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By Tim Tushla
The following is a look at this year’s NAIA season that will end March 3-5, 2011 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Teams are in order of where they are ranked in the NAIA’s Preseason Poll.
1. Notre Dame College (Ohio) — Having already captured the team title the night before, the Falcons powered on with three individual champions and a total of ten All-Americans. That might seem like a tough standard to beat, but the NDC stands poised to try to top last year’s national championship feat.
Each champion — Jeffrey Pelton (149), Thomas Straughn (157) and undefeated Derek Foore (197) — returns, as does heavyweight runner-up Orlando Scales. In all, 11 of the 12 qualifiers return — and 9 of them are All-Americans.
Other returning All-Americans: 125 – senior Tyler Savage, 149 – junior Ashtin Primus, 174 – junior Cody Butzer, 174 – sophomore Jon Bittenger, 184 – junior Alex Denman.
2010 National Coach of the Year Frank Romano’s charges seem ready to leave for Division II with a big ‘bang’ this coming March.
“We’ve got 35 new kids in the room this season,” said Romano. “The response to our recruiting has been tremendous since winning the national tournament. That will great tremendous competition in our room.”
“We’ve created a schedule to keep our kids challenged. We are going to the Buffalo Open, the Binghamton Open, the national Catholic championship, the Cleveland State Open and the Edinboro Open.”
“This year will be our last year of wrestling as far as the NAIA. Next year we will be a full-fledged D-II program although it is possible there will be a hiatus year. We haven’t gotten the final word on that yet.”
How will they motivate their kids to go after a team title again after such an impressive and dominating win last year?
“One way we look at it is that, to my knowledge, no Ohio collegiate wrestling program has won two national titles of any kind.”
2. (tie) Campbellsville (Kent.) — 2010 champ Tommy Pretty will move up to 141 pounds for the Tigers. Three-time All-American David Clemens will return for his final season after taking a two-year hiatus from school. Three other All-Americans, another six national qualifiers, a Division I transfer and a two-time JUCO All-American add quality depth in the wrestling room.
“Overall, the sky is the limit for this team and on paper they have everything it takes to be great: a national champion, returning All-Americans, experience, talent, depth, work ethic — you name it and you can find it on this team,” said coach Franky James. “Now our challenge is to go out and prove it.”
Other returning All-Americans: 125 – junior Johnny Papesh, 141 – junior Jacob Murton, 165/174 – senior ‘07 runner-up David Clemens, 184 – junior Spencer Adams.
2. (tie) Missouri Valley (Mo.) — The Vikings finished last season with an 11-1 dual meet record, a second-place showing at the NWCA National Duals, an individual national champion and five All-Americans while placing fourth nationally in the team race.
Returning All-Americans are senior Alex McKinney (174), junior Jesse Alter (184), senior Charlie Gibbs (197) and senior heavyweight Travis Ewart. The top newcomer is Shay Shive (149), two-time junior college All-American from Niagra County Community College.
“It is always nice for our kids and the program to be recognized,” said coach Mike Machholz. “It is a testament to the hard work they put forth and the legacy that the alumni have given the current team members, but it also means you have to prepare yourself for a long battle for the season by getting that target on your back.
“This year’s team has a nice blend of experience and youth in it, which will make it a fun year for the coaching staff for sure! “Their individual goals are very high for themselves and it is always one of our team goals to be in the top five nationally and that is definitely what we plan to do this year too. “Notre Dame is returning a big amount of their points from last year and there are several others like Lindenwood and McKendree that will have guys trying to get eligible for the second semester that will jumble up the rankings somewhat. No matter how you rank right now, you still have to show up and prove it in March and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
4. McKendree (Ill.) — Replacing two-time champ Aaron Winning won’t be easy but All-Americans Kyle Williams (a two-time AA at 141), Ryan Jahn (another two-timer at 149), David Dwyer (165) and Andrew Sanchez (a three-timer at 197) should help coach James Kisgen’s Bearcats challenge for the top spot again before jumping to NCAA Division II competition.
