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AWN Preview: NAIA National Championships

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By Jason Bryant
Editor, Amateur Wrestling News

The NAIA does things just a little different, but different isn’t always viewed negatively. The progressive organization has been on the forefront of adding new college wrestling opportunities. Currently, the NAIA sponsors men’s wrestling at 41 colleges and universities nationwide. For the 2013 NAIA National Wrestling Championships March 1-2 at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa, 36 schools will be represented, including the first qualifiers from Benedictine, Bethany and Life. All three programs started varsity wrestling this year.

While the NAIA has always allowed more than the traditional 10 wrestlers to qualify for the championships, the process changed this year, getting away from qualifying through the season via placement at open and invitational tournaments, to a more traditional regional or group qualifying system. The top four in each region qualified for 160 initial entries, then 50 wildcards were added to come up with the 210 participants in the 2013 event. In the past, the tournament was a three-day grind with brackets having more wrestlers in a weight than there were actual programs. Not a bad problem to have, but now the qualifying procedure is a big more fan-friendly.

Teams are still allowed to enter 12 wrestlers per weight, but at the Group level. A team can qualify up to 12 wrestlers through the regional groups instead of being forced to pick from possibly more than 12 wrestlers who had previous qualified under the old standards. It’s a little bit easier to follow.

Southern Oregon and Great Falls each qualified 12 out of the West Qualifying Group, while defending team champions Grand View will be bringing 11 wrestlers across town. The Vikings and head coach Nick Mitchell won the school’s first NAIA team title last year in only the program’s fourth year of existence.

The team title should again be a race with the usual suspects — Grand View, Southern Oregon, Great Falls, while Lindsey Wilson, Campbellsville and Dickinson State are all contenders to try to break the top four. Montana State-Northern can’t be overlooked either.

In case you’re wondering, the seeding is by group, so the top four from each group are seeded and the rest are thrown in with a blind draw.

NOTE: This preview was drawn from the preliminary brackets. The official brackets will be posted later on February 28. At the time this preview was crafted, only the preliminary brackets were available.

125 pounds
Two-time champion Mitchell Lofstedt of Southern Oregon is the clear favorite. After taking a year off to focus on a career in music, Lofstedt returned to the Raiders last season and didn’t miss a beat, winning the championship at 125 pounds. Lofstedt comes into the tournament 29-1 with his only loss coming to Michigan State’s Brenan Lyon at the Reno Tournament of Champions. Lofstedt would avenge the loss later in that tournament. Lofstedt’s dominated the NAIA and has 18 falls this season, including one over second-ranked Gabe Roman of Missouri Baptist.

Sitting on Lofstedt’s side of the draw is last year’s runner-up Kory Kistner of Morningside and sixth-ranked Sean Blumhardt of Jamestown. Blumhardt could be Lofstedt’s quarterfinal opponent with the winner facing either Kistner, Cumberlands’ Andrew Tillman or Oklahoma City’s Kidd Gomez, who comes in ranked fourth.

Up top, All-Ameicans Roman, Bryden Lazaro of Dickinson State, Sean Silva of Embry-Riddle and Deteoureious Prayther of Missouri Baptist will battle it out. Roman comes in 26-4, while Lazaro is 33-4. Lazaro and Prayther could meet in the second round with the winner coming out to face Silva.

AWN Picks
1. Mitchell Lofstedt (Southern Oregon)
2. Gabe Roman (Missouri Baptist)
3. Kidd Gomez (Oklahoma City)
4. Kory Kistner (Morningside)
5. Bryden Lazaro (Dickinson State)
6. Sean Silva (Embry-Riddle)
7. Deteoureious Prayther (Missouri Baptist)
8. Aaron La Farge (Montana State-Northern)

133 pounds
Unlike 125 pounds, 133 doesn’t have much depth in terms of returning All-Americans from last season. Indiana Tech’s Travis Barroquillo was the school’s first NAIA All-American last year, finishing fourth, while Menlo’s Angel Garcia was seventh. Other than that, a pair of Round of 12 wrestlers from last year, Richard Rios of Dakota Wesleyan and Tyler Alsip of Campbellsville remain contenders. Montana State-Northern’s Cameron Neiss comes in with the hot hand after beating No. 1 Garcia and No. 2 Prescott Garner of Southern Oregon at the West Qualifying Group. He’s on the bottom side with Northern Group champion Jason Arreola of York College and Alsip. Up top sits Barroquillo, Garcia, Garner, Rios and Eastern Group champion Aaron Garcia of Bethany.

