Wrestling: Grand View threatens scoring record with unprecedented eighth-straight national title

Cody Goodwin
The Des Moines Register

It was a somewhat bittersweet Saturday night for the Grand View wrestling program.

Here’s the good: The Vikings won an unprecedented eighth-straight NAIA national team title. Grand View is now tied with Adams State and Central State for the most national team titles (8) in NAIA history, and its eighth-straight title is the second-longest consecutive championship streak for any wrestling program at any level (Iowa won nine Division I crowns from 1978-86).

Here’s more good: All 12 Grand View wrestlers earned All-American honors, and the Vikings threatened their own scoring mark, totaling 219 points, marking just the third time ever that a team broke 200 points at the NAIA national tournament — Grand View’s done it all three times. It’s also the second-highest team score ever (the highest: 234.5, by Grand View in 2017).

Now, the somewhat bitter: Six Viking wrestlers made the finals — but only two won individual championships.

“The way we’re wired, we’re focused on that right now,” Grand View coach Nick Mitchell said. “But for the most part, I felt really good about this team and what they were able to put together this weekend.”

At 149 lbs, Grand View's Josh Wenger pins his teammate Devin Reynolds to place first. NAIA Wrestling National Championships in Des Moines.

It was another incredible tournament for the Vikings, who put up a tournament-high 15 pins and ultimately outscored second place by 134 points. The combined points of second-place Lindsey Wilson (85) and third-place Life (82.5) still would not have equaled Grand View’s final output. Let’s not lose sight of that.

But Mitchell would’ve liked to have had more individual titles to go with the team crown, at least in the immediate aftermath. Grand View had a representative in half of Saturday night’s finals matches — including both finalists at 149 (more on this in a moment) — but dropped three of them by a combined four points.

At 133, top-ranked Shiquan Hall gave up a takedown in overtime and lost to Indiana Tech’s Erique Early, 4-2. At 141, Eric Clarke gave up a first-period takedown and came close to scoring nearfall in the third, but lost to Midland’s David Berg, 2-1. At 165, Ryan Niven gave up a late third-period takedown in a wild 6-5 loss to Lindsey Wilson’s Brett Bradford.

Grand View did end Saturday night with a pair of champions. Josh Wenger won his second national title at 149 pounds, and Evan Hansen won his third at 197. Those results helped cap another dominant showing from the Vikings. 

Prior to the weekend, Mitchell said he hoped to find out how good his team truly could be. The end result was one of the best performances in NAIA national tournament history. When the Vikings stepped on the staged mat afterward, the Imperial March blared over the loudspeaker, a fitting ending to another year where Grand View wrestling reigned supreme.

“It’s always tough right now because, now that we’re done with the finals, we had some guys not get what they wanted,” Mitchell said. “But I didn’t know this weekend was going to be this kind of weekend. It was a total team effort, to have every guy step up like that.”

Wenger pins Reynolds in all-Grand View final at 149

Grand View was guaranteed at least one champ. Both Josh Wenger and Devin Reynolds reached the finals at 149 pounds. It marked the second time that two Grand View wrestlers wrestled each other in the national finals — Brandon Wright beat Gustavo Martinez at 141 in 2014.

On Saturday, Wenger defeated Reynolds by a defensive pin. After a scoreless first period, Reynolds began the second period on top, and had turned Wenger for two nearfall points. Wenger maneuvered himself into a position that put Reynolds on his back, and the ref called for the fall with 45 seconds left in the frame.

“I was looking to grab his head and jump all the way back across and catch him on his back,” Wenger said. “But it ended up working out. I bridged up high enough … honestly, I thought he came across (his back) a couple of times before (the pin), but I wasn’t really focused on that.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was weird, but at the same time, you have to keep it in the back of your mind that you have the best room in the nation, and that’s why you have two guys from the same team in the finals.”

At 149 lbs, Grand View's Josh Wenger, right, pins his teammate Devin Reynolds to place first. NAIA Wrestling National Championships in Des Moines.

Wenger’s victory served as a form of redemption. The junior lost to Reynolds at the Heart of America Conference tournament two weeks ago. Even more, Wenger won a national title as a freshman at 141, then took fifth last year, falling in the semifinals after earning the top seed.