5. Cumberland University (Tenn.) — Ten national qualifiers return for coach Jared Swint, led by 2010 runner-up James Casadaban (who will move up from 157 pounds this year) and bronze medalist Mikey Davis at 141. Two-time All-American and Bulldog career wins leader Corey Bleaken will come out of a redshirt year to compete at either 157 or 165.
6. University of Great Falls (Mont.) —Two runners-up and a bronze medalist return as the Argonauts make another run at the team title in 2011. Sophomore Myles Mazurkiewicz and senior Byron Kuylen were finalists at 133 and 149 respectively. Senior Michael French will look to battle for the top spot at 197 pounds. Additional All-Americans: senior Ross Mosher (157) and sophomore Michael Hader (165).
Coach Caleb Schaeffer welcomes three Montana state champions, three-timers Ryan Martin and Brock Picard and two-timer Kent Pattison.
“We lost a lot of experience last year so our room is going to be a lot different,” Schaeffer said. “We are kind of going back to our basics and trying to get these new kids to understand the mentality of our program.”
“It’s a big learning curve for some of these younger guys. It will probably be ‘hit and miss’ at times during the year.”
How will they get over the hump and win a team championship?
“We can’t worry about the other programs” Schaeffer said. “We just have to worry about ourselves. If we put in the work we can get better throughout the year. If you’re one of the top five teams going into the national tournament, you never know what can happen. You can really get on a roll and get right in the hunt.”
7. Dickinson State (N.D.) — Three of the Blue Hawks’ 2010 All-Americans return: sophomore Frank Lopez (HWT), junior Cameron Schrempp (174) and senior Shane Bennett (174). Three-time national qualifier Nick Zumwalt is also back for his senior season.
New to coach Thadd O’Donnell’s wrestling room will be JUCO All-Americans in juniors George Hargrove and Justin Lockling and Nevada state heavyweight champ Andrew Ramos.
8. (tie) Grand View (Iowa) — In 2010, junior 174-pounder Glenn Rhees became the second national champion in the Viking program’s short two-year history. Fellow senior All-American Brad Lower (165) will help lead a squad with a total of 12 national qualifiers.
Third-year head coach Nick Mitchell has added 15 commitments for this season, including two-time JUCO All-Americans Omi Acosta (133) and Bojan Djukic (HWT), along with Tommy Perez (184).
8. (tie) Lindenwood (Mo.) — Five-time national championship coach Joe Parisi has turned over the reins to former Lion wrestler and assistant coach Chad Smith. Lindenwood returns just one All-American in 165-pound runner-up Chris Chionuma, but has three other national qualifiers back. A strong group of returners, including a Division I transfer and two JUCO champions, should position Lindenwood to improve as it also heads for the NCAA’s Division II.
10. (tie) Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) — Three-time All-American Tyler Chang, third at 157 last year, and two-timer Trace Billet (149) provide the senior leadership for coach Ken Ramsey’s Eagles. Sophomores John Garza (133), Josh Chang (141) and Mitch Newcomer (141) join junior Jeremy Mazon (133) as the other returning national qualifiers.
10. (tie) Morningside (Iowa) — Ten national qualifiers, including freshman 165-pound bronze medalist Joe Sievert, return for the Mustangs. Senior Drew Smith won 29 matches at 141 pounds last season, followed closely by sophomore Brian Block (184) with 26. Block will drop down to 174 pounds this season. Also back for coach Tim Jager will be two-time national qualifier Ben Knight (157) who missed last season with an elbow injury.
12. Southern Oregon — Being a national champion and the school season leader in wins and pins, it is hard to believe Mitchell Lofstedt (125) will only be a junior. Silver medalist Kyle Wirkuty (141) and All-Americans Brian Jacob (133) and Tommie Norton-Hooper (157) will lead a total of nine returning national qualifiers for the Raiders, who have finished second in the team race for the past two years.
