CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- The credentials speak volumes.
Kenny Anderson is 72-3 for his career and a two-time NCAA champion. The Massachusetts native saw a 51-match win streak end during the regular season, but avenged those losses on his march to a Regional title two weekends ago.
Landon Williams won a national title two seasons ago and finished fourth in 2013. He is 37-3 this season and 131-15 for his career. Heavyweight Ryan Fank is 34-2 and already a two-time All-American.
Gilbert Camacho, the squad's 125-pounder, was third a year ago. Cole Welter, an All-American last March, is 30-1 at 165 pounds.
Those five seniors will suit up for Wartburg's Knights on Friday and Saturday inside U.S. Cellular Center. If the last three NCAA Division III Championships are any indication, another trophy will be added to the case in Waverly, Iowa.
In 2011, Wartburg outdistanced the field by 28½ points. The 2012 tournament saw a 55-point margin. Last March, the program sent the retiring Jim Miller out in style, beating the field by 21 points.
This week, in the familiar role as favorite, Wartburg head coach Eric Keller spoke of "controlling those things you can control" and "doing what we've done all year."
Individually, and collectively, the Knights know they are the hunted.
"Going into nationals, I know I have a bulls-eye on my back," said Anderson, who has wrestled just thirteen times this season. "But this is my last tournament and I plan on going out by winning my third title and being part of another team champion."
Keller's group includes nine overall, seven total seniors, and eight seeded among the top eight. Anderson and Williams are top seeds, with Camacho, Welter, and Fank each seeded No. 2.
Wartburg's rival for the last two decades has been Augsburg, a program with eleven D-III titles. A 2011 and 2012 runner-up, the Auggies were a distant tenth last March. They bring eight to Cedar Falls, led by senior 285-pounder Chad Johnson (31-1), a two-time national champion, and senior 125-pounder Mike Fuenffinger (30-3), an All-American in 2013.
On paper, at least, it looks as if Augsburg will be one of a handful of squads chasing the orange and black of Wartburg.
In 19 D-III appearances, Concordia-Morehead has never finished inside the top five; the program was seventh in 2011. A school-record for dual victories in a season and seven qualifiers in 2014 could break that top-five barrier. Head coach Matt Nagel's squad is shooting for another school record – four All-Americans.
"It is definitely within reach," Nagel said. "The athletes that will be wrestling all have the capability to string together multiple wins at the national meet and get up on the podium."
Of the seven qualifiers, none are seniors and two won Regional titles -- 149-pounder Jacob Long (27-9) and 184-pounder Christian Harrison (25-8). Long, seeded sixth, and Cody Kasprick (23-10), seeded third at 285 pounds, are the only two Cobbers seeded, however.
Cortland State has just two top-five finishes, the last coming in 1990. The Red Dragons from New York are bringing seven to this season's tournament. Five Dragons won Regional titles and 149-pounder Robert Dierna (23-3), 174-pounder Lou Puca (33-7), 141-pounder Brian Bistis (20-5), and 197-pounder Joe Giaramita (35-5) are all seeded among the top four at their respective weight classes.
Another New York school, Ithaca, had a solid Regional and brings six to Cedar Rapids. The graduated Ricardo Gomez won the 125-pound title in 2013; his brother, Alex, who is 27-3 and seeded third at 133 pounds, hopes to join him. Kristopher Schimek (32-2) is seeded third at 165 pounds.
Wisconsin-Whitewater has six in the field, none of them seniors. Rookie Shane Siefert is 38-4 and seeded second at 197 pounds, 165-pounder Cedric Gibson (22-5) is seeded fourth and two others are seeded sixth. Whitewater's third place showing in 2013 is the only top-five finish in twenty-eight NCAA appearances.
Wabash has six in the tournament, including a trio of freshman and two of the three Lefever brothers, who are a combined 67-3. Riley Lefever is 37-0, a freshman, and seeded number one at 184 pounds. In twenty-six NCAA Tournaments, the Little Giants' best finish was seventeenth in 2005.