Barroquillo and Garcia could be the best quarterfinal, should the two reach the round. Garner sits at the bottom half of the top bracket and should be one to watch if he’s 100 percent. You might remember him from Division I action at the Naval Academy and Chattanooga before transferring back closer to home to wrestle for coach Mike Ritchey. If he’s on, Garner is a real threat to win. Joao Vicente of William Penn sits down low in the bottom bracket and should meet up with Arreola in the quarters.

AWN Picks
1. Prescott Garner (Southern Oregon)
2. Cameron Neiss (Montana State-Northern)
3. Travis Barroquillo (Indiana Tech)
4. Angel Garcia (Menlo)
5. Richard Rios (Dakota Wesleyan)
6. Jason Arreola (York)
7. Aaron Garcia (Bethany)
8. Tyler Alsip (Campbellsville)

141 pounds
Returning All-American Gustavo Martinez of Grand View comes in as the top-ranked wrestler in the weight. He’s one of four returning All-Americans, including last year’s runner-up Chris Teague of Campbellsville. Teague is ranked fifth and is in the bottom half of the bracket with Martinez. The two should meet in the quarterfinals. Martinez was the Central Group champion. Northern Group champion Brad Steele of Dickinson State comes in ranked third and is in the bottom bracket with Martinez and Teague. Steele was seventh last year at 149 pounds.

Up top, returning All-American Mylez Mazurkiewicz of Great Falls is ranked second and is the West Group champion. Mazurkiewicz lost to teammate Anthony Varnell in last year’s semifinals but has a good draw this year and should reach the semifinals where he could see East Group champion Brandon Westerman of Campbellsville. Westerman won the Group title by injury default over teammate Teague.

This weight has an even distribution of the top eight wrestlers, as each side has four ranked wrestlers and the top two wrestlers in the NAIA coaches rankings are on different sides of the draw.

A projected final between Martinez and Mazurkiewicz is a complete contrast of styles. Martinez is slick, while Mazurkiewicz, as typical with Great Falls wrestlers, is a banger who likes to wear opponents down. Martinez beat Mazurkiewicz 4-1 in last year’s fifth-place match.

AWN Picks
1. Gustavo Martinez (Grand View)
2. Myles Mazurkeiwicz (Great Falls)
3. Brad Steele (Dickinson State)
4. Chris Teague (Campbellsville)
5. Brandon Westerman (Campbellsville)
6. Dillon Kifer (Jamestown)
7. Wismit Moinius (Lindsey Wilson)
8. Joel Olivas (Baker)

149 pounds
This weight cleared out with returning national champion Eric Burgey transferring from William Penn to Division II Notre Dame College and a slew of wrestlers graduating. Of the top eight wrestlers in the NAIA rankings, half are freshmen. The highest returning placewinner, or the only returning placewinner rather, is Southern Oregon’s Jimmy Eggemeyer, an Alaska native who finished second last year to Burgey.

Eggemeyer is in the top half of the bracket, while top-ranked Mike Vassar of Great Falls is down low. Vassar edged Eggemeyer 3-2 to win the West Group title. Along with Vassar is third-ranked Isaiah Tatum of Grand View. Tatum was a past NJCAA All-American at North Iowa Area Community College — at 165 pounds. He’s 30-3 on his season record form, but one of those losses is to Iowa alum Montell Marion at the Midlands. That doesn’t count in NCAA records, but we’re not quite sure how the NAIA counts it. Tatum’s other loss is to Eggemeyer (in overtime) and to North Dakota State’s Joe Garner.

Campbellsville freshman Kyle Terry won the East Group and is in the top half of the bracket with Eggemeyer and North Group champion Sean Elkins of Dickinson State. Elkins and Eggemeyer should meet up in the quarterfinals. Fourth-ranked Jake Ekster of Missouri Valley should see Terry early, as the two could meet in the quarterfinals.

Vassar had a disappointing 2012 tournament. He was upended early and lost before the placement rounds. He’s beaten Eggemeyer twice this year and only has one loss in the NAIA — to Campbellsville’s Chris Teague, who’s now at 141 pounds.

Jeremiah Lutz is Brewton-Parker College’s lone qualifier. He comes in ranked ninth and could be one of those sentimental favorites to reach the podium.

AWN Picks
1. Jimmy Eggemeyer (Southern Oregon)
2. Isaiah Tatum (Grand View)
3. Mike Vassar (Great Falls)
4. Kyle Terry (Campbellsville)
5. Jake Ekster (Missouri Valley)
6. Nick Haugen (Baker)
7. Sean Elkins (Dickinson State)
8. Jeremiah Lutz (Brewton-Parker)

157 pounds
Three All-Americans return led by last year’s third-place finisher Chad Lowman of Grand View. The Des Moines native will be looking to cap his season by winning a title in his hometown. His top competition will come from teammate Quinten Haynes, Campbellsville’s Conor Young, Oklahoma City’s Mark Meyer or Embry-Riddle’s Josh Chang.

