore that he could handle the task when he beat one of Division III’s top athletes, Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Bebeto Yewah, in the NCAA finals last March.

To say the Franklin, N.J., product Silvestri has been on cruise control is a bit of an understatement. The answer to the question: When was the last time you gave up any offensive points is followed by a long pause. Silvestri rolled through the Central Regional, winning in the finals 15-1 after two technical falls. On Friday, the 149-pound Silvestri rolled again, outscoring two opponents 15-0 to advance to Saturday morning’s semifinals where he faced freshman Robert Dierna of Cortland State, who brought a 33-2 standard to the mat.

A flurry of offensive attacks were turned back by Dierna in the opening three minutes. The two traded reversals halfway through the second. An early escape to start the third, and a decisive takedown with 25 seconds left sent Silvestri to his second consecutive DIII final. At 20-1, he will face another rookie, Concordia-Wisconsin’s Greg Sanders (36-3), who won in overtime in the semifinals.

“I felt some pressure, but I prepared myself for this situation,” Silvestri said. “[Dierna] was tough, but I was able to outfight him. I stayed positive the whole time, just wrestling my match. I was taking a lot of shots, and kept battling because that is what it is in this tournament.

“We [Wartburg] came here prepared to fight. We are known for that, not so much for athleticism, but just outworking you.”

Silvestri is one of three returning champions for Wartburg, which maintained firm control of the team race with a Session III-ending lead of 20 points. Somewhere along the way on Saturday, the field was put to rest, giving the Knights a third consecutive Division III team title.

Junior Kenny Anderson stayed perfect through 24 matches, beating New York University’s Brandon Jones in the 133-pound semifinals. A product of Bellerica, Mass., Anderson will face Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Grant Sutter (21-3), a sophomore who beat North Central’s Nathan Fitzenreider in the quarterfinals and Alex Gomez of Ithaca on Saturday morning.

The third member of the trifecta, 165-pounder Landon Williams, did not advance. After winning two nail-biters on Friday, Williams (28-2) could not get past College of New Jersey senior John Darling. Down 8-4 to start the third, Williams went to his bread and butter, but could only manage one two-point near fall.

Darling (32-3) finished sixth at 157 pounds a year ago.

“He is a tall wrestler, really good on top, but coach looked at me and said, ‘You got out once, do it again,’” said Darling, a native of Moorestown, N.J. “I was trying hard to get out and got caught that one time.

“I do my best to stay away from brackets, but people were telling me [Williams] was ready to get beat. He seemed a little sluggish and I felt great.”

Of the 10 weight classes, 165 may have been the toughest this weekend. Six All-Americans, including two NCAA champions, were in the 18-man bracket. On Saturday night, Darling will face the second of those two champions, Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Nazar Kulchytskyy (43-1).

“I felt I had a great road to the finals,” Darling said. “I wrestled [Kulchytskyy] last year; he is tough. I’m going to go out and battle.”

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Another College of New Jersey student-athlete, Brian Broderick (24-2), cruised into the finals with a solid victory against Messiah freshman Josh Thomson. Broderick will wrestle in one of many featured title bouts Saturday night, facing off with Elmhurst’s Josef Rau, who has two pins and a technical fall this week.

“I was watching [Darling] from the tunnel; if he won there was no way I was going to lose,” said Broderick, who calls Manahawkin, N.J., home. “I got up early and got a little too content.

“I have no problem being an underdog [Saturday night. Rau] is very good, but I am going to go out and wrestle for my team. We brought three guys and all three are All-Americans.”

Zach Zotollo finished fourth at 174 pounds.

Joining Anderson, Silvestri and Kulchytskyy in going for a second title is Ohio Northern’s Kyle Kwiat (40-3) and Augsburg heavyweight Chad Johnson (36-1); Kwiat gets Ithaca’s talented Jules Doliscar (31-1) with Johnson getting Centenary (N.J.) product Joseph Zitone (23-1).

