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Jim Nelson | NCAA.com | March 12, 2016

Wartburg digs deep, sends 7 to semis

2016 DIII Wrestling Championship: Day One Recap

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- It wasn't a perfect performance, but Wartburg College came real close Friday at the NCAA Division III wrestling champions at the U.S. Cellular Center.

Advancing seven wrestlers into the semifinals, the Knights took a commanding lead in the quest to win their fifth Division III title in six years and 12th overall as they racked up 78 points, 30 more than second-place Messiah College.

The seven semifinalists are the most since Wartburg put eight in the semifinals in 2004.

"It has been a fun round there is no doubt about it," Knight head coach Eric Keller said of Wartburg's seven-for-seven performance in the quarterfinals. "The challenge was to dig deeper, dig as deep as we can to get it done. I think you saw that in that round. Guys dug deep and stepped up."

MORE: Live schedule for 2016 semifinals and championship rounds

The Knights had rocky start when top-seeded Connor Campo was upset by Brockport State's Eric Velez in a first-round 133-pound match, and the day ended when junior Byran Levsen was eliminated one match from earning all-American status at 184.

But in-between those two losses, the Knights were money. At one point Friday, Wartburg won 12 consecutive matches, and during the evening session which included the quarterfinals and two rounds of consolations, the Knights went 10-1. Altogether Wartburg finished the day 18-3 and will have eight all-Americans for the second consecutive year.

The 78 points it has already scored is 11.5 less than it scored while finishing second to Augsburg in Hershey, Pa. last year.

"It was something we talked about in-between sessions," Keller said of coming out and making a statement during the quarterfinals."We had a meeting about what we have to do and what it is going to take and how that round went, minus the last one, it is exactly how we drew it up.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but we dug deep."

Arnuflo Olea at (125), Kenny Martin (149), Drew Wagenhoffer (157), Nicholas Michael (165), Eric DeVos (174), Gerard Roman (197) and Lance Evans (285) all will wrestle for a spot in Saturday night's finals, while Campo rebounded from his first-round loss to earn his second all-American award with two wins in the consolation to give Wartburg eight all-Americans for the second consecutive year. d

"We practice for the end of the year and it is all about the ending," Martin said. "That is what all these practices were for is this time and now it was time to get the rewards."

Plenty of upsets in Day One

Four wrestlers remain on track to repeat as champions -- Martin at 149, Riley LeFever of Wabash College at 184, Joe Giaraimita of SUNY-Cortland at 197 and Donny Longendyke of Augsburg at 285.

It wasn't so good of a day for some other favored wrestlers.

Nothing ever goes by the book during the NCAA Division III wrestling championships and it was that way early Friday during the opening session when three top seeds and two national champions were upset as part of a morning that saw 19 seeded wrestlers lose in either the pigtail or first-round.

"No," said Keller if he was surprised by three top seeds going down. "You have to be ready to go. It doesn't matter who is standing across the line form you, you better be ready to go and fight your butt off. That is what it comes down to because you don't overlook anybody and you can't take anybody for granted. You can't."

The first top seed to lose was Wartburg junior Connor Campo who lost to Brockport State's Eric Velez, 9-4, at 133. Moments later, Cornell College's Trevor Engle scored a takedown with three seconds left to top 149-pound top seed Derek Arnold of Ursinus.

The upset train continued barreling down the tracks at 165 where Wabash College junior Connor Brummett took down defending 165-pound national champion Farai Sewera of Coe College 5-4.

In addition to Sewera losing, James Buss, a 285-pound national champion for Loras College in 2014, who now wrestles for Millikin University, was knocked off in the pigtail round by Stevens Institute of Technology's Tyler Maher. Buss eventually injury defaulted out of the tournament.

More notes from quarterfinals:

路 Several milestones were reached Friday, including three wrestlers who became four-time all-Americans. Williams College 157-pound senior Jorge Lopez, with a 3-2 win over Josh Tardy of North Central in the semifinals, became the Ephs first four-time all-American. Lopez was sixth in 2013 at 149, third at 147 in 2014 and third at 157 in 2015. ... Messiah's Josh Thomsen has never finished worse than fourth for the Falcons with finishes of third, fourth and third. He will try to make his first final Saturday when he faces Wisconsin-La Crosse's Austin Cook in the 184-pound semifinals. ... SUNY-Cortland's Giaramita, the defending champ at 197, edged Jamie Jakes of Alma College, 3-1 in sudden victory in the semifinals to become the Red Dragons' second four-time all-American. Mike Bucci was the previous Cortland wrestler to achieve such feet doing so as a heavyweight form 1996-1999.

路 Also at 197, Adrian College freshman Angus Arthur registered a pair of pins to become the Bulldogs first all-American.

路 Another program also Ferrum College's Logan Meister earned that distinction at 157.

路 Augsburg's 165-pound senior Eric Hensel is a pinning machine. A year ago after losing in the first round, Hensel recorded pins in four of his next five matches to finish fifth. He pinned both of his opponents to reach the semifinals Friday giving him six pins in his last seven NCAA tournament matches.

路 Luther College's Tristan Zurfluh, an unseeded qualifier at 157, took a long and circular route to the semifinals. In his opening bout, Zurfluh needed 11 minutes to beat fifth-seeded Nick Bova of Wabash 6-5 in TB2. In the quarterfinals, Zurfluh needed nine minutes to top fourth-seeded Meister, 4-3 in TB1. "Zurfluh, he's a fighter. He goes so hard and he fights all the time and as we've talked about so many times that is what it is about at the national tournament," Norse head coach Dave Mitchell said.