CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Four years. Four titles. Four years of domination.
It was a fitting end for Wartburg's senior class for 2013-14 inside the U.S. Cellular Center on Saturday night. With the team trophy already headed to Waverly, Iowa, for a fourth consecutive season, four seniors went after individual titles in the final session of the 2013 NCAA Division III championships.Three of the four got their hand raised.
Kenny Anderson provided some theatrics to become the 14th three-time champion in DIII. A second-period ride-out by Ithaca senior Alex Gomez sent the 133-pound finals bout to the third at 0-0 where an early reversal gave Gomez a 2-0 lead. Anderson quickly reversed back and rode the rest of the way, erasing Gomez's riding-time advantage and forcing overtime.
One final shot, one completed attack, a low-level double-leg, sent Anderson (15-2) and Wartburg fans into a frenzy.
"That's all heart in overtime, especially in a tournament like this because everyone is good," said Anderson, a native of Billerica, Mass. "You can throw skill out the window, it's conditioning and heart. I am not going to lie, I was really nervous at the start of the match. I knew [the takedown] was going to be there eventually."
Winning three titles at the collegiate level never entered Anderson's mind when he came west.
"I was joking with my brother when I was at home watching the NCAAs," he said. "I might go to Wartburg and win one, then come back. I loved it and they loved me. [Wartburg] is special. I am really lucky."
The win also completed an impressive 66-3 career.
For Wisconsin-Oshkosh's Nazar Kulchytskyy no dramatics were needed. A native of Ukraine, he locked up a second-period cradle and pinned Coe's Dmitri Boyer to earn his third title and finish a 42-2 season and 143-5 career.
An explosive fireman's carry flowed into an international-style gut-wrench for a 4-0 lead. A good old-fashioned head shuck at the first-period buzzer made it 6-1. The coup de grâce came thanks to a python-like cradle.
"After my match earlier today I went up to the hotel room and everyone was wondering when I wrestled again, should I wait, it's 4 a.m. [in Ukraine] and they were excited about how I was doing. They wanted to watch my matches." said Kulchytskyy, who plans on getting his U.S. citizenship in the coming weeks. "My family is important to me, they have supported me in my wrestling and I am happy to win another title."
With a freestyle background, the senior adjusted nicely to the American style.
"I just go hard, that was my last match in college," he said. "I am using my freestyle, I love freestyle … college is only for four years and it has been tough at times adjusting."
Wartburg's second of four seniors in the finals, Cole Welter, scrambled his way to a 5-1 win against Washington & Jefferson's Nick Carr, who entered the finals with a 12-0 record. Welter (34-1) was fifth a year ago.
Title number three for the Knights came thanks to a dominating performance by senior 174-pounder Landon Williams. A Davenport, Iowa, product, he won a championship in 2012 and was fourth last March. He turned Anthony Bonaventura, a senior for Waynesburg, multiple times before getting a pin at 2:46.
Loras sophomore James Buss kept the Knights from a fourth title. After beating two-time NCAA champion Chad Johnson in the semifinals, Buss, a product of Chicago, beat Wartburg's Ryan Fank in the 285-pound title bout 4-1.
In the end, it was a 36.5-point margin (103.5-67) for Wartburg against second-place Wisconsin-Whitewater, who was three points better than Messiah. Coe and Augsburg rounded out the top five in a field of sixty-five.
"I am so happy for these guys," Wartburg boss Eric Keller said. "This group of seniors has been unbelievable, how they have worked how they have put in the time from start to finish. All they have done is win.
"For me, I have been at Wartburg for 13 years, so everything that I do comes from what I've learned from coach [Jim] Miller during that time. I wasn't going to come in here and make a bunch of changes or try and mix things up. I am a big believer in what [Miller] has installed the last 20-something years.
"My goal is to continue to do that."
The three champions pushed Wartburg's all-time total to 41. The Knights do lose seven seniors, including all six All-Americans.
Augsburg's DIII-leading 44th national champion came in the form of junior 125-pounder Mike Fuenffinger, who built a 6-1 lead on Messiah rookie Lucas Malmberg (46-4) and went on to record an 11-4 major decision. The champion, seventh last March, finishes 34-3.