Coach Mike Ritchey’s signees include Oregon state champ Brock Crocker.
13. Montana State-Northern — Former national champ Tyson Thivierge enters his third season as coach of his alma mater with two returning qualifiers: junior 184 pound All-American Evan Hinebauch and sophomore Chase Dirden at 133 pounds. The Lights’ recruiting class has two JUCO All-Americans and a combined 15 state championships, including Montana four-timer Hunter Azure.
14. Menlo (Calif.) — All-Americans Christian Martinez (141) — a two-timer and just a junior — and senior Jason Moorhouse (125) highlighted the season for then first-year head man Joey Martinez. National qualifier Adrian Gonzalez (165) also returns for the Oaks.
15. Hastings (Neb.) — Senior Jameon Rush returns after placing fifth last year at 174 to earn his first All-American designation. Rush already has 108 wins and is on pace to break the Great Plains Athletic Conference win record of 147. He is also a two-time Academic All-American and maintains a perfect 4.0 grade point average. The Broncos of coach Shawn Kelley also feature junior Brad Cusatis, a national qualifier at 149 pounds.
16. Oklahoma City — One All-American, 157-pound Nik Turner, highlights a group of ten returning national qualifiers. Junior college All-American transfers Stanley Lattimore and Ruben Perez add some needed depth.
“Lattimore is projected to start at 285 pounds. Perez will be at 149 pounds, which allows us to move two-time national qualifier Willie Shelton-Delk to 141 and two-time national qualifier Jeremy Garner to 133,” said head coach Archie Randall. “He will change the outlook of our team and make us better as a dual team.”
Three-time Nevada state champion Kasey Jones and Oklahoma titlist Hunter Muskrat lead a solid freshman class for the Stars.
17. University of the Cumberlands (Kent.) — New head coach Matt Lowers hopes to rekindle the successful ways of the Patriot program. All-American Larone Madison and 30-match winner Andre Berry lead a group of ten returning national qualifiers.
“The previous two years have been ‘down’ years for UC Wrestling in relation to the past success the program has seen,” noted Lowers, who spent the past three years as an assistant coach at St. Cloud State University in his home state of Minnesota. “We are hoping to turn that around this year and I am confident that a total team effort can do just that.”
18. Missouri Baptist — The Spartans’ roster boasts two Division I transfers — sophomores Bradley Wisdom (133) from Missouri and Craig Wilson (141) from Old Dominion — two returning All-Americans and two additional national qualifiers. Head man Brian Jackson is also bringing in two Missouri state champs at 149 pounds: two-timer Esmond Ford, a redshirt freshman, and true freshman Josh Kelleher. The returning All-Americans are sophomore Zach Meury (125) and senior Anton Prater (133).
19. California Baptist — Yet another program transitioning to the NCAA, coach John Petty’s roster includes one returning All-American, two California JUCO champs, seven NAIA national qualifiers, three California JUCO All-Americans and a high school state champion from both California and Nevada. The returning All-American is 174-pound junior C.J. Knowland.
20. Jamestown (N.D.) — Coach Cisco Cole welcomes back three 20-match winners this season: sophomore Pat Nord (165), junior Sean Blumhardt (125) and senior Brandon Roehrich (157). Other national qualifiers include junior Anthony Clay (174) and seniors Raymond Mosely (197) and Aaron Field (HWT).
OTHER NAIA SCHOOLS
• Bacone (Okla.) — Of the seven national qualifiers last season, only senior 125-pounder Charles Chatman and 157-pound sophomore Cornelius Sutton remain for third-year coach Brett Oleson. Former North Carolina State wrestler and NAIA All-American Jeremy Colbert stays with the team this year as an assistant coach.
• Baker (Kansas) – Another second-year program welcomes back ten national qualifiers, led by seniors Levi Calhoun (HWT), Andrew Hurla (149) and Clarence Jordan (184). Coach Jimmy May’s second recruiting class holds 13 individual state championships.
