Wartburg’s big boys led Knights to Div. III National Duals title

By Jim Nelson

Wartburg College head coach Jim Miller looked awfully relaxed despite what the scoreboard was reading.

For the second consecutive match at the Cliff Keen/NWCA National Duals at the University of Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome, Miller’s Knights were trailing 15-7 with three matches left.

Wartburg’s Byron Tate (top) beat La Crosse’s John Poppie, 10-3, and added a pin and two major decisions in his four matches at the NWCA National Duals.

But instead of sweat dripping off his forehead, Miller leaned back in his chair with an arm drapped behind the back of assistant coach Eric Keller, who looked less relaxed. It didn’t matter this dual was for the Division III championship nor that it was a tight dual with his former protege, Wisconsin-La Crosse head coach Dave Malecek.

Miller didn’t sweat, but signalled behind his bench for the Knights to unload the big guns in the form of All-American Dylan Azinger at 184, national champion Byron Tate at 197 and top-ranked John Helgerson at heavyweight.

Three convincing wins later and Wartburg was hoisting its fifth NWCA Division III National Duals championship trophy with a 16-15 win over the Eagles.

“We’re really fortunate to have guys at the top end,” Miller said. “You have to believe that if we are in reach we have a chance to win.”

Tate and Helgerson both elevated their status as Division III elite just a week prior to the National Duals with their performances at the 2010 Midland Championships.

Tate was the runner-up at 197, while Helgerson took fifth.

Both were a perfect 4-0 at the duals, with Helgerson picking up his 100th-career win with a 12-4 decision over Ithaca’s Matt Mahon in the Knights’ 18-15 semifinal win over the Bombers.

Tate, who leads Wartburg with a 29-1 record this season, says the role of closing for the Knights is something he’s grown into.

“I embrace that roll,” Tate said. “It kind of bothered me a little when I was a freshman … sophomore. But we (Helgerson and Tate) are kind of like the last line of defense.”

The victory over La Crosse, which saw Wartburg lose five of the first seven matches, marked the Knights first National Duals win since it captured the 2008 title, which also happened to be the only other time since the NWCA began sponsoring a Division III field that Wartburg and Augsburg didn’t meet in the finals. The Knights have made the Division III finals nine times.

The difference in the title match which saw both teams win five matches, was Carrington Banks’ major decision over Ryan Farwell, 12-4, at 157. Banks earned the major with a takedown in the final 10 seconds.

“We talk about how every point counts,” Miller said. “One point can win a championship and there it was right there.

“It was close. We had a couple of kids that maybe lost, but that didn’t get majored and I thought we had a couple of other chances to get majors and we didn’t. But that was a big match, obviously.”

La Crosse upset top-seeded Augsburg, 23-13, in the semifinals to reach its second Duals title match.

The Eagles were sparked to victory over the Auggies by Lloyd McKinney’s pin of Josh Roberts at 125 and a technical fall from Adam Sheley at 133 that put La Crosse up 11-0 after two weights.

“I was proud of how our guys fought, especially against Augsburg,” Malecek said. “That was a good win for our team and our university.”

In the finals, after Wartburg’s Mark Kist opened with a win over McKinney, Sheley, Yewah, Matt Mauseth at 149, Cory Ferguson at 165 and Michael Schmitz at 165, all won to give the Eagles a 15-7 lead.

“We were a match away or a couple of points here or there away,” Malecek said of beating Wartburg. “The guys know if you are going to win championships, and this is something I learned at Wartburg, it’s the little things that are going to make the difference.

“When you are wrestling great programs like Wartburg or Augsburg, and you make little mistakes they are going to add up. We did in the finals.”

Miller and the Knights were pleased with the victory, but the veteran coach wasn’t completely happy.

The Knights, who added all-Americans Matt Kelly (141) and Adam Weber (165) back to their line-up for the first time at the Duals are still undecided at several weight classes: 133, 165, 174 and 184, where 2010 national qualifier Todd Becker has also come back.

“We came in and I really didn’t know what we had,” Miller said. “I do know we still have some work to do.

“As for the line-up … we’re hoping some of those kids will convince us they are the best guy at that weight class. I want them to make the decision by their effort and performance.”

In the third-place match, Augsburg rebounded to beat Ithaca, 27-11, while Coe College was fifth and Concordia-Moorhead claimed seventh.

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