So now Wenger is a two-time national champ. He could win a third next season, which would put him up alongside Eric Thompson as the only other Viking wrestler to win three titles during their career. Thompson won three consecutive heavyweight crowns from 2012-14.

Evan Hansen belongs in that conversation, too, but …

At 197 lbs, Grand View's Evan Hansen defeats Isaac Bartel of Montana State Northern for his third national championship. NAIA Wrestling National Championships in Des Moines.

Hansen wins No. 3, setting him up for No. 4

Hansen won his third individual national title on Saturday night, defeating Montana State-Northern’s Isaac Bartel, 6-4, at 197 thanks to takedowns in the second and third period. Hansen is only a junior, too, meaning he’s positioned himself to potentially win a fourth title next season.

Only seven other wrestlers have done that in NAIA history. The last one was Southern Oregon’s Brock Gutches, who won four-straight at 174 from 2012-15. For all of Grand View’s success, the Vikings have never had a four-time champ.

But Hansen wouldn’t even entertain the thought on Saturday night.

“Never,” Hansen said. “Mitchell and I, we always focus on the next thing, and for me, that’s the U.S. Open. I’m never looking ahead on anything. It’s always the next thing — the next match, next practice, next class. I just try to focus on what’s in front of me.”

Bartel’s name will sound familiar, too. He won a state title for Mason City in 2017. His brother, Andrew, also earned All-American honors, placing third at 165 pounds.

Other Iowa schools finish with All-Americans

Graceland made a little history alongside Grand View on Saturday.

Two Yellowjacket wrestlers earned All-American honors this weekend, marking the first time a Graceland wrestler earned All-American honors since Kevin Frohling did so at 158 pounds in 1978. 

Graceland dropped its wrestling program in 1982, four years after Frohling became the school’s 13th All-American, but brought it back in 2013. This weekend, Brennan Swafford, a former Mediapolis prep, and Shawn Beeson finished on the podium — Swafford took seventh at 165 pounds; Beeson won three wrestlebacks matches and took fourth at heavyweight.

Additionally, Briar Cliff’s D’earion Stokes took fifth at 133 pounds, and Morningside’s Keegan Hessler took fourth at 125.

Another national tournament? Of course.

Out in Council Bluffs, the junior college national wrestling tournament also wrapped up on Saturday night.

Iowa Central led the way for in-state schools, scoring 125.5 points for a third-place team finish. Ellsworth scored 89 to finish fifth. Iowa Lakes (seventh, 72.5) and Iowa Western (10th, 51.5) also finished in the top 10. Clackamas (Oregon) won the team crown with 176.5 points.

Iowa Central had two champs — Ethan Karsten at 157 and Tyree Sutton at 197. Ellsworth had one title winner: Cardeionte Wilson, at 149.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

2019 NAIA Wrestling National Championships

Final Team Scores

1. Grand View, 219
2. Lindsey Wilson, 85
3. Life, 82.5
4. Indiana Tech, 81
5. Reinhardt, 71

Championship Matches

125: Sawyer Miller (Indiana Tech) dec. Randy McCray (Life), 4-2 (SV1)
133: Erique Early (Indiana Tech) dec. Shiquan Hall (Grand View), 4-2 (TB1)
141: David Berg (Midland) dec. Eric Clarke (Grand View), 2-1
149: Josh Wenger (Grand View) over Devin Reynolds (Grand View) by fall, 4:15
157: Nosomy Pozo (Life) dec. Brandon Weber (MSU-Northern), 6-5
165: Brett Bradford (Lindsey Wilson) dec. Ryan Niven (Grand View), 6-5
174: Lucas Lovvorn (Baker) dec. Lucius Van Rensburg (Life), 8-6 (SV1)
184: Anthony Orozco (Menlo) maj. dec. Joseph Robinson (Lindenwood-Belleville), 12-2
197: Evan Hansen (Grand View) dec. Isaac Bartel (MSU-Northern), 6-4
285: Brandon Reed (Lindsey Wilson) dec. Korey Walker (Oklahoma City), 5-2