Wartburg wins exciting team race over Wabash for Division III wrestling national title

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

CEDAR RAPIDS — The North Central College wrestler hung on to beat his Wabash opponent and win a national title at 197 pounds, and his victory sent the Wartburg fans into a frenzy inside the U.S. Cellular Center on Saturday night.

The Wartburg wrestling program outlasted Wabash to win the team title at the NCAA Division III national championships this weekend. The Knights crowned seven All-Americans and scored 79 team points to beat the Little Giants by a single point.

You read that right.

The Knights' one-point win was the closest Division III team race ever, matching Augsburg's one-point team win over Wartburg in 1993 (93-92). Even more, Wartburg's 79 points is the lowest title-winning score since John Murray won with 77.75 in 1994.

Here's what happened:

In the first official NCAA Division III national tournament since 2019 — the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 and 2021 tournaments — Wartburg stormed out to a sizable lead after Day One. All seven Knight wrestlers that qualified for this weekend earned All-American honors during Friday's action, and six made the semifinals.

As such, Wartburg led the team race with 58 points entering Saturday's action, ahead of second-place Augsburg (45), third-place Wabash (40.5), and fourth-place North Central College (32.5).

Then came Saturday's semifinals.

Wartburg's six semifinalists went 1-5, with only Zayren Terukina winning at 141 pounds. Even more, all seven Knight wrestlers entered the weekend seeded fourth or better, but only three finished fourth or better. After a 14-1 overall record on Friday, they gritted through a 6-13 mark on Saturday.

Wabash, meanwhile, thundered back into team race contention, with a 3-0 record in the semifinals as part of a 7-2 overall record on Saturday morning, a run punctuated by Alex Barr's run from pigtail to third-place at 149 pounds, wherein he won six matches in a row — including a critical pin over Wartburg's Kris Rumph in the consolation semifinals.

But Rumph bounced back with a pin for fifth place to give Wartburg a 78-76 lead in the team race. Barr's 10-2 major decision for third over North Central's Alex Villar leveled the team score at 78-all. Kyle Briggs, a Cedar Rapids native, beat Loras College's Shane Liegel, 2-0, for third at 184 to give Wartburg a 79-78 lead entering the finals.

At that point, Wabash was in the driver's seat, with three finalists — Carlos Champagne (125), Kyle Hatch (165), Jack Heldt (197) — while Wartburg had just Terukina.

All four of them lost:

  • Champagne to Baldwin Wallace's Jordan Decator, 6-3
  • Terukina to Mount Union's Jordin James, 3-2
  • Hatch to Millikin's Bradan Birt, 14-2 (Birt is a Western Dubuque grad
  • Heldt to North Central's Cody Baldridge, 3-2

Baldridge scored a takedown midway through the first period, which held up as the match-winner. The Wartburg crowd started a "Let's go Baldridge!" chant during the second period, and fans from both teams joined in a combined celebration a little after 9 p.m. CST — to celebrate Baldridge's individual title as well as Wartburg's team crown.

The Knights have now won 15 national team titles, the most of any Division III wrestling program. That doesn't count last year's national tournament, hosted by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Wartburg's team win also ensures that every Division III wrestling title since 1995 has been won by either Wartburg (15) or Augsburg (11).

March Madness on the wrestling mats

March is a busy postseason month for collegiate wrestling, at all levels, and this weekend, there were three more national competitions around the country:

  • NCAA's Division III national championships, in Cedar Rapids
  • NCAA's Division II national championships, in St. Louis
  • NAIA's women's national championships, in North Dakota

Of course, there were Iowa ties at all three competitions.

Here are some takeaways, results and observations from all three national tournaments:

Coe, Loras, Central College wrestlers become D-III All-Americans

Coe College finished sixth in the Division III team race, and finished with a pair of All-Americans: Will Esmoil (fourth at 165 pounds) and Kaleb Reeves (third at 285).

Esmoil, from West Liberty, entered the weekend unseeded, and recorded two upset wins on Friday to reach the semifinals: 6-3 over Johns Hopkins' Dominick Reyes, the 2-seed, and a first-period fall over Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Chase Schmidt, the 7-seed. Esmoil lost to Wabash's Hatch in the semifinals, but rebounded to finish fourth.

Reeves, from Sigourney-Keota and who entered as the 2-seed, went 5-1 overall this weekend, rebounding from a quarterfinal loss to win four-straight wrestleback matches for third. He recorded a tournament-best four pins in his five matches.

Two wrestlers from Loras College also earned All-American honors: Jacob Krakow (third at 174) and Shane Liegel (fourth at 184).

Krakow went 5-1 overall, his one loss coming to Johnson & Wales' Michael Ross, 11-4, in the quarterfinals. Ross and Krakow were both once one-time Wartburg wrestlers. Ross then beat Wartburg's Zane Mulder, 10-8, in the semifinals, and Krakow beat Mulder, 3-1, for third.

Liegel rallied for fourth-place after a 13-5 semifinal loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater's Jarrit Shinhoster. Liegel, the 1-seed, then wrestle Wartburg's Briggs, the 2-seed, for third, but Briggs won, 2-0, thanks to a reversal late in the second period.

Central College's Shandon Akeo finished third at 125 pounds, and ends his career as a two-time All-American. He finished 4-1 overall this weekend, reaching the semifinals on Friday then rallying on Saturday with a pair of pins in the wrestlebacks.

Coe College's Kaleb Reeves, center, has his hand raised after scoring a fall against Augsburg University's Tyler Kim at 285 pounds in their third-place match at during the third session of the Division III Wrestling National Championships on Saturday at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Millikin's Bradan Birt wins D-III title

Bradan Birt, Millikin's star 165-pounder, won an NWCA national title a year ago, and followed it up with an NCAA title this weekend, storming to first-place with a 5-0 record to cap a perfect 42-0 senior campaign.

