CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Notre Dame (Ohio) successfully defended its title by winning the 2011 NAIA Wrestling National Championship Saturday in the U.S. Cellular Center. The Falcons finished with 170 points and crowned two individual champions in Dante Rini at 125 pounds and heavyweight Orlando Scales. Lindenwood (Mo.) finished second with 141 points and McKendree (Ill.) took third with 138.5 points. Placing fourth was Great Falls (Mont.) with 108.5 points and Grand View (Iowa) rounded out the top-five teams with 106 points.
“Coming into the tournament after winning last year, we wanted to repeat,” Notre Dame head wrestling coach Frank Romano said. “I thought we wrestled really well and we had a tremendous day today, other than this evening. In the morning session we won every bout, going 7-for-7, and last night we had a tremendous round, which is the reason that we won. Putting five men into the finals; that sealed it for us.”
The Falcons became the ninth team to win back-to-back national titles and marked the 16th time that a team has won consecutive championships in the event’s 54-year history.
“Both [national championships] are special, very special, but maybe the first one is a little bit more special,” Romano said. “I hoped that we would wrestle well here and we did. I knew that we were ready and we were prepared. The guys were fresh and those are key factors.”
Rini faced a 2-1 deficit heading into the second period against Campbellsville’s (Ky.) Johnny Papesh, but used a three-point nearfall in the second period and an escape in the third to tally a 5-3 decision to take first place at 125 pounds.
“I thought Dante Rini [stood out for us], even though he didn’t wrestle a whole lot of matches this year, he really came on in the last month of the season,” Romano said. “He was able to defeat [Johnny] Papesh in the group tournament and tonight. Papesh is a great wrestler, and Dante was able to get by him in both matches.”
Of the seven previous national champions that arrived in Cedar Rapids, two were able to finish on top of the podium. After winning a national title at 149 pounds in 2009, Grand View’s Matt Burns earned his second championship by posting a 5-3 decision over Ashtin Primus of Notre Dame. The senior scored a first-period takedown for the early lead and added another in the second for a 4-0 advantage heading into the final period. Primus got a takedown in the third, but it was not enough, as Burns secured riding time and the victory. Burns’ career comes to an end as a two-time All-American and a two-time national champion.
McKendree’s Andrew Sanchez capped off his career by winning his second national title, edging defending national champ Derek Foore of Notre Dame with a 2-1 decision. After a scoreless first period, Sanchez got on the board in with an escape in the second for a 1-0 lead. He was able to maintain control of Foore throughout the third period to accumulate 1:26 worth of riding time, which proved to be the deciding factor. The four-time All-American caps off his stellar Bearcat career with a 144-23 record, including a 38-1 mark in his final season. For his performance in his final season on the mat, Sanchez was named NWCA/NAIA National Wrestler of the Year.
Five finalists, including a trio newly crowned national champions, earned their third All-America accolade. Three-time honorees that captured top-honors were 133-pounder Wade Lowe of McKendree, Lindenwood’s Chris Chionuma at 174 pounds and 184-pounder Evan Hinebauch of Montana State-Northern. Also earning their third All-America accolade were runners-up Thomas Straughn of Notre Dame and Michael French of Great Falls at 157 and 184 pounds, respectively.
Corey Bleaken of Cumberland (Tenn.) was named the NAIA Most Outstanding Wrestler with the Gorriaran Award after winning the 157-pound title in the first tiebreaker, 4-3, over reigning national champ Straughn. The senior is the first Bulldog wrestler to earn the award. Southern Oregon 157-pounder Tommie Norton/Hooper was named the event’s Most Falls in the Least Time award winner, sticking three opponents in a total of 1:52.
McKendree head coach James Kisgen was named NAIA National Coach of the Year. It is the second time Kisgen has been tabbed with the honor, with the first coming in 2008.
125 – Dante Rini, Notre Dame (Ohio) dec. Johnny Papesh, Campbellsville (Ky.), 5-3
133 – Wade Lowe, McKendree (Ill.) dec. Matt Katusin, Midland (Neb.), 5-2
141 – Anthony Varnell, Great Falls (Mont.) dec. Eddie McCray, Midland (Neb.), 5-3
149 – Matt Burns, Grand View (Iowa) dec. Ashtin Primus, Notre Dame (Ohio), 5-3
157 – Corey Bleaken, Cumberland (Tenn.) dec. Tyler Straughn, Notre Dame (Ohio), 4-3 (TB1)
165 – Ross Mosher, Great Falls (Mont.) dec. Noah Hatton, Great Falls (Mont.), 4-2
174 – Chris Chionuma, Lindenwood (Mo.) dec. Glenn Rhees, Grand View (Iowa), 3-2
184 – Evan Hinebauch, Montana State-Northern dec. Michael French, Great Falls (Mont.), 5-3 (SV2)
197 – Andrew Sanchez, McKendree (Ill.) dec. Derek Foore, Notre Dame (Ohio), 2-1
HWT – Orlando Scales, Notre Dame (Ohio) dec. Levi Roberson, Midland (Neb.), 3-2