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Wartburg wins NCAA Div. III title by one point over Wabash in dramatic finals round

by Jon Gremmels, Special to

Wartburg celebrates its 2022 NCAA Div. III title. Photo by Jon Gremmels.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Wartburg owes a debt of gratitude to the Birt family for the second time. Not to mention Jacob Decatur and Cody Baldridge, too.

In a tournament reminiscent of 1999, Wartburg needed help from other teams in the finals to win the NCAA Division III wrestling title. That year, Ryan Birt beat Nik Lewandowski in the final at 184 to clinch Wartburg’s second national title by a 117.5-116 margin against the Auggies.

Saturday at Alliant Energy Powerhouse, Birt’s son Bradan had a role as wins by Decatur, Birt and Baldridge denied Wabash of the first team title in school history as Wartburg eked out a 79-78 advantage atop the standings.

“Like anything in life you want to control your own destiny,” Wartburg Coach Eric Keller said. “Any time you don’t have control of it, you’re relying on other teams or other people to do it, it’s hard.”

It was the lowest score for a national champion since Ithaca edged Wartburg 77.75-76 to win the 1994 title in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, the last time neither Wartburg nor Augsburg won the crown.

In another flashback to 1994, the winner wasn’t determined until the next-to-last match of the final. That year Ithaca won a head-to-head matchup with Wartburg at 190 pounds to win the title. Saturday, Wartburg needed Baldridge to beat Jack Heldt at 197 to preserve the slim margin.

“Maybe there’s something there that it was meant to be,” Baldridge said. “It just feels good.”

Baldridge prevailed 3-2, clinching the 15th title in Wartburg history, and boosting North Central into a third-place tie with Augsburg.

Wabash made its move in the morning session when Wartburg lost five of six semifinals and went 5-7 in the wrestlebacks. The Little Giants moved ahead when Heldt won his semifinal match. The teams battled for a bit until Warburg reclaimed the lead at 79-78 when Kyle Briggs claimed third place for the Knights at 184 points.

“You always want to end up top; that’s the way I’ve been coached my whole life,” Briggs said. “We always focus on fighting with everything we’ve got. Whatever you can get, you do get. The littlest efforts can really pay off big time.”

Little did anyone know neither team would score another point.

“Any good tournament, I always tell the guys bad things are going to happen and you have to forget about them quickly and we’ve got to respond to them,” Wabash Coach Brian Anderson said. “I think our team definitely did that. We had some bad things happen to us Friday. The challenge was to respond, (and we went) 5-for-5 in the opening round today to put us in position.”

That set the stage for the finals, where Wabash enjoyed a 3-1 advantage over the Knights.

“When it comes to the end, winning a national title on any given year as an individual is no easy task,” Anderson said.

Decatur, from Baldwin Wallace, put a little more pressure on Wabash when he beat the Little Giants’ Carlos Champagne 6-3 in the opening final at 125 pounds.

“It’s an electric feeling right now, being able to get the win for Coach, doing it for BW, doing it for my family and doing it for myself,” said Decatur, a transfer from Ohio State. “It was a lot of people saying you can’t do this, you can’t do that, especially at the D-I level, and, to be honest, I don’t really care about it. I’m just happy to pull the win out here.”

Decatur said beating Champagne in the Central Regional final helped in the national final.

“Looking back on that regionals finals match, I just kind of had to remind myself that I’m the best when I’m on the offense, when I’m attacking,” he said. “If I can get to anyone’s legs I have the best shot of coming out with the victory.”

That was the key in the final. Decatur scored first with a takedown and near fall for a 4-0 advantage.

Mount Union’s Jordin James, the 2019 champion at 133 pounds, denied Wartburg a chance to increase its lead at 141 when he held off Zayren Terukina for a 3-2 win at 141 pounds.

“I’ve been training for this for a long time, so I was happy I got it out of the way,” James said.

James scored a first-period takedown and never trailed. After pulling within 3-2 on an escape to open the third period, James held off Terukina’s late takedown attempts. There was a review when time expired because Terukina had gotten behind James, but no points were awarded.

“I was not really too worried,” James said. “Guys get to my legs all the time. I’ve just got to stay positive, stay in the mode, stay optimistic.”

The next chance for Wabash came at 165 pounds, but Bradan Birt of Millikin defeated Kyle Hatch 14-2 to become a father-son championship duo. Bradan was less than 2 months old when his father won the title.

“I’ve trained so hard; I have the best support system in the world and God has blessed me to be in this situation,” Birt said, fighting back tears. “I could not be happier right new.”

