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Grand View seeks to reclaim NAIA National title, with Life looking to repeat in Park City, Kan., March 4-5

by Johnnie Johnson, Special to

Image of the 12-athlete Grand View men's team heading to the 2022 NAIA Nationals. Photo courtesy of Grand View Athletics.

At last March’s NAIA Championships, Grand View University was poised to set the mark of 10-consecutive national titles in a row at the Hartman Arena in Park City, Kansas. There was a team at the NAIA nationals that had plans of playing the spoiler. That team was Life University.

Last year, 10 of 12 Life wrestlers made it to the podium as All-Americans, and Brandon Orum clinched the 125-pound title giving the program its first ever national championship last March. Life head coach Omi Acosta was named coach-of-the-year. Life U accumulated 158 team points, winning by a five-point margin over the second-place Vikings with 153 points.

That was then, and this is now, as Grand View finds themselves the NAIA team favorite for the 11th straight year heading to the NAIA post-season for 2022. The NAIA National Wrestling Championships will be held on March 4-5 at the Hartman Arena in Park City, Kansas.

In all the NAIA polls for the 2021-22 season, Grand View University was on top. In the final poll, Grand View scored 213 points, ahead of, Life University with 178 points. Coming in at No. 3 is Indiana Tech with 110 points, a full 68 points behind of Life, which could make the NAIA team race a two-team race for the second year.

In a side-by side comparison, the Vikings look like a lock for the 2022 NAIA title. But, you know that Nick Mitchell and his Grand View squad are not taking anything for granted, considering the outcome last year. The Vikings will fight hard taking it one match at a time and focus on the wrestlers and let the team score take care of itself.

Grand View, Life, and Reinhardt (Ga.) will travel a full team of 12 wrestlers to the national championships. Indiana Tech and Southeastern will bring 11 wrestlers each with Cumberlands (Ky.) boasting 10 total qualifiers. The Mid-South Conference led all conferences with 66 individual qualifiers. The Cascade Collegiate Conference was second with 43 qualifiers, while the Heart of America Athletic Conference received 38.

Of Grand View’s 12 qualifiers, they don’t have a wrestler ranked/seeded outside of the top five. The Vikings have eight wrestlers ranked in the top three, with a trio of #1 ranked wrestlers, a second seeded wrestler, and four wrestlers seeded third. The Vikings also have 2 pairs of wrestlers seeded fourth or fifth.

In comparison, the Running Eagles have no top seeds, but they do have a trio of second seeded and third seeded wrestler, giving Life six wrestlers seeded in the top three. Life also has one No. 5 seed, two No. 8 seeds, a ninth seed, a 12th seed, and one wrestler who is unseeded.

In NAIA wrestling championships, teams can qualify and score up to 12 wrestlers, including more than one wrestler per weight. The Vikings have three top ranked wrestlers: Esco Walker (125), Ben Lee (184) and Greg Hagan (285).

Other No. 1 seeds include Conner Gimson of Indiana Tech (133), Baterdene Boldmaa,of Doane (141), Cole Luallen of Reinhardt (149), Nate Wheeler of Indiana Tech (157), Cole Smith of Cumberland-Tenn.(165), Joe Koontz of Lindsey Wilson (174) and Isaac Bartel of Montana State-Northern (197).

In January, the Vikings won their 10th-consecutive NWCA National Duals Championship with a win over No. 2 Life University. Since then, Grand View has also posted dual wins versus conference opponent Graceland University and DII Nebraska-Kearney. This brings their dual-meet win streak to 112-straight. Coach Mitchell is looking forward to the post-season.

"The focus is the same as always. It's about striving to do everything right in our training and in our lifestyle off the mat and letting the results be the proof of that lifestyle," said Mitchell

In this season, Grand View has held a 12-0 dual record. The Vikings also won their 10th-Consecutive NWCA National Duals Championship along with their 7th-consecutive Heart of America Conference Championship.

In his 14 years at Grand View, Mitchell has coached 30 individual national champions, claimed nine team titles, and coached 114 All-Americans. Grand View returns six All-Americans from last year including Justin Portillo at 125, Carson Taylor at 133, Marty Margolis at 165, Casey Randles at 174, Ben Lee at 184, and Greg Hagan at 285.

Second ranked Life University started the season with a pair of top ranked wrestlers with Brandon Orum at 125 and Asher Eichert at 174. Orum is seeded second and Eichert is a No. 8 seed at the nationals this year. Other high seeds for Life include No. 2 Denver Stonecheck (149), No. 2 Sid Ohl (165), No. 3 Zane Lanham (197) and heavyweight JJ Perez, with a total of 11 ranked wrestlers.

Indiana Tech, now at No. 3, has now been ranked for 72 straight polls. The Orange and Black had nine wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight classes, and qualified 11 for nationals. Indiana Tech is led by a pair of top seeded grapplers in Conner Gimson (133) and Nate Wheeler (157).. Defending national champion Eric Vermillion is the second seed at 184. The other half of the Gimson duo, Matthew Gimson, is seeded third at 133.

Winning the AAC Conference title with nine champs and three runners-ups, Reinhardt University qualified all 12 wrestlers for the NAIA tournament. In the final poll of the season the Eagles maintained their 4th place ranking with 104 points. The Eagles are led by top seeded Cole Luallen at 149. A trio of No. 6 seeded wrestlers for Reinhardt include Trent Leon 141, Avry Mutschler 149, and Cole Tenety at 174.

The Lindsey Wilson wrestling team moved up to No. 5, the highest the Blue Raiders have been ranked this season. Lindsey Wilson managed 104 total points in the poll. Joe Koontz is the highest individually ranked LWC grappler, as the top seed in the 174-pound weight class. Trevor Lawson is the second seed at 197.

Doane made program history this year as they claimed their first-ever GPAC Tournament Championship. The Tigers placed eight wrestlers in the championships of their respective weight classes. Doane finished with a program-best 163 team points to out-distance GPAC runner-up Morningside's 101 points. Individually, seven Doane wrestlers are ranked in the Top 20 of their weight class. The Tigers are led by Baterdene Boldmaa the two-time defending national champion at 141-pounds and the top seed at nationals. Seeded at No. 2 at 285 is Odgerel Batkhishig, a transfer from Div. I Campbell, who was also a 2018 NJCAA National Champion for Northwest Kansas Technical College.

Rounding out the top 10 teams are No. 7 Southeastern (FL) with 92 points, No. 8 Montana State-Northern with 84 points, and Cumberlands (KY) and Menlo (CA) are tied in ninth with 80 points each.

Live NAIA Brackets on TrackWrestling