Birt, a state champ from Western Dubuque, beat Wabash's Hatch by a 14-2 major decision in Saturday's finals. He outscored his five opponents by a combined 48-4 this weekend, a run that included three pins.

He also gained some fans clad in Wartburg garb on Saturday, as his win over Hatch helped ultimately helped the Knights hang onto the team title.

Birt was awarded both the NWCA's Most Outstanding Wrestler Award for the national tournament, and the NCAA's Most Dominant D-III Wrestler Award for the 2021-22 season — of his 42 wins this year, 25 were pins and 10 were technical falls.

Millikin University's Bradan Birt, left, celebrates after scoring a major decision over Wabash College's Kyle Hatch at 165 pounds in the finals Saturday.

Matt Malcom wins second Division II national title for Nebraska-Kearney

Nebraska-Kearney won the NCAA Division II national team title on Saturday night by a wide margin — the Lopers scored 127 team points, beating second-place Central Oklahoma by 41 — thanks, in part, to a pair of Iowa natives.

Josh Portillo and Matt Malcom were two of Nebraska-Kearney's nine All-Americans this weekend. Portillo, from Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, finished as the national runner-up at 125 pounds. Malcom, from Glenwood, won his second national title at 165.

Portillo, the twin brother of Grand View All-American Justin Portillo, capped his career as a three-time All-American, posting a 4-1 record en route to second. In the semifinals, he rallied from down 4-2 to win, 5-4, over Shippensburg's Tyshawn White. In the finals, Portillo lost 9-0 to West Liberty's Cole Laya, now a two-time national champion.

Malcom, who also wrestled a season with the Hawkeyes, capped his career as a four-time All-American and two-time national champion with his 1-0 triumph over Wisconsin-Parkside's Shane Gantz in Saturday night's finals. Malcom won at 157 in 2019, then went 4-0 this week, outscoring his opponents 40-2 along the way. 

Matt Malcom, a Glenwood graduate and Nebraska-Kearney wrestler, won the Division II national title at 165 pounds on Saturday night. He beat Wisconsin-Parkside's Shane Gantz, 1-0.

Adaugo Nwachukwu becomes first national champ for Iowa Wesleyan women's wrestling program

At the NAIA women's national championships in North Dakota, Adaugo Nwachukwu made history by becoming the first national champion for Iowa Wesleyan's women's wrestling program.

Nwachukwu, a freshman from San Jose, California, stormed to first place at 136 pounds, posting a 5-0 record with four pins and a 42-4 combined scoring advantage. In the finals, Nwachukwu pinned Menlo's Gracie Figueroa, a 2019 national finalist.

Iowa Wesleyan actually had two national finalists this weekend. The other was Mia Palumbo, another freshman who finished as the national runner-up at 109 pounds.

Palumbo, from Oak Lawn, Illinois, won her first three matches by a combined 32-0 to make the semifinals, then advanced to the finals over Wayland Baptist's Asia Ray, a 2019 national champ, via injury default. In the finals, Palumbo lost 8-8 to Life University's Peyton Prussian on Prussian's 4-point scoring move in the first period.

Last year, Iowa Wesleyan finished with two All-Americans at the 2021 National College Women's Wrestling Championships, the first two All-Americans in program history. The Tigers transitioned from NCAA's Division III to NAIA this summer, and now has crowned a national champ and a national finalist.

That's four All-Americans in the Tigers first two years of existence. Not bad.

Grand View women take sixth at NAIA women's national championships

The Grand View women's wrestling team, at one point ranked first in the NAIA women's wrestling national coaches poll this season, finished sixth at the NAIA women's national championships with 124 points. Campbellsville won the team title with 189.

Six Viking wrestlers earned All-American honors:

  • Andrea Schlabach, 3rd at 130
  • Alexis Gomez, 3rd at 143
  • Madison Diaz, 5th at 143
  • Adrienna Turner, 6th at 123
  • Natalia Villegas, 6th at 191
  • and Abby McIntyre, 7th at 170

Additionally, Waldorf's Diana Dzasezeva became a three-time All-American with her fifth-place finish at 136 pounds. Dzasezeva won her first three matches, then lost to Nwachukwu, 7-0, in the semifinals, then rallied for fifth-place. 

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

2022 NCAA Division III National Championships

U.S. Cellular Center, in Cedar Rapids

Final Team Scores

  1. Wartburg, 79
  2. Wabash, 78
  3. Augsburg, 62.5
  4. North Central College, 62.5
  5. Stevens Institute of Technology (N.J.), 46.5

Finals Matchups

  • 125: Jacob Decatur (Baldwin Wallace) dec. Carlos Champagne (Wabash), 6-3
  • 133: Robbie Precin (North Central College) dec. Andrew Perelka (John Carroll), 6-4
  • 141: Jordin James (Mount Union) dec. Zayren Terukina (Wartburg), 3-2
  • 149: Brett Kaliner (SIT) dec. Michael Petrella (Baldwin Wallace), 4-2
  • 157: Nathan Lackman (Rhode Island) dec. Kaidon Winters (RIT), 5-3 (SV1)
  • 165: Bradan Birt (Millikin) maj. dec. Kyle Hatch (Wabash), 14-2
  • 174: Cornell Beachem (Mt. St. Joseph) dec. Michael Ross (Johnson & Wales), 5-1
  • 184: Jarrit Shinhoster (WI-Whitewater) dec. Paul Detwiler (U.S. Coast Guard), 12-6
  • 197: Cody Baldridge (North Central College) dec. Jack Heldt (Wabash), 3-2
  • 285: Jordan Lemcke (Wisconsin-Oshkosh) dec. Donovan King (Olivet), 2-0