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|Wartburg claims Division III title and two individual championships|
By Jon Gremmels USA Wresting/Quad City Times
EWING, N.J. - Wartburg had its share of heartbreaks Saturday night in the finals of the NCAA Wrestling Championships, but there were no complaints from coach Jim Miller.
A strong session earlier in the day locked up the school's fifth team title - the third in four years - but the Knights won just two of six championship matches, including two overtime losses and one in the final seconds.
"We're excited about winning the national title, our fifth since 1996," Miller said. "I'm so proud of the whole program and the athletes who came here. I thought they represented us well."
Wartburg finished with 145.5 points, the fourth-highest total in Division III history. Tyler Hubbard (125 pounds) and Dustin Hinschberger (141) won individual titles for the Knights.
Wisconsin-La Crosse took second for the second time in school history - scoring 106 points - led by championship performances from Jake Larsen (149) and heavyweight Ryan Allen, each of whom won titles.
"Two semifinal matches against Wartburg took us out of our game, but we didn't hang our heads. It was a first-place effort, if you ask me. Wartburg is that tough and has a lot of guns."
Defending champion Augsburg, which had no individual champion for the first time since 1994, finished third with 84.5, followed in the top 10 by Luther (59.5), York (51.5), SUNY Cortland (36.5), Delaware Valley and Heidelberg (32 each) and SUNY Brockport and Simpson (30 each).
The other individual champions were Mike Lopez of Luther at 133, Joe Pflug of Heidelberg at 157, Derek Sikora of Wisconsin-Eau Claire at 165, Stephon Sair of Cortland at 174, Duane Bastress of York at 184 and Jamall Johnson of Delaware Valley at 197.
Hubbard (20-0) continued the roll the Knights were on in Saturday's earlier round, when they won 10 of 11 matches to wrap up the title.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what I feel like," Hubbard said. "Right now the only thing I'm understanding is I put in a lot of work. I'm sure it will hit me a little later, but right now I'm in shock."
He shot in for a double-leg and scored a takedown with 40 seconds left in the first period to take a lead he never surrendered in a 5-4 victory against Ohio Northern's Ty Klofta. Hubbard increased the lead to 3-0 on a second-period escape, then gave up an escape and a penalty point for stalling in the third period before scoring a clinching takedown with 13 seconds left.
Two weights later, Hinschberger became Wartburg's first three-time national champion by beating Simpson's Dustin Brewer, 7-1, for the third time this season. Hinschberger surrendered just two points in the tournament.
"It feels pretty good," Hinschberger (41-5) said. "That's a lot of pressure off my back. I put a lot of pressure on myself."
Hinschberger began his dominating performance 21 seconds into the match, shooting right in on Brewer's leg for a takedown and rolling him to his back for a two-point near fall seconds later.
"My goal is to keep my offense going and keep my feet moving because that's when I'm at my best," Hinschberger said.
Hinschberger rode out the period, the wrestlers spent the entire second period on their feet and Hinschberger scored another takedown in the third period. He finished the match with 4 minutes, 17 seconds of riding time. Brewer, who split time with Hubbard as the starter at 125 pounds for the University of Northern Iowa before transferring, scored his lone point on a stalling call in the final minute of the match.
That was the end of the wins for Wartburg, though.
Larsen (19-6) stopped the Knights' 12-match winning streak by beating Jacob Naig 7-4 in the final at 149. He jumped in front with a pair of first-period takedowns.
"This kind of breaks a curse for me," Larsen said. "I finished second in the state in high school, second in the conference meet this year - I had a habit of losing in the placing rounds. This was a big win for me."
Wartburg's next setback was one of its toughest of the tournament.
In a seesaw match, 27-year-old Scott Kauffman, who began his college career at the University of Iowa before dropping out and sitting out several seasons before resurfacing at Wartburg, held an 8-7 lead in the waning moments against Sair, the top seed at 174. He was holding off a shot by Sair, but Sair (27-2) was able to spin around Kauffman and record a takedown on the edge of the mat with 12 seconds left for a 9-8 victory.