Lowman and Young are in the top side of the bracket and are co-No. 1’s according to the final NAIA rankings. The two should meet in the semifinals in the top bracket. Both won their qualifying group championships. Lowman beat Young 3-1 in the consolation semifinals last year.

Chang is kind of an enigma at 157 pounds. He moved up after a modest season at 149 pounds, but won the West Group convincingly. For his efforts, he’ll get last year’s fourth-place finisher, Colby Crank of Bethany in the opening round. Crank was granted a wildcard selection after failing to place in the top four in his qualifying group. Chang and Crank will be the best first-round match of the tournament. Another wrestler worth watching is Lindsey Wilson’s Joey Cozart. The Iowa State transfer comes in ranked eighth and will have an early-round test against third-ranked Meyer.

This could be an All-Grand View final with Haynes, ranked fourth down low. He’ll have a tough quarterfinal with fifth-ranked Tyler Johnson of Dickinson State, the North Group champion.

AWN Picks
1. Chad Lowman (Grand View)
2. Quinten Haynes (Grand View)
3. Conor Young (Campbellsville)
4. Josh Chang (Embry-Riddle)
5. Mark Meyer (Oklahoma City)
6. Joey Cozart (Lindsey Wilson)
7. Tyler Johnson (Dickinson State)
8. Michael Gonzalez (Cumberland U.)

165 pounds
Only two All-Americans come back from last season at this weight and only Montana State-Northern’s Ethan Hinebauch placed at the weight. Hinebauch was sixth last year and comes in ranked No. 1. Of Hinebauch’s four losses, three of them were to Division I opponents. He’s unbeaten against NAIA competition this season. Jimmie Schuessler of Grand View moved up from 157, where he was seventh a year ago and comes in ranked second.

Hinebauch has the tougher draw in the top half of the bracket with Eastern Group champion James Bennett of Indiana Tech, Dallas Houchins of Grand View and Oklahoma City’s Zach Skates, who is a transfer from Oklahoma State.

Down low, sixth-ranked Michael Nord of Jamestown has a solid draw and could make the semifinals. He’ll have a tough quarterfinal against fourth-ranked Shawn Lau of Great Falls. The winner is expected to see Schuessler in the semis.

Up top, you have to like Skates’ draw until he runs into Hinebauch. One thing will be settled in the first round — who should have been ranked No. 11. Tied in the coaches rankings, Bryce Alexander of Hannibal-LaGrange will face off with Cadyn McKeeth of Lindsey Wilson. Winner gets Lau.

AWN Picks
1. Ethan Hinebauch (Montana State-Northern)
2. Jimmie Schuessler (Grand View)
3. Michael Nord (Jamestown)
4. Zach Skates (Oklahoma City)
5. Dallas Houchins (Grand View)
6. Shawn Lau (Great Falls)
7. James Haywood (Lindsey Wilson)
8. Bryce Alexandar (Hannibal-LaGrange)

174 pounds
With four All-Americans, the weight has talent evenly distributed through the brackets, but the race might be for second as defending NAIA champion Brock Gutches returns. Gutches had an exciting finish in last year’s championship to rally in the final and he’s been solid all season long. All-Americans Max Payne of Montana State-Northern, Jose Alvarez of Wayland Baptist and Tanner Martin of Indiana Tech are also in the mix.

The reason it “might” be for second is Payne did beat Gutches earlier this season, but in the next two meetings, Gutches won by fall.

Alvarez is up top with Eastern Group champion Zeke Hunt of Campbellsville. The pair could meet in the semifinals, while Payne is also in the top half of the bracket. Alvarez was Wayland Baptist’s first All-American in school history last season and beat Hunt earlier this season.

Gutches should meet Martin in the quarters. Grand View’s Central Group champion Thomas Moman is ranked third and in the bottom half with Gutches. The Raiders expect big points from their talented sophomore.

AWN Picks
1. Brock Gutches (Southern Oregon)
2. Max Payne (Montana State-Northern)
3. Tanner Martin (Indiana Tech)
4. Thomas Moman (Grand View)
5. Cameron Schrempp (Dickinson State)
6. Jose Alvarez (Wayland Baptist)
7. Zeke Hunt (Cumberland U.)
8. Taylor Vaughan (Great Falls)

184 pounds
One of the deepest weights in the tournament with returning All-Americans from three different weight classes. Top-ranked Kody Reed of Montana State-Northern didn’t place last year, but comes in 28-3. Second-ranked Joseph Stephens of Lindsey Wilson was seconds away from winning the title last year at 174 pounds. He came back to the lineup at 184 and has gone 8-1 since returning with the lone loss coming to Michigan State’s John Rizqallah.

