Sunday, March 7, 2010

Action, action, action

“Action, Bub!” I heard Gail Rush yell that at her son, Clayton, early in his finals match at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships last night. I don’t know if Clayton heard her, but it sure seemed like he – and almost all of the other finalists - did. What a fun finals night! Augsburg had the team title locked up going into the Saturday night session so the matches became entirely about the individuals up on the big stage – and boy did they go for it.

Brennan Ward, the 184 pounder from Johnson and Wales, made it into the finals with the “big move” – a headlock throw and pin of Coe’s top-seeded, Tyler Burkle, and a last second cement mixer-type move to pin Gabe Youel from Elmhurst. Trailing in last night’s match with Concordia’s Phil Moenkedick he tried the big move again and put Moenkedick on his back. It wasn’t enough – Moenkedick scored a reversal and went on to win 7-4.

I had the opportunity to meet Byron Tate’s dad earlier in the season at Cornell College’s Matman Invitational Tournament. He’s a big man – but he gets just as nervous about his son’s wrestling as every parent. I can only imagine what he was experiencing last night as Byron – a sophomore at Wartburg – climbed the steps for his 197 pound championship bout with Ryan Malo of Williams. Both athletes pressed the action and ultimately Tate won 8-5.

Prior to last night, Luke Miller from Ohio Northern and Heidelberg’s Zach Mizer had battled five times in their college careers. When wrestlers know each other that well matches frequently become snooze fests. Not these two guys. Miller triumphed 7-6.

There are those who called last year’s 174 pound final boring. Maybe. There was much more scoring in the 2010 edition and Michael Schmitz from UW La Crosse defeated Dubuque’s Evan Brown 5-2.

Okay – so the action wasn’t hot and heavy at heavy. But there’s this - Dan Laurent has never come to the National Championships as the top seed, but last night he got his hand raised at the end of the championship bout for the third consecutive time. It was UW La Crosse’s third individual title of the tournament.

Minga Batsukh from St Johns came into the tournament as the top seed at 141 pounds and almost fell in the first round. Ryan Bridge of the Stevens Institute of Technology built an early 7-1 lead, but Batsukh came storming back to win that match 16-12. Last evening he put on another offensive show to top Ithaca’s Jeremy Stierly 10-4.

Most Division III wrestlers compete in relative obscurity. Sometimes that leads to a “surprise” performance at the national championships. This year there were two. Isaac Dukes from Case Western Reserve was the fifth seed at 149 pounds, but I’m willing to bet that few in the US Cellular Center were familiar with him. His march to the finals included an action-packed 18-11 victory over fourth-seeded Matt Mauseth from UW La Crosse in the quarter finals and a bizarre overtime pin of Ithaca’s number one, Blaine Woszczak in the semis. He took it to Augsburg’s Tony Valek in the finals and came away an 8-4 winner.

I overheard someone ask, “Where the heck is the Merchant Marine Academy?” after Cedar Falls, IA native Dan Twito knocked off Cornell’s Nicholas Loughlin in the quarter finals. There might be two answers – Kings Point, New York and “on the wrestling map”. Coach Dan Ilaria has a young team that finished 11th in this year’s tournament – led by their first-ever NCAA wrestling champion, Vincent Renault at 165 pounds. A flurry of late action led to Renault’s upset win over Augsburg’s Orlando Ponce 7-3. I had the good fortune to be near Vincent as he walked off the podium and he wins this year’s award for “widest grin.”

Complete strangers were turning to each other as they left the US Cellular Center and saying things like, “Wasn’t that 133 pound match something?!” I don’t know if he attended the finals, but Randy Lewis was in the crowd Friday and yesterday morning. Bebeto Yewah from UW La Crosse and Augsburg’s Paul Bjorkstrand put on an offensive exhibition that would have made Randy proud. It was already 6-5 at the end of the first period and Yewah went on to a 14-9 win.

Oh – and Clayton Rush – he forced the action to defeat Tyler Erdman of Elizabethtown to win the second individual championship in Coe’s history. It’s always good to listen to your mother.

No comments: