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NCWA National Championship to begin Thursday, March 10 in Macon, Georgia

Two newcomers to the National Collegiate Wrestling Association scene expect to contend for the national title at the association’s championship tournament later this month.

But the NCWA’s old guard has already shown that it is not going to let its own championship tradition be pushed aside by the new neighbors.
California Baptist, a rookie NCWA member, and third-year member Southern Illinois-Edwardsville brought plenty of tradition with them when they joined the NCWA from other associations.

Both schools have enjoyed plenty of NCWA success already while they await their future NCAA membership, SIUE into Division I and Cal Baptist into Division II.

SIUE got a head start with a third-place finish at last year’s NCWA Championships, scoring 107.5 points but still well behind champion Central Florida’s 128. Cal Baptist won the NCWA National Duals back in January, but missing from that 20-team field was SIUE, which has been ranked as the NCWA’s top team for most of the season.

The NCWA Championships marks the first time the two programs will go head to head in an NCWA event with a national title up for grabs when the tournament returns to the southeast March 10-12 on the campus of Mercer University in Macon, Ga.

The Lancers, who tied Stanford 17-17 this season and have a win over nationally-ranked NCAA Division II member San Francisco State, won their NCWA West Coast Conference title handily last month. But head coach John Petty knows he should expect a tougher road at the NCWA Championships, just as he did in the championship rounds of the National Duals.

“(The NCWA) has grown to a whole different level since I was first introduced to it,” said Petty, who coached an NCWA program at Georgia Tech in 2001.

California Baptist’s conference championship run came from Jimmy Martinez (125), Ethan Hall (141), Chris Santan (157), Bronson Gerl (165), Kenneth Tribble (174), C.J. Knowland (184), Caleb Gerl (197) and Alex Evers (285).

The SIUE Cougars didn’t face any NCWA members during the regular season while wrestling a predominantly NCAA Division I schedule. They got a wakeup call as hosts to the NCWA’s North Central Conference Championships, however, when five-time former NCWA champion Grand Valley State won the conference title by a 214.5-200 margin. Both schools boasted five champions and 12 who placed in the top three in their brackets.

SIUE has the tournament’s largest contingent with 12 wrestlers qualified to the NCWA Championships (one will be a non-scoring entry). SIUE's conference champions were John Petrov at 133, Isaac Ervin at 157, Gabe Hocum at 165, Michael Dace at 174 pounds and David Devine at 285 pounds.

Devine is a returning national champion from last season.

Grand Valley State, not too far removed from its NCWA-title three-peat from 2006-2008, is also expected to contend after a fourth-place showing last year just behind SIUE. Central Florida has a pair of three-time All-Americans (see below) qualified for nationals within five conference champions. The Apprentice School (Va.), the 2009 national champion, can never be counted out, having placed among the top five teams in eight of the last nine national tournaments. The Builders will have four conference champions in the nationals brackets.

The nation’s three service academy prep schools always spice up the team standings, and all three placed in the top 10 last year for the first time. The U.S. Naval Academy Prep School won the NCWA’s Northeast Conference Championships by 65 points and will have six conference champions in tow.

Grand Valley’s upset wasn’t the only result that caught attention at the conference tournaments. Grant Kakokura of MIT, the defending NCWA champion at 125 pounds, fell in the semifinals of the Northeast Conference Championships and had to settle for third place. Kadokura (24-10 with 12 pins), a senior from Cupertino, Calif., is ranked third nationally at 133 but wrestled at 125 at the conference tournament.

Kevin Bacci is another returning NCWA champion at 174. He helped West Chester run away with the Mid-East Conference Championships by 40 points. New Division I programs at Penn State-Dubois and Penn State-New Kensington will wrestle at the NCWA Championships for the first time, and Penn State has qualified a handful of wrestlers into the NCWA’s Division II brackets reserved for club teams.

All eyes will be on the 133- and 197-pound brackets to see if two accomplished wrestlers can pull off a rare NCWA achievement.