Birt did what he does best, getting on the offense early and smothering his opponent on top. He ended the first period with a two-point tilt, added a second-period takedown to build the advantage to 7-0 with 4:04 of riding time and then finished off Hatch with a four-point near fall, a reversal and riding time for a 14-2 win.

“That’s the person I’ve wanted for three years now since they seeded me second at the national tournament,” Birt said. “I’ve been working every day having his name in the back of my head. I was lucky enough to have him in the national finals and finally prove to myself and my teammates and my country that I am the better wrestler, and I am the national champion.”

Birt was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the meet.

Baldridge, from Millikin’s College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rival North Central ended Wabash’s hopes with his 3-2 win against Heldt at 197.

“I was proud of how of my accomplishment; I was proud of how I wrestled,” Baldridge said. “You’ve just got to wrestle and take what’s there. You’re in control, but you’ve got to make sure you’re not getting ahead of yourself.

Baldridge later received a hero’s welcome from the Wartburg team as he walked through the corridor on his way to the awards stand.

“In the past four years I’ve gotten to know the Wartburg guys, and whether they’re our rivals sometimes, we come together and they’re all good guys,” Baldridge said. “We’re all here for the same goal.”

Earlier in the evening, Baldridge’s teammate Robbie Precin beat Andrew Perelka of John Carroll 6-4 to win the title at 133. A takedown with 4 seconds left in the first period was crucial since it built his lead to 4-1.

“It’ surreal,” Precin said of becoming the first national champion wrestler in North Central history.

If becoming the first champion in North Central history wasn’t enough, doing it with his brother, Brandon, a former standout at Northwestern in his corner made it even better.

“My brother is one of the greatest things in my life,” Precin said. “I couldn’t thank him more than anything. I’ve always looked up to him.”

There was plenty of drama in other matches, as well.

Brett Kaliner became the first champion in the history of Stevens Institute of Technology with a 4-2 win against Michael Petrella of Baldwin Wallace at 149 pounds. It ended a string of national near misses for Kaliner, who was the runner-up at 141 as a freshman in 2018 and took third at 149 the following year, before the 2020 tournament was canceled.

“I’ve been working for this for five years now, and to have it finally come to a culmination in my final match was indescribable,” Kaliner said.

Petrella was trying to become a second-generation champion. His father, Paul Petrella, was the 1978 Division III champion at 177 pounds for Baldwin Wallace.
The proud father after the 174-pound match was Cornell Beachem Jr. of Mount St. Joseph. After beating Michael Ross of Johnson & Wales 5-1, he hoisted his 9-month-old daughter, Braelyn, over his shoulders to celebrate in front of the crowd.

“Never in danger,” Beachem said.

“It’s an amazing feeling; I do my dad proud up above,” he said. “With the help of God, my dad and angels around me, I knew I would pull it off.”

At 184, Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Jaritt Shinhoster built a lead with three first-period takedowns and defeated Paul Detwiler of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy 11-5.

“Honestly, I couldn’t even believe it when it first happened,” Shinhoster said of the victory. “It’s something I’ve always dream of

The match at 157 featured the most dramatic ending of the night. After being ridden much of the second and third periods by Kaidon Winters of Rochester Institute of Technology, Nathan Lackman of Rhode Island escaped, then scored a takedown on the edge of the mat with 11 seconds left to take a 3-2 lead. He was called for locked hands in the final seconds, but that was reviewed and wiped off after time expired. The riding-time point tied the match and forced overtime.

In the extra period, Lackman got in on Winters’ leg and worked his way to the winning takedown with 1:23 left in the 2-minute period.

“It’s hard mentally when you’re in the third period and he’s still riding you,” Lackman said. “But I found that second win and was able to get up and get that takedown.”
The final match of the night lacked that kind of drama, but that was just fine with Wisconsin-Oshkosh heavyweight Jordan Lemcke, who beat Donovan King of Olivet 2-0.

“I wrestled my match the whole time; throughout the whole tournament I wrestled my way,” Lemcke said. “I just grind people out, wear them out and dominate on top.”