• Briar Cliff (Iowa) – The Chargers welcome a new head coach, former Davidson head assistant Joe Privitere, and a returning All-American, 133-pounder Josh Rogers. Three-time national qualifier Zach Mullins (149) also returns.
• Calumet College of St. Joseph (Ind.) – Coach Leroy Vega’s returning national qualifiers include the only senior, heavyweight Artie Grubba, junior Chad Allen (141) and sophomores Nick Fouts (141), Derek Allen (149) and Dustin Boyd (184). The Crimson Wave room will have 18 freshmen and sophomores to begin the season.
• Central Baptist (Ark.) — This wrestling season will be the first in school history and the Mustangs become just the second collegiate program in the state.
“This is an exciting time, not only for CBC, but for the state of Arkansas,” said coach Ken Prophete, who served as an assistant at the University of the Cumberlands last season. “I am extremely excited about our first recruiting class of 11 freshmen and four sophomores at CBC. It is very exciting to get this caliber of student-athlete that will excel not only on the mat, but in the classroom as well.”
• Concordia (Neb.) — The Bulldogs return two national qualifiers from the program’s inaugural season: Logan Shanks (125) and Brandon Starkey (149). This year’s recruiting class boasts six state champions, six state finalists and 30 state medalists.
“We are very excited to announce the commitments of a great recruiting class. After our first full season on the mat, we found the type of student-athlete who we feel are a good fit for our university in the areas of academics, character and toughness in competition,” said head coach Doug Reese.
• Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) — Seniors Alan Stuber (125), Danny Hutcheson (149) and Tanner LaValliere (165) are returning NQs for second-year head coach Matt Sedivy, who lost career win leader Jordan Harer to graduation. This year’s young squad features 11 freshmen.
• Dana/Midland University (Neb.) — One of the most interesting stories of the year is the new Midland University program in Fremont, NE. In June of this year, Dana College in Blair, NE abruptly closed its doors, leaving the faculty, students and athletic programs scrambling.
Meanwhile, 30 miles up the road, Midland and university president Ben Sasse were looking to expand their sports offerings. So, seemingly en masse, Dana’s men’s and women’s bowling teams, competitive dance/cheer team and women’s lacrosse team have been absorbed by Midland. Former Dana head wrestling coach Beau Vest and his three assistants were retained to lead the new wrestling program at Midland.
Also, the NAIA has agreed to let all of the new sports compete for a national title and all athletes will be granted full eligibility. Normally under NAIA rules, there is a one-year dead period for new sports and also for student athletes who transfer from one NAIA institution to another.
Four of six returning national qualifiers have made multiple appearances: three-timer Edward McCray (141) and two-timers Clayden McKim (125), Ty Costa (141) and Jonathan Wilbourne (197). Several transfers should make an immediate impact including Eddie McCray from DI Gardner Webb, JUCO All-Americans Josh Marsh and Karon Reid.
“This team is very young but this could be a very special group,” noted Vest. “We put this together in about 40 days after Dana College closed it doors so this entire season will be special.”
• Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) — In just their third year at the NAIA level, coach Scott Hawes and the Trojans will look to sophomore Zach Fish (141) and a returning national qualifier, junior 149-pounder Kasey Cates, to provide some much needed leadership. Two-time Missouri state champ Bryce Alexander headlines the incoming freshman class.
“Both Cates and Fish provided excellent leadership for the first-ever Trojan Wrestling Camp and are also working hard to do the same with their teammates,” said Hawes. “With such a young program their leadership is needed.”
• Lindsey Wilson (Kent.) — Just a second-year program, the Blue Raiders’ 2010 recruiting class includes two national champions, nine collegiate/high school All-Americans and 17 individual state titles. Lindsey Wilson sent nine athletes to the national championships in their inaugural season last year.
