Photos by Sam Janicki, SJanicki Photo
If you were too busy breaking down the Division I brackets this weekend and missed the first two NCAA wrestling tournaments of the year, you missed out on some incredible wrestling. The top seeds at 125 and 133 in Division III didn’t make it past their opening bouts with their title dreams intact. We saw one of the all-time greats in Division II wrap up his career against an opponent who beat a 2017 Division I All-American this season. More than one program saw their first-ever national champions crowned and one of those, in particular, was probably a little sore getting out of bed the next morning. It wasn’t all anarchy, of course. Wartburg continues to be the best program in Division III, while St. Cloud State got back on top in DII. We went through all the results of the weekend and here are the 10 best performances in college wrestling this week!
10) Coming back for history
When Jay Albis (Johnson & Wales) reached the DIII finals a year ago, he and teammate Stephen Jarrell, who also made the title bout, joined Brennan Ward as the only wrestlers in program history to make it that far. Unfortunately for them, they both went home with silver medals, leaving Johnson & Wales without a Division III national champion in it’s history. This year, Albis headed to Cleveland seeded second, worked his way into the semifinals with a pair of bonus point victories, then snuck past another returning All-American, Jonathan Haas (Brockport), 4-3. Back in the finals, everything was coming up roses for Albis as he built a 9-1 lead through two periods. However, a six-point toss from Carlos Fuentez (Wheaton) tightened the match considerably and Jay would eventually need an escape with just three seconds remaining to win his program’s first national title, 11-10.
9) All you need is one chance
Noel Torres (Newman) didn’t start wrestling until the eighth grade and he entered his senior season never having competed at the Division II national tournament. When he finally made it, he made history. Newman, who started their program in 2004 in the NAIA, had only seen one DII All-American, Dustin Reed who finished fifth and seventh the last two years. After Torres upended eastern super regional champion Dakota DesLauriers (Mercyhurst) in tie-breakers, he made sure he’d be the second. A 5-1 win over returning national finalist Nicholas Fiegener (Cal Baptist) made Torres the first finalist for his school and he secured his place as the first champion with a 3-1 win over returning fourth place finisher JaVaughn Perkins (CSU-Pueblo), 3-1.
8) Upsets and revenge
Just a sophomore, Ben Brisman (Ithaca) made his DIII national championship debut, earning the seven seed after a runner-up finish to Brett Kaliner (Stevens) in the mideast region. The first sign that Brisman was up to something big came in the quarters when he made a first period takedown stand up, knocking off second-seeded Josh Martin (Cornell College), 3-2. A pin of Brendan Ladd (Alma), who was coming off an upset win over the three seed, in the semis made Ben a surprising finalist and earned him a rematch with Kaliner. After the top seed established a 5-3 lead in the first period, Brisman escaped, then found a four-point move halfway through the second to lead 8-6 with two minutes remaining. As Kaliner attacked desperately, Brisman iced the match with a late takedown, shocking the man he lost to just weeks ago, 10-7.
7) Twice as nice
Jordan Newman (UW-Whitewater) was just 7-7 in 2013-14, but he improved enough to become an All-American the next season, finishing eighth in 2015. After taking a redshirt year, Newman returned a dominant force, claiming his first DIII national title at 184 pounds a year ago. This season he spent the entirety of Whitewater’s regular schedule up at 197, earning the number one national ranking there, but when the post-season began, Jordan was back at 184 pounds. That was bad news for anyone else who had title hopes at that weight. Newman was the top seed in Cleveland, advancing to the finals by pinning two of his foes sandwiched around a 6-0 decision. With third-seeded Tyler Lutes (Wartburg) the last man standing between Newman and his second crown, the Whitewater senior never relented. A takedown in every period resulted in a 9-1 major decision as he became the program’s second two-time DIII champion.
6) Back on top
After back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, St. Cloud State saw Notre Dame College take the DII crown back after last winning it in 2014. The programs who have combined for the last four national championships battled at the top once again this year with Notre Dame leading for a significant amount of the event. However, finals appearances by James Pleski (149), Larry Bomstad (157) and Vince Dietz (197) spurred the Huskies to a big Saturday morning surge that resulted in their taking the title back. Brett Velasquez (125) and Jarred Oftedahl (141) both finished fourth while Kolton Eischens (174) was sixth. The final tally saw St. Cloud State with 92.5 with Notre Dame showing 84.
5) If they can’t score, they can’t win
After a pair of top-three finishes at the NJCAA national tournament, Josh Walker (Upper Iowa) was out of wrestling, working a roofing job before accepting an offer to return to college wrestling for the second semester last year. He turned that chance into a seventh-place finish at the 2017 DII national championships and set about preparing for his senior season. While he took some early losses, once the calendar flipped to 2018, Walker hit another gear. He headed to nationals as the central super regional champion at 133 pounds. His first match took just 80 seconds and while his second was much tougher, Walker got his hand raised, 2-0. Another pin in the semis put Josh in the finals where he topped George Farmah (Minnesota State), 1-0. Over four matches this weekend, Walker did not surrender a single point.
4) It’s never too late
Jake Evans’ (Waynesburg) DIII title at 285 pounds was memorable for so many reasons it is hard to pick the best storyline. The fact that he was the five seed and did it the hard way, beating number four, number one, then number two is impressive, but it might not even make the top two interesting things about this run. Jake is 29 years old and is still just a junior, one of those great DIII stories proving it is never too late to take your shot. Those are always fun and puts an interesting twist on the underdog tale. However, I’m a sucker for history so if you’re making me choose the best part of this story, how about the fact that Waynesburg had only ever had one DIII national finalist before Evans made it this year and he proceeded to win the program’s first national title? Now a two-time All-American Evans is expected to return next year as a 30 year old senior. Amazing.
3) DIII Dominance
In 1996, Wartburg outlasted Augsburg, 95.5-89.5, to win their first national title. Back then, the Auggies had three crowns, having claimed their last the year before. No one else has won a DIII team title since. The 2018 national tournament was the 22nd edition of the event since Wartburg’s first championship. The Knights were the two-time defending champions and were heavily favored to beat Augsburg for their 14th crown, the most in DIII history. Behind individual titles from Brock Rathbun (133), Cross Cannone (149), and Kyle Fank (197), the favorites wrestled like it, stretching their lead to 54.5 over their rivals, the fifth-biggest margin of victory since the tournament began in 1974. Logan Thomsen (2nd, 157), Mike Ross (8th, 165), Eric Devos (3rd, 174), Tyler Lutes (2nd, 184), and Lance Evans (4th, 285) made it eight All-Americans for Wartburg as they won their third title in a row, seventh in eight years, and ninth of 11.
2) Crushing all comers
While Augsburg won’t be happy finishing far behind Wartburg and having to hold off Ithaca for second, the performance of Lucas Jeske (165) will put a smile on any fans face. The sophomore was third here a year ago and entered the weekend seeded second after making it through the regular season with just one loss, then winning the upper midwest regional with two falls, a tech, and a medical forfeit. He was every bit as dominating in Cleveland, pinning each of his three foes en route to the finals, then hammering Nick Velez (Ithaca), 15-0, to claim the title. That win ensured Augsburg stayed in front of Ithaca, the final was 82-79. For his efforts, Jeske was named the tournament’s outstanding wrestler.