Last year’s 197-pound champion Jashua Marsh of Midland is down at 184 and is ranked third. He’s the Northern Group champion and is in the bottom half with Life’s Trey Hicks and Reed. All-American Jarid Price of Baker will meet Hicks in the second round in a quality matchup. Up top with Stephens are a pair of All-Americans — Weston Keleher of Missouri Baptist and Brian Block of Morningside. The pair met in the quarterfinals last year with Keleher picking up a fall in overtime. Instead of the quarters, they’ll meet in the first round with the winner taking on 10th-ranked Toby Cheff of Montana State-Northern.

Keep an eye on Hicks, who is trying to become Life’s first All-American in school history. Fourth-ranked Mitchell Eichenauer has a deceptive record at 13-10. Four of his losses have come to Division II competitors.

AWN Picks
1. Joseph Stephens (Lindsey Wilson)
2. Kody Reed (Montana State-Northern)
3. Mitchell Eichenauer (Oklahoma City)
4. Jashua Marsh (Midland)
5. Brian Block (Morningside)
6. Trey Hicks (Life)
7. Weston Keleher (Missouri Baptist)
8. Christian Mays (Grand View)

197 pounds
While 184 pounds had All-Americans from three different weight classes, 197 trumps it, with All-Americans from 2012 coming into the weight from 174, 197 and 285 pounds. Grand View’s Derek Nightser is the top returning wrestler, finishing second last year, but he was upset by Missouri Valley’s Josh Manu in the Central Group finals. It ended up likely being a favorable situation for Nightser, who will be the lone All-American in the top side of the bracket.

All-Americans Mike Brown (Oklahoma City), John Sievert (Morningside) and Allen Scruggs (Campbellsville) reside in the bottom half of the bracket with Brown, third last year at heavyweight, facing off with Sievert, seventh last year at 174 in the second round after a Brown first-round match.

Manu is in the bottom quarter with Scruggs. Lindsey Wilson’s Jacob Bradford was the East Group champion and is ranked fourth. He’s up in the top along with West Group champion Charles Johnson of Southern Oregon.

AWN Picks
1. Derek Nightser (Grand View)
2. Allen Scruggs (Campbellsville)
3. Josh Manu (Missouri Valley)
4. John Sievert (Morningside)
5. Charles Johnson (Southern Oregon)
6. Jacob Bradford (Lindsey Wilson)
7. Mike Brown (Oklahoma City)
8. Bradlee Carls (York)

285 pounds
When Eric Thompson came on the scene last year at the National Duals for Grand View, he quickly dispatched with the returning NAIA heavyweight runner-up. The top-ranked heavyweight coming out of high school landed at Grand View after leaving Iowa State and most expected him to be untested in the NAIA for the duration of his career.

Well, that didn’t happen as Thompson, the defending NAIA champion, has lost twice this season to NAIA competitors. He’s avenged one of the losses (Baker’s Brandon Gebhardt) and will have a chance to avenge the other in the quarterfinals against Morningside’s Tyler Kacmarynski. Thompson is one of three All-Americans returning, along with Gebhardt, who was second to Thompson last year and Dickinson State’s Jose Lopez, a fifth-place finisher last year.

Lopez and Gebhardt are in the top half of the bracket and should square off in the semifinals, but Gebhardt will have to get past Great Falls’ Sears Tiernan and Missouri Baptist’s Luis Contreras just to reach the semis. Lopez will have Bubba Owens of Southern Oregon in the quarters. The longer a match between Lopez and Gebhardt goes, the more it favors Gebhart. Only four of Lopez’s matches have gone the distance this year — win or lose.

Thompson, should he avenge the loss to Kacmarynski, will have West Group champion Scott Brasil of Menlo in the quarters as the bottom half of the bottom bracket is devoid of anyone ranked in the top eight except for Brasil.

AWN Picks:
1. Eric Thompson (Grand View)
2. Brandon Gebhardt (Baker)
3. Jose Lopez (Dickinson State)
4. Scott Brasil (Menlo)
5. Bubba Owens (Southern Oregon)
6. Tyler Kacmarynski (Morningside)
7. Luis Contreras (Missouri Baptist)
8. Markese Christian (Wayland Baptist)

Team Projections
1 Grand View
2 Southern Oregon
3 Montana State-Northern
4 Campbellsville
5 Dickinson State