"The strategy was to push the guy the whole match and maybe something would open up, and that's what happened" Sair, a junior, said.
Wartburg's heartbreak continued in the next match.
Bastress (40-0), the defending champion at 184, recorded a takedown with 31 seconds left in overtime for a 6-4 win over Wartburg senior Akeem Carter, who cut to 184 this season after winning national titles the past two seasons at 197.
"This one is definitely better," Bastress said, comparing his titles. "Last year was amazing, but as soon as I came off the mat, my coach and I said almost at the same time, 'Do it again.' "
Bastress and Carter traded first-period takedowns and escapes for a 3-3 tie, then scored an escape apiece to knot the score at 4-4 after regulation. Bastress, who held off a three-shot flurry in the final seconds, got some confidence when Carter took an injury timeout before the one-minute sudden death.
"He shot in and left his right arm hanging, and one of my favorite moves is a shrug, so I tried it," said Bastress, who was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler to cap his senior season. "Obviously, he's an amazing wrestler, a two-time champ, and I knew it would be tooth and nail."
The final blow for Wartburg came at heavyweight as Allen defeated Blake Gillis in the championship match for the third year in a row. Allen, a senior who lost to Gillis twice early in the season, took a 2-0 lead on a reversal in the second period, but Gillis pulled even with a pair of escapes. Allen then won on an outside single-leg shot with 25 seconds left in sudden death.
"I feel good … great … excited," Allen, a senior with a 43-5 record, said. "This one ranks higher than the other two - definitely. Plus we got second as a team, and that makes it extra special."
Allen was bothered by a leg injury most of the season and injured his knee in the quarterfinals.
"They don't write stories like this - well they do, but this one is real," Skaar said of Allen. "He wrestled on one leg all season, hurt it again in the quarterfinals and didn't care. He wrestled his ass off."
La Crosse did have one setback in the finals.
Delaware Valley's Jamall Johnson (24-4), the national runner-up a year ago, found himself in a rerun of a match last year against La Crosse's Jim Swanson, pinning him in 1:27.
"The leg was always there for a trip to a lat drop," Johnson said.
"That's a great feeling. Unfortunately, I'm never satisfied. It was a good way to retire."
Sikora also went out on top in his senior season, making Augsburg's Ryan Valek a two-time runner-up with a 6-4 victory at 165. Sikora scored first on a takedown, broke a 2-2 tie with an escape in the third period. He added a clinching takedown with 36 seconds left.
"I've been here two other times, and it feels good (to win)," Sikora said. "Last year I was pretty close."
It was the second time Sikora (30-2) beat Valek this season.
"I like going against him," Sikora said. "We know each other's style pretty good."
Another senior, Lopez, also went out with a win. He beat Jafari Vanier of Augsburg 2-1 in the overrtime tiebreaker at 133. Lopez (32-9) rode out Vanier for the first 30-second tiebreaker, then escaped with 28 seconds left in the second one and stayed away from Vanier after that to win.
"Once I got out, I kind of shut most of my offense down," Lopez said. "I wanted to stay low, with my hands in front of me, and stay in good position. I don't think I realized what has happened yet."
Vanier had won two overtime matches earlier in the tournament.
The other final had a Big Ten flavor to it, as Ohio State transfer Pflug, now at Heidelberg, defeated Augsburg's Jeremy Anderson, a Minnesota transfer, 11-5 at 157. Pflug recorded five takedowns and had a point for riding time, while Anderson's points came on escapes.
"I'm exhausted," Pflug (27-3) said. "It takes a lot of hard work busting your butt training, but in the end it's worth it."
Especially for Pflug, who returned to wrestling for the first time since 2003.
"At Ohio State, I redshirted, then sat out a year and trained," he said. "I didn't make the grade, so I got booted out."
But he got got hooked up with Heidelberg, returned to the sport, and, as he said, "Here I am."