At Cedar Rapids, Iowa, March 12-13

1st Place Match - Jacob Decatur (Baldwin Wallace University) 8-0, Fr. over Carlos Champagne (Wabash College) 21-5, Sr. (Dec 6-3)
3rd Place Match - Shandon Akeo (Central College (Iowa)) 22-1, RS Sr. over Samuel Braswell (Averett University) 42-2, RS Sr. (Fall 4:12)
5th Place Match - Brady Kyner (Wartburg College) 13-3, Sr. over Riley Parker (Washington And Lee University) 9-4, Jr. (Dec 6-4)
7th Place Match - Nicholas Arborio (Western New England University) 6-3, RS Sr. over Tommy Russell (Millikin University) 8-4, Jr. (Dec 6-3)

1st Place Match - Robbie Precin (North Central College) 38-0, Jr. over Andrew Perelka (John Carroll University) 6-2, Jr. (Dec 6-4)
3rd Place Match - Dalton Rohrbaugh (York College (Pennsylvania)) 26-1, So. over Matt Berlin (University Of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) 29-5, RS Fr. (Dec 7-2)
5th Place Match - Josh Wilson (Greensboro College) 7-3, So. over David Massey (University Of Mount Union) 9-3, Sr. (Dec 3-2)
7th Place Match - Zach Thompson (University Of Wisconsin-Platteville) 19-9, Jr. over Joe Pins (Wartburg College) 26-6, So. (Dec 9-3)

1st Place Match - Jordin James (University Of Mount Union) 8-0, RS Fr. over Zayren Terukina (Wartburg College) 27-3, Jr. (Dec 3-2)
3rd Place Match - Jacob Reed (Ohio Northern University) 8-2, Fr. over Kyle Slendorn (Stevens Institute Of Technology) 29-4, RS Jr. (Dec 4-1)
5th Place Match - Jimmy McAuliffe (Elmhurst College) 9-2, RS Fr. over Brandon Woody (Averett University) 35-9, RS Sr. (MD 11-3)
7th Place Match - Josiah Gehr (Messiah University) 6-3, Sr. over James Rodriguez (Castleton University) 39-15, So. (Dec 7-2)

1st Place Match - Brett Kaliner (Stevens Institute Of Technology) 29-0, RS Fr. over Michael Petrella (Baldwin Wallace University) 7-1, So. (Dec 4-2)
3rd Place Match - Alex Barr (Wabash College) 23-6, Sr. over Alex Villar (North Central College) 37-7, So. (MD 10-2)
5th Place Match - Kristian Rumph (Wartburg College) 28-5, Jr. over Ryan Fleck (University Of Chicago) 22-7, Jr. (Fall 2:32)
7th Place Match - Kyle Merritt (Norwich University) 6-3, So. over Michael Conklin (The College Of New Jersey) 20-8, Fr. (Dec 9-5)

1st Place Match - Nathan Lackman (Rhode Island College) 9-0, Jr. over Kaidon Winters (Rochester Institute Of Technology) 33-2, RS Sr. (SV-1 5-3)
3rd Place Match - Tyler Shilson (Augsburg University) 8-2, RS Jr. over Ryan Luth (Washington And Lee University) 9-2, Jr. (Dec 9-2)
5th Place Match - Nolan Hertel (University Of Wisconsin-La Crosse) 23-5, So. over David Hollingsworth (Wartburg College) 23-6, Jr. (M. For.)
7th Place Match - Luke Reicosky (John Carroll University) 6-3, Jr. over Darian Estevez (University Of Chicago) 21-7, Fr. (SV-1 3-1)

1st Place Match - Bradan Birt (Millikin University) 9-0, Sr. over Kyle Hatch (Wabash College) 31-2, Sr. (MD 14-2)
3rd Place Match - Chase Schmidt (University Of Wisconsin-Eau Claire) 35-7, Sr. over Will Esmoil (Coe College) 21-8, So. (Dec 9-6)
5th Place Match - Matt Lackman (Alvernia University) 8-2, Fr. over Cooper Pontelandolfo (New York University) 6-4, Fr. (Dec 2-0)
7th Place Match - Seth Brossard (University Of Wisconsin-La Crosse) 27-3, Jr. over Austin Lamb (Rochester Institute Of Technology) 25-9, RS So. (Fall 1:49)

1st Place Match - Cornell Beachem (Mount St. Joseph University) 8-0, Sr. over Michael Ross (Johnson & Wales University (Rhode Island)) 37-1, RS Sr. (Dec 5-1)
.3rd Place Match - Jacob Krakow (Loras College) 21-3, RS Sr. over Zane Mulder (Wartburg College) 25-2, RS So. (SV-1 3-1)
5th Place Match - Solomon Nielsen (Augsburg University) 7-2, RS Sr. over Zach Stedeford (Rochester Institute Of Technology) 27-12, RS Sr. (Fall 6:59)
7th Place Match - Stefan Major (Stevens Institute Of Technology) 32-8, Jr. over Demitreus Henry (State University Of New York At Cortland) 7-3, Sr. (Dec 7-4)

