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Reviewing 2010 NAIA National Championships

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Updated: October 15, 2010

2010 NAIA National Championships

NO QUESTION WHO’S NO. 1

In four years, Notre Dame College rules the NAIA world

by Tim Tushla

From the La-Z-Boy to the limelight in just four years, it has been quite a journey recently for veteran wrestler and coach Frank Romano.

Just the fact that he came out of retirement to start a new program would make it hard to believe the scenario that unfolded for Notre Dame College from South Euclid, Ohio.

But Romano did the unimaginable with the help of hard-recruiting assistant coaches as he led the Falcons to an impressive team victory, March 5-6, at the NAIA national wrestling tournament in Oklahoma City.

By the end of the quarterfinals on Friday, it was apparent that all the pieces had fallen in place for NDC to run away with the title. The lead was there, it was just a matter of where the individual athletes would place. And the thing about these “birds” was they always fought till the end.

“Our performance on our feet is what really did it for us. We worked really hard on that,” said Romano, whose last coaching assignment was at Kent State. “Our kids were ready to go here. They stick together. They’re in shape. They train hard. That is a big key.”

In the end, Notre Dame finished with a 59.5-point lead over Southern Oregon University, which battled right down to the end with the University of Great Falls (Montana) for the runner-up spot and prevailed 120-118.5.

A two-time state champ, captain of the Ohio State team while in three national tournaments and continuing into the 1976 Olympic Trials, Romano has also been coaching since 1970. Still even he had to view his team’s accomplishments over the three-day tourney as special.

“It’s a very rare and unique thing to win any type of national championship in any division at the collegiate level and we are thrilled to death,” Romano said. “I’ve been in wrestling for 50 years and came out of retirement to start this program and that was probably a pretty good move.”

An understatement to say the least.

At the beginning of action on Saturday, NDC had four athletes going for national championships and six still left in the consolation rounds. All ten athletes finished as All-Americans and three took home individual titles: Jeffery Pelton at 149 pounds, Thomas Straughn at 157 pounds and Derek Foore, who completed an undefeated season at 197 pounds.

“We had a couple of really good rounds on Friday and built up a lot of points,” Romano said. “But our guys kept at it this morning and had really good success in the consolation placing rounds.”

Throw in the fact that returning national champion Adam Koballa (141) suffered a concussion in the semifinals and had to forfeit his consolation matches.

Kyle Wirkuty of Southern Oregon shot a double-leg on Koballa in their Friday night bout and dropped him to the mat. Koballa finished the match, losing by a single point. But he collapsed near the mat just afterwards. Doctors determined he had suffered a concussion.

Romano said Koballa was ready to go Saturday morning but he did not get a green light.

“He felt he wanted to wrestle, we wanted him to wrestle, our trainer was with him all night and he weighed in,” said Romano. “But the doctor said he could not go so he had to withdraw.”

In the team battle for second place, Great Falls — with two finalists — held a 118.5 -112 lead over Southern Oregon, which had three. With SOU guaranteed a win at 141 pounds with both Barry Johnson and Wirkuty going for the crown (the NAIA allows up to 12 wrestlers per team to compete in ten weight classes), UGF needed a win to secure second.

It didn’t come.

The Arognauts’ Myles Mazurkiewicz dropped a major decision to Tommy Pretty of Campbellsville (KY) at 133, 14-3, and 149-pounder Bryon Kuylen lost a decision to NDC’s Jeffrey Pelton, 7-5.

“We got a little excited on those two finals matches and we didn’t pull through when we easily could have won,” said Great Falls head man Caleb Schaeffer. “We got in the limelight and kind of didn’t know how to react.”

For a program in just its sixth year of existence, Schaeffer will be bringing his troops back next year with similar expectations.

“We are only losing one All-American and that’s exciting,” Schaeffer said. “I’m pretty happy with what the guys are doing in and out of the room. Michael French and Alex Calvi were ranked first and second in the country. They could have easily quit in the consolations but they came through on the back side for third and that’s why we got the trophy tonight. With nine of these guys back we are looking to rebound next year.

Southern Oregon coach Mike Ritchey had a similar take on the tourney. His squad had hoped to battle for the top team spot, settling for titles from Johnson and NAIA Wrestler of the Year Mitchell Lofstedt (125).

But, in the weeks leading up to the championships, some serious problems developed for the Raiders.

“I went from the wrestling room to the ER twice in the two weeks before we got here,” Ritchey said. “Luckily both guys were here wrestling but they weren’t at full strength.

“You have aspirations but things happen. After the quarterfinals it looked like second was the best we could do. You’ve got to hand it to Notre Dame. On our best day that would have been a tough score to beat. We will take second and regroup.”

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