Two Pennsylvania schools, Wilkes and Messiah, could be a factor in the race. After showing plenty of dual strength, Messiah qualified five. Junior 141-pounder Kaleb Loht (43-1), freshman 125-pounder Lucas Malmberg (43-3), sophomore 184-pounder Josh Thomson (40-5), and 174-pounder Ricardo Plummer (35-4) are all title threats. In 2000, Messiah was ninth. This weekend could produce the program's first top-five finish.
Wilkes, winners of the first D-III Championship trophy in 1974, have six in the brackets. The Colonials' Kris Krawchuk, just 15-6 this season, was a national finalist in 2013. Mark Hartenstine brings a lofty 39-1 standard and is a number three seed at 149 pounds.
Olivet has a small but powerful group of five led by Justin (33-11) and Jeff Holm (29-12) and 149-pounder Gage Pederson (34-7), all seeded inside the top six.
Ten programs have won a Division III Championship, led by Augsburg's eleven. Wartburg, the favorites this weekend, have won three consecutive and ten overall. Brockport and TCNJ have each won five titles – Brockport's last coming in 1992, with TCNJ in 1987 – with Ithaca (3), Montclair State (2), Buffalo, John Carroll, St. Lawrence, and Wilkes also hoisting the D-III trophy.
The first six years saw six different champions with Wilkes winning D-III's first title in 1974. The last 19 years have seen two champions – Wartburg and Augsburg.
Been there, Done that
Only two programs have competed in all 40 Division III Championship. TCNJ won four titles in the 1980s and 21 times has finished inside the top five. Delaware Valley was second in 1989 and five times a member of the top five in the final standings. Other longtime participants include Luther, at 39; Coe and Ohio Northern, with 38 appearances; Brockport, Lycoming, and Wartburg, with 37 appearances; John Carroll and Oswego, at 36 each.
Augsburg has finished inside the top five 26 times to lead D-III. TCNJ (21), Wartburg (19), Brockport (17), Wisconsin-La Crosse (13), and John Carroll (13) have also been among the final five frequently.
Augsburg 285-pounder Chad Johnson, Wisconsin-Oshkosh 157-pounder Nazar Kulchtyskyy, and Wartburg 133-pounder Kenny Anderson will wrestle for a third national title this weekend. Only one wrestler in D-III history, Augsburg's Marcus LeVesseur, has won four titles. Twelve wrestlers have won three titles with five of them coming since 2000.
Five wrestlers enter the championships with perfect records -- Wabash's Riley Lefever, 37-0 at 184; Thiel's Jacob Lowry, 36-0 at 197; Centenary's Chris Burdge 17-0 at 165; Elmhurt's Ryan Prater, 16-0 at 149; Washington & Jefferson's Nicholas Car, 9-0 at 149.
Prater will try to follow in the footsteps of Mike Benefiel, a Division I transfer from Oklahoma State who claimed the 197-pound title last March while wearing Elmhurst colors. Prater started his career at the Illinois.
Only one wrestler in the tournament has a winning percentage below .500 -- William Herman, a 174-pounder for Elizabethtown is 11-14.
Baldwin Wallace's David Shapiro and Wheaton's Stephen Aiello have been quite busy this season, combining to wrestle 105 matches – Shapiro is 42-11, while Aiello is 41-11. Depending on first round results, the two 165-pounders might square off at some point this weekend. The other end of the spectrum has Washington & Jefferson 149-pounder Nicholas Carr, who has just nine matches under his belt.
State of things
Twenty-seven states are represented by the field this weekend. Leading the pack is New York, with twenty-two wrestlers in the field. Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Illinois each have nineteen, with New Jersey at seventeen. Ten states have one wrestler in the field – Wyoming, Texas, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Louisiana, Idaho, Hawaii, Connecticut, California, and Arizona.