1st Place Match - Jaritt Shinhoster (University Of Wisconsin-Whitewater) 32-2, Sr. over Paul Detwiler (U.S. Coast Guard Academy) 23-1, Sr. (Dec 12-6)
3rd Place Match - Kyle Briggs (Wartburg College) 18-2, Sr. over Shane Liegel (Loras College) 25-2, Jr. (Dec 2-0)
5th Place Match - Chibueze Chukwuezi (Ithaca College) 8-2, Jr. over Charles Baczek (Wabash College) 34-12, Fr. (Dec 5-2)
7th Place Match - Mahlic Sallah (Roanoke College) 19-3, Jr. over Daniel Surich (The College Of New Jersey) 22-7, RS Sr. (Dec 2-1)

1st Place Match - Cody Baldridge (North Central College) 33-3, Sr. over Jack Heldt (Wabash College) 35-2, RS So. (Dec 3-2)
3rd Place Match - Beau Yineman (University Of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) 8-2, Sr. over Camden Farrow (York College (Pennsylvania)) 35-7, Jr. (Dec 10-4)
5th Place Match - Coy Spooner (U.S. Coast Guard Academy) 27-2, So. over Bentley Schwanebeck-Ostermann (Augsburg University) 6-4, RS So. (Dec 6-3)
7th Place Match - Gable Crebs (Lycoming College) 30-7, So. over Jordan Wallace (Ithaca College) 6-4, RS Jr. (M. For.)

1st Place Match - Jordan Lemcke (University Of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) 7-1, RS Fr. over Donovan King (Olivet College) 6-2, Jr. (Dec 2-0)
3rd Place Match - Kaleb Reeves (Coe College) 32-1, Jr. over Tyler Kim (Augsburg University) 8-2, RS So. (Fall 0:40)
5th Place Match - Nico Ramirez (Southern Virginia University) 28-6, RS Jr. over Robby Bates (North Central College) 32-12, So. (Dec 3-2)
7th Place Match - John Fulmer (Lycoming College) 40-3, Jr. over Hank Behaeghel (Johns Hopkins University) 23-11, Sr. (Fall 2:32)

Team Standings
1 Wartburg College 79.0
2 Wabash College 78.0
3 Augsburg University 62.5
3 North Central College 62.5
5 Stevens Institute Of Technology 46.5
6 Coe College 40.5
7 Rochester Institute Of Technology 37.0
8 Baldwin Wallace University 36.0
9 Millikin University 34.5
10 University Of Wisconsin-Oshkosh 33.5
11 Loras College 29.0
12 University Of Mount Union 28.5
12 York College (Pennsylvania) 28.5
14 Washington And Lee University 27.5
15 U.S. Coast Guard Academy 26.0
16 John Carroll University 22.5
17 Mount St. Joseph University 22.0
17 University Of Wisconsin-Whitewater 22.0
19 University Of Wisconsin-La Crosse 21.5
20 Johnson & Wales University (Rhode Island) 21.0
21 Averett University 20.5
21 Central College (Iowa) 20.5
23 Rhode Island College 20.0
23 University Of Chicago 20.0
25 Olivet College 19.0
26 Lycoming College 18.0
27 University Of Wisconsin-Eau Claire 17.0
28 Ithaca College 16.5
29 Ohio Northern University 14.0
29 The College Of New Jersey 14.0
31 Alvernia University 13.5
32 Elmhurst College 13.0
33 University Of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 12.5
34 New York University 11.5
35 Southern Virginia University 10.0
36 Western New England University 9.5
37 Greensboro College 9.0
38 State University Of New York At Cortland 7.5
39 Roanoke College 6.5
40 Norwich University 6.0
41 Castleton University 5.5
41 Messiah University 5.5
41 University Of Wisconsin-Platteville 5.5
44 Johns Hopkins University 4.0
45 University Of Southern Maine 3.5
46 Bridgewater State University 3.0
46 Delaware Valley University 3.0
46 Gettysburg College 3.0
46 Luther College 3.0
46 Roger Williams University 3.0
51 Muhlenberg College 1.5
52 Centenary University (New Jersey) 1.0
52 College At Brockport 1.0
52 Oswego State 1.0
52 University Of Dubuque 1.0
52 Washington And Jefferson College 1.0
57 Albion College 0.5
57 Springfield College 0.5
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