Only three of the eight seeded wrestlers at 125 pounds made it to Saturday. The top seed, Ithaca’s Ricky Gomez (25-2), did manage to stay alive. A former NJCAA runner-up, Gomez will square off with unseeded Jimmy Gotto of Coe College. Gotto, an All-American as a freshman in 2012, entered this week with a 12-7 record. A product of Epworth, Iowa, Gotto used a decisive counter of an attack in the final 15 seconds for a 6-2 victory in the semifinals.

Gotto rode out a second tiebreaker to edge Wartburg’s Gilberto Camacho on Friday morning.

The 141-pound final pits Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Adam Sheley (22-1) and Johns Hopkins’ Paul Marcello (25-8). Sheley, a senior, was sixth in 2012 and fifth in '11. He beat Wartburg’s Thomas Mirocha in the semifinals.

The 157-pound bracket was a mess. Top-seeded Elias Larson of Trine lost to Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Cade Sarbacker in the quarterfinals; Sarbacker then lost a round later to fourth-seeded Kristopher Krawchuk of Wilkes. Krawchuk (27-2) will meet unseeded Devin Biscaha of Springfield, who beat the sixth, third, and second seeds on his march to the big stage.

A former Oklahoma State Cowboy goes for gold at 197 pounds. Mike Benefiel (21-2), now an Elmhurst senior, has three pins in four matches and will square off with Alex Coolidge (29-3) of Coe College in the finals.

The race for second
Wisconsin-Whitewater and Elmhurst will battle it out for second place. Whitewater has 78 points and one finalist. Elmhurst has 74 points and two finalists. Whitewater’s Sutter faces 2012 champion Anderson, while Elmhurst has two wrestlers possibly expected to win.

The Fightin’ Pennsylvania Thomsons
A pair of Pennsylvania underclassmen each finished third Saturday. Gettysburg’s Zach Thomson, unseeded at 174 pounds, lost Friday morning but battled back to win five matches and finish with a bronze and a 32-3 sophomore season. Messiah’s Josh Thomson, a freshman 184-pounder who was seeded third, went 4-1 this weekend and ended 36-3.

Scary moments
There was no third-place bout during the medal rounds at 184 pounds due to a medical forfeit by Julian Meaney of Elizabethtown. After winning in the wrestleback semifinals, Meaney collapsed mat side and suffered an epileptic seizure. After being attended to by medical personnel on site, Meaney walked off the mat under his own power.

Summing up your week
College wrestling tournaments are always a grind -- usually for all involved. By the time Saturday afternoon rolls round there a few tired puppies finishing out their seasons. Case in point, the 157-pound third-place match between Cole Welter of Wartburg and Josh Etzel of Wabash. The two were tied at 1 after seven minutes; tied at 1 after nine minutes; and tied at 1 after 10 minutes. Finally, Welter scored a reversal in the 11th minute to end the marathon.

By the numbers
Fifteen schools are represented in Saturday night's finals. Wartburg, College of New Jersey, Elmhurst, Ithaca and Coe each have two wrestlers, with Ohio Northern, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Johns Hopkins, Wisconsin-La Crosse, Concordia-Wisconsin and Wilkes each with one wrestling on the big stage. … Augsburg leads all DIII schools with 42 individual championships. Wartburg enters Saturday night with a second-best 37. … Four programs -- Concordia-Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, Springfield and Centenary (N.J.) -- have never had an individual champion. The College of New Jersey has 21, good for fifth on the list, with Wisconsin-La Crosse (18) and Ithaca (10) also among the top 10. … A long streak ended for Augsburg this weekend. Since 1989, the Auggies have finished in the top four every season at the DIII championships. Heading into the final round with only heavyweight Chad Johnson wrestling, the Auggies can do no better than ninth. … Wisconsin-La Crosse 125-pounder Isaac Balsiger, a freshman, lost in the opening round Friday, but came back to win five matches before falling in the third-place match. … Forty-four schools finished with at least one All-American.