Two bouts later, Messiah and 11th-year head coach Bryan Bunk did get a champion as junior Kaleb Loht concluded a 48-1 junior season with a 6-3 win against Wisconsin-Whitewater's Matt Adcock in the 141-pound finals. A dislocated shoulder kept Loht out of the postseason last March. His performance, along with three other All-Americans, gave Messiah a third-place finish, the best in program history -- the Falcons were ninth in 2000.
Wabash rookie Riley Lefever finished a 38-0 season with an overtime win against TCNJ's Brian Broderick, a finalist in 2013, at 184 pounds. Lefever, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., became his school's first national champion in wrestling.
"The first day of practice we had goal sheets and I wrote down, first, have fun, then be national champion at 184 pounds," Lefever said. "I am on cloud nine right now, I am so excited. I have so many emotions right now; I am thankful to my parents, my team, my brothers … without them beating the crap out of me every day I wouldn't be here right now.
"The easiest way to have fun is too never lose. I didn't plan on going undefeated, I just wanted to be there in the end."
The U.S. Cellular Center crowd reached its loudest all weekend when Cornell (Iowa) senior Alex Coolidge finished his career in style, scoring a late escape and finishing a takedown seconds later to beat Wisconsin-Whitewater sophomore Shane Siefert in a solid 197-pound battle. Coolidge, a finalist in 2013, finishes 29-4 and is the first national champion for Cornell since Shawn Voigt won a title in 1990.
A program coming off its best NCAA finish, Elmhurst, who was second in 2013, crowned its third champion in two seasons. Senior Ryan Prater (19-0), a DI national qualifier for Illinois before transferring to Elmhurst, beat Cortland State's Bobby Dierna 4-2 in the 149-pound finals.
The 2016 DIII championships are scheduled for Elizabethtown, Pa.
Prior to the finals, the fifth DIII Elite 89 Award was given to Ohio Northern 285-pounder Cody Lovejoy, who maintains a 3.98 grade point average in pharmaceutical studies. It was the second consecutive year he earned the NCAA's award for the highest GPA among those competing in the tournament.
The top seed at 125 pounds, Johns Hopkins' Paul Bewak, lost a quarterfinal bout on Friday night. He went 1-1 on Saturday and finished seventh, becoming the school's all-time wins leader at 100 in the process. Baldwin Wallace rookie Jesse Gunter (28-5) lost in the quarterfinals, but won four consecutive matches to finish third at 125 pounds.
Wrestling for seventh might not be what they were shooting for, but Mount St. Joseph's Wayne Black and Loras' Matt Holmes, both seniors wrestling their final collegiate bout, let it fly in a 13-12 match Saturday afternoon. They both left the mat with smiles on their faces. Similar sportsmanship was shown following a fifth-place bout at 174 pounds where Messiah's Ricardo Plummer finished a body lock for a takedown to beat TCNJ's Zach Zotello in overtime.
Checking the records of three-time DIII champions, Karl Monaco of Montclair State won two titles at 142 pounds in 1987 and '88, then completed his career with a gold at 150 pounds in 1989. The total entering the weekend was in fact 13 three-timers instead of 12 and one four-timer, Augsburg's Marcus LeVesseur.
Wartburg became the first program since the opening of DIII festivities in 1974 to win four consecutive team titles. Augsburg (2000-02) is the only other school to win three consecutive.
Eight freshmen earned top eight finishes this weekend. They are: Malmberg and Lefever; Jesse Gunter (Baldwin Wallace, 125); Charles Banaszak (Chicago, 141); Nick Drendel (Dubuque, 149); Stephen Aiello (Wheaton (Ill.), 165); Chris Chorzepa (Williams, 184); Zach Roseberry (Delaware Valley, 285).
Augsburg senior heavyweight Chad Johnson, a two-time NCAA champion, bounced back after his semifinal loss to take third and end 35-2 this season and 138-15 for his four All-America seasons. Eleven of his losses came during a freshman campaign that saw him finish seventh. During his final three seasons, Johnson went 104-4.
The attendance of 8,787 for Saturday night's finals set a DIII record, passing the 8,016 of La Crosse in 2012.