“We are very pleased with this year’s signees, but we are definitely not content,” said head coach Corey Ruff. “We have acquired a great deal of talent, but right now our focus shifts toward the classroom.”
• Minot State (N.D.) — Wrestling returns to campus after a 20-year hiatus, led by former Central Missouri coach Robin Ersland. Two of his athletes also make long awaited returns to the mat: 2000 NAIA All-American 141-pounder Deon Buhl, now 36 years old, and former high school coach Kellen Zietz at 125. Two state champs from North Dakota and one from Oklahoma will help ramp-up competition in the wrestling room.
“We’ve got some very solid wrestlers who we hope will give us a solid foundation for now and in the future,” Ersland said.
• Northwestern (Iowa) — The Red Raiders tied a school record for national qualifiers last season with nine. School win record holder Levi Price departs but junior two-time All-American Nic Leither (197) and 20-match winning seniors Luke Evjen (165) and David Carter (174) leads the eight returners for coach Rik Dahl.
• Shorter (Ga.) — Junior National Greco finalist and double FILA Cadet champion Donovan Green heads the Hawks’ first-ever recruiting class. He was the nation’s 13th-ranked heavyweight last year.
Two Georgia state champions — Alex Eriquezzo and Raleigh Abbott — and one from Alabama — Gunny Hoyt — will help round out a solid squad.
“The recruits that have committed so far give us a lot of momentum and the ability to hit the ground running next year,” said former Penn All-American and new head coach Josh Henson. “The recruiting process has gone very well, which reaffirms the importance of the Shorter College wrestling program in the state and the entire Southeast region.”
• Simon Fraser (British Columbia, Canada) — 149-pound sophomore Alex Sterner and junior Clete Hanson (184) are the two returning national qualifiers for coach Justin Abdou. He will try to fill the shoes of two-time NAIA heavyweight champ and 2010 tournament OW Arjan Bhullar.
• Sioux Falls (S.D.) — This is the last year in the NAIA for coach Tim Homan’s squad as they also move to NCAA Division II next season. Four young wrestlers with national tournament experience will lead the Cougars this year: sophomores Joe Goolsby (133), Casey Finnicum (184) and Joe Skow (HWT), along with junior Tyler Reibsamen (165). Former wrestler Chris McKinney returns to school after serving in Afghanistan.
• Waldorf (Iowa) — Six of the Warriors’ eight national qualifiers return. Jeff Marvel (149) sported the best win-loss percentage for coach Tyler Brandt, while fellow senior Brandon Porter (165) posted the most wins.
• Wayland Baptist (Texas) — WBU becomes the only collegiate wrestling program in the state of Texas with the hiring of Ring of Honor coach Johnny Cobb. Cobb will lead an inaugural squad that features a number of transfers, including: 125 – Kevin Jury (Adams State), 125 – Albert Tapia (Sacramento City CC), 149 – Collin Brown (Nebraska-Kearney), 157 – Michael Gerber (Central Oklahoma), 174 – Jacob Bevington (Bacone), 197 – B.J. Sheppard (Sacramento City CC) and HWT – Andrew Harmoney (Sioux Falls).
• West Virginia Tech — The three-time West Virginia state champion and OW Cody Clark highlights the newcomers for the Golden Bears for the 2010-11 season. Another state champ, heavyweight Michael Cotterall, will also add depth to coach Jake Brumbelow’s squad.
• William Penn (Iowa) — Coach Eric Reed welcomes back senior 125-pounder Taylor Louie, along with juniors Ryan Groom (HWT) and Chris Diaz (174).
• York (Neb.) — First-year coach Ramon Diaz joins the Panthers after serving as an assistant just down the road at Concordia University. Leaders in the wrestling room will be 3X national qualifier Bryan Irsik (184) and three other national qualifiers: senior Nick McGrew (174), senior Jason Lloyd (285) and sophomore Jamel Wheatley (184). n