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Augsburg leads after Day 1 of Division III Championships

Before the season started, there were several teams across the nation who felt they could contend for a Division III championship come March.

With Wartburg and Augsburg, the class of Division III for the last decade and a half, considered "down," neither started the year ranked No. 1. Then the season started and we again found Wartburg and Augsburg ranked atop the Division III polls.

Augsburg coach Mark Matzek admits he's greedy. He wants the team championship, he wants six national titles and he wants two thirds.

The Auggies look to wrestle away the title from the defending champion and rival Knights and are in a position to do so, putting six wrestlers into Saturday morning's semifinals.

Augsburg leads the tournament with 69 points, followed by UW-La Crosse (56), Wartburg (53.5), Coe (47.5) and Delaware Valley (41.5). After the top five, there's a 12-point separation as Ithaca sits in sixth with 29.5

"We had a couple of number seven seeds in Josh Roberts at 125 and Orlando Ponce at 165 making it to the semifinals. That was expected for us. Maybe not the fans, because their seeds didn't expect that, but I know what Josh Roberts was capable and what Orlando Ponce was capable of - and that's being in the semifinals," said Augsburg coach Mark Matzek.

Roberts had the door opened for him at 125 in the bottom half of the bracket after UW-La Crosse's Lloyd McKinney upset Wartburg's Mark Kist in the first round. Roberts beat McKinney 5-4 and will face Elizabethtown's Tyler Erdman in the semifinals.

Ponce's victory at 165 pounds over Wartburg's Carrington Banks did the most damage.

"We're in a good spot and the guys have given themselves a great opportunity right now and that's all we need. We need the opportunity to win that national title, now it's up to our guys to take it," said Matzek.

Also reaching the semifinals for Augsburg: 133-pounder Paul Bjorkstrand, 149-pounder Tony Valek, 174-pounder Zach Molitor and 197-pound returning national champion Jared Massey.

Matzek will put more emphasis on 157-pounder Jason Adams and heavyweight Andy Witzel to push the team championship out of reach.

"It's like getting punched in the mouth and getting knocked down, you better get back up," said Matzek. "Those two guys, Jason Adams and Andy Witzel who are wrestling in the wrestlebacks for us, that's what they're doing. They got knocked down, but they didn't stay down. They got back up and they're looking to score a lot of points in those wrestlebacks tomorrow."

The team championship is still in doubt, with UW-Lax and Wartburg each with four finalists. Augsburg matches up only twice with the second and third place teams. Ponce faces Michael Schmitz of UW-Lax at 197 and Massey faces Wartburg's Byron Tate at 197.

Individually, the tournament has been just as unpredictable as it has been in past years. In the first round alone, two No. 1 seeds lost and three No. 2 seeds lost. In fact, all three No. 2 seeds who lost in the first round failed to place. A fourth, Augsburg's Jafari Vanier, lost in the quarters and then dropped his next match and failed to place.

Vanier was upset by unseeded Matt Ulrich of Southern Maine, the program's second-ever All-American, and then eliminated by Stevens Tech's Ryan Bridge.

Returning runner-up Mark Corsello of Elmhurst was stunned by UW-Whitewater's Jon Schmidt in the opening round and was eliminated in the Round of 12 by Coe's Mitch Sander at heavyweight.

UW-Lax has four semifinalists. 133-pounder and top-seeded Bebeto Yewah rallied to pin Centenary's Will Livingston in the quarters, while Schmitz, 197-pounder Andy Moore and returning national champion Dan Laurent also moved into the semis.

Wartburg has 141-pounder Matt Kelly, seventh-seeded 157-pounder Adam Weber, Tate and heavyweight John Helgerson.

Coe put two into the semis, as 125-pounder Clayton Rush and 165-pounder Nick LeClere were dominant in quarterfinal victories.

Delaware Valley has three in the semis, top-seeded Jesse Harrington at 157, unseeded Justin Barowski at 165 and second-seeded Kyle Bilquist at heavyweight.

Barowski beat two seeds en route to the semis, including a first-round fall over top-seeded Josh Terrell of Dubuque.

Wartburg's chances took a real hit when second-seeded Mark Kist was knocked from medal contention by Delaware Valley's Terrance Clendenin, a former 2003 NCAA Division qualifier at Lehigh.

But with six semifinalists, Augsburg remains in the drivers seat, and it's not a position Matzek wants to give up any time soon.

"I want to keep winning," Matzek said. "I want six finalists and two thirds. That's what I want."
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