When is the last time you attended a national championship and got to watch Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Middle Tennessee State, MIT, Yale, Texas, and numerous other teams? Well that’s what I did this past weekend in Allen, Texas at the NCWA championships. Most fans who follow DI College wrestling probably do not know much about the NCWA. The National Collegiate Wrestling Association started in 1997 with only 13 programs. They now boast 149 and 85 of those are represented at this weekend’s national championship. Matter of fact nearly 480 athletes competed this weekend making it the largest collegiate wrestling national championship in the country.
One thing that I have noticed over the years since starting TOM is that for the most part wrestling fans are very segregated. What I mean is that they tend to only follow a specific area, style, division or age group. I am always surprised at how many people do not follow other areas of the sport. I hope that more fans can cross over and expand their interests. The NCWA may not be the DI nationals but it is not lacking in competition, passion or dedication. I spent several days walking around the arena getting an up close look at the matches. I saw some great bouts and some fierce rivalry’s which always adds to the atmosphere. The semifinals were equally intense.
There are those teams that are transitioning to NCAA level programs, including the team champion in NCWA Division I, Grand Canyon who is moving to NCAA DI and Shorter College who is transitioning to NCAA DII. The NCWA fills a gap that in my opinion is needed. The growth of the organization is something that we should pay attention to, support and foster as a wrestling community. There have been six teams that went from the NCWA to become either NCAA or NAIA teams. Buckenll was dropped and then became an NCWA team which kept the program alive. Bucknell is now alive and well in DI. Liberty who was dropped two years ago is thriving in the NCWA. They even have a five star recruit in freshman 133-pounder Ryan Diehl.
The finals were done on a raised mat at the center of the arena and a decision was made to alter the order and the 133 pound bout was moved to the end of the session to showcase two undefeated wrestling in Diehl and Sam Shames of M.I.T. resulting in a 15-10 win for Diehl. Florida Gulf Coast University captured the NCWA Division II team championship. The Eagles are led by Hall of Fame member Pat Milkovich. Milkovich is one of only nine wrestlers in NCAA DI history to compete in four NCAA finals. He was also a walk-on at Michigan State. In just two seasons at FGCU he has made great strides.
Following the competition the NCWA does another very unique thing in that they hold a banquet that is designed to honor the All-American’s and National Champions as well as all the volunteers and coaches. This was a lot of fun and shined the spotlight on the people it should, the athletes. After spending the weekend at the event and learning more about the passion that these organizers, volunteers, coaches and athletes have, it is no wonder that the NCWA is growing. To be successful at anything you need to love what you do, it was clear sitting in a room with over 600 people Saturday night that these people love what they do and in my opinion they should be applauded.
The event was a pleasure to attend and as a fan of wrestling, very entertaining.