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|Wartburg leads UW-LaCrosse after first day of Div. III Nationals in Ewing, N.J.|
By Jon Gremmels For TheMat.com
EWING, N.J. - Back-to-back head-to-head matchups Saturday morning might go a long way to determining the NCAA Division III wrestling champion.
Wartburg held an 11.5-point lead over Wisconsin-La Crosse after Friday night's quarterfinals, but each team has six wrestlers in today's semifinals, and the teams go head-to-head in the semifinals at 174 and 184 pounds in that round.
"I'm real happy with the performance," said Wartburg coach Jim Miller, whose team has 73 points. "Obviously it doesn't end here. We know it's going to be a tough road, and we're going to be prepared for it. All we could do is take care of our nine, and we did that."
All nine Wartburg wrestlers ensured themselves of All-America status by advancing into today's action at The College of New Jersey's Athletic Recreation Center. Wisconsin-La Crosse brought its full team, but its wrestlers at 125, 133 and 141 were eliminated Friday.
"Seven All-Americans is something you can't hang your head about," Eagles coach Nate Skaar said. "We're still in it, and we feel like we can win it. We need to have a better day tomorrow. It is a one-day season right now, and the team which comes out and wrestles the hardest wins."
Both teams had their good moments and suffered some setbacks Friday.
Wartburg's biggest hit came at 197 pounds, where Miller's son T.J. - the No. 1 seed - lost 3-1 in overtime to Brandon Kelly of Wilkes. On the flip side, Wartburg freshman Zach McKray pulled out a dramatic 10-8 win over top-seeded Joe Jewett of Oswego State in the wrestlebacks at 133 pounds. Jewett led 7-4 and had riding time, but McKray got a takedown and two-point near fall to essentially tie the score. When Jewett tried a roll to get free for a winning escape, McKray caught him on his back for another two-point near fall.
La Crosse's shining moment came at 157, and it, too, involved a top seed.
The Eagles' Ross Needham scored a takedown on the edge of the mat with 1 second remaining in sudden death to upend top-seeded Joey Galante of The College of New Jersey.
"Initially I thought I had the takedown, but I looked at Coach, and he was trying to yell at me (to finish the move)," Needham said. "I had to readjust and get him back on the mat. It's good I could see Coach."
Needham also wasn't sure how much time remained.
"I knew it was getting toward the end, and I heard our fans and my dad," he said. "I knew it had to be close (to the end).
"It's a great feeling. Last year I lost in the same match (No. 8 vs. No. 1)."
Needham also credited the fans for helping him overcome Galante, from the host school.
"He had a lot of fans here, but I had a lot of fans, too," Needham said. "They traveled 18 hours on the fans bus. I was wrestling as much for myself as them."
Besides Needham, Wisconsin-La Crosse, which has 61.5 points, has semifinalists at 149, 174, 184, 197 and 285: fifth seed Jake Larsen, third seed Josh Chelf, second seed Jason Lulloff, fourth seed Jim Swanson and second seed Ryan Allen, respectively. Allen is a two-time national champion.
Wartburg also is top heavy, with semifinalists Scott Kauffman, the No. 2 seed at 174; two-time national champion Akeem Carter, the third seed at 184; and two-time national runner-up Blake Gillis, the top seed at 285. Wartburg's other semifinalists are top-seeded Tyler Hubbard at 125, two-time national champion and top seed Dustin Hinschberger at 141 and third-seeded Jacob Naig at 149.
The upsets weren't limited to Wartburg and Wisconsin-La Crosse. Three other No. 1 or No. 2 seeds lost.
Felipe Queiroz of Wilkes knocked off second seed Brandon McDonough of Johnson & Wales 15-7 and No. 7 Ryan Gadsby of Cortland 10-6 to reach the semifinals at 125. Jestin Hulegaard of Buena Vista beat No. 8 seed Derrick Goduto of Montclair State 3-2 and Jewett 8-7 at 133. John Sheets of Manchester knocked off the other No. 2 seed, edging Eddie Murray of Ursinus 10-9 at 133.
Hulegaard said he was fueled by not being seeded even though he placed fifth last year at 133.
"Definitely I was ready for some blood, man," Hulegaard said. "It was a total slap in the face, disrespect."
Queiroz, meanwhile, kind of liked flying under the radar.
"That's what made me want to prove myself even more," he said. "It comes down to hard work, even when I don't want to practice."