In the NCWA’s 13-year history there have been only 17 wrestlers who have earned four-time All-American status. Cracking the top eight at the national tournament has been a tough list to join, even while the NCWA only had a few dozen programs competing during its formative first five seasons.

That exclusive list could grow by two later this month if UCF wrestlers Stephen DeAugustino and Richard Rippy can win a few matches. Both are sure to be seeded near the top of their respective brackets heading into the tournament, as Rippy is the top-ranked wrestler at 197 pounds, and DeAugustino is ranked No. 2 at 133 after both won their conference titles again.

DeAugustino (34-5 with 15 pins) placed fourth at 133 pounds at last season’s NCWA Championships following third- (in 2009) and seventh-place (2008) finishes the previous two seasons. Rippy (35-11 with 10 pins) took third at 197 last year following a national runner-up showing in 2009 at 184 and a fourth-place finish at 184 in 2008.

“It’s been a tough climb each year. There’s a lot that has to go right for you,” said Rippy, who saw a lot of near-misses during his career in chasing an elusive national championship before UCF broke through to win the NCWA title last season. The Knights have placed in the NCWA’s top five in each of the past eight seasons along with back-to-back national titles in 2004 and 2005.

UCF lost to California Baptist for the NCWA’s National Duals title back in January.

Rippy, a senior 197-pounder from Fort Myers, Fla., has been on a roll of late. He placed second at The Apprentice School’s Builder Invitational in late January and has won every tournament since at Florida A&M, the Classic City Championship, and again at the NCWA’s Southeast Conference Championships on Feb. 26.

“It’s certainly a goal to win nationals,” Rippy said at the close of the NCWA National Duals. “There’s no more pressure on this tournament than what I’ve had the previous years. But winning it this season would certainly mean the most.”

DeAugustino, a senior from Palm Coast, Fla., has won every tournament this season except for a fourth-place finish at The Citadel Open at the start of the season, and taking second at the Builder Invitational two months ago.

Rippy and DeAugustino each represented the NCWA the past two seasons in its Champions Challenge event against top NAIA wrestlers. DeAugustino scored the NCWA’s first points of its close 23-15 loss to the NAIA with an 8-5 decision over nationally-ranked Anton Prater of Missouri Baptist.

Standing in DeAugustino’s way for the 133 title is Marcus Chevres of The Apprentice School. Chevres is barely ahead of DeAugustino (291.65 points to 275.75) as the top-ranked wrestler in the point system the NCWA employs for its national rankings. Chevres, DeAugustino and Rippy have three of the five top point totals of any wrestler in any weight class going into nationals.

Chevres and DeAugustino have had numerous back-and-forth battles the past two seasons. Chevres, a junior from Norfolk, Va., is aiming for a third consecutive All-American finish after winning the Mid-East Conference title on Feb. 26.

Eric Powell, a 157-pounder from Williamson Trade School, and Michael Mullen, a heavyweight from the Marion Military Institute in Alabama, are also returning two-time All-Americans looking for a third straight medal.

The tournaments’ home in Macon this season is fitting, as almost one of every 10 competitors – 33 in all - has ties to Georgia either from high school or as a member of an in-state team. There are seven former Georgia state champions among those 33 qualifiers.

Of particular note is the 141-pound bracket, where three former Georgia state champions compete in one of the tournament’s most balanced 32-man brackets. Kendall Albert, a Kennesaw State junior, is a returning NCWA All-American who placed third nationally last season, heads the Georgian trio as the top-seeded wrestler in the bracket. Brandon Westerman, a sophomore at MMI, was the NCWA runner-up at 141 last season. Mercer’s Arturo Holmes placed just behind Albert and Westerman at the conference tournament.

Among other seeded Georgians in the field, Frankie Miller of Georgia is among the favorites at 125 pounds after a national runner-up finish last season and is a two-time NCWA All-American. Trevor Bailey is a former NJCAA All-American at Darton College who now wrestles at 149 pounds at MMI.

This is the second collegiate national championship wrestling event ever to be held in Georgia, following the NCWA’s National Duals that were held in Dalton, Ga., in Jan., 2011. The tournament schedule is as follows:

Thursday, March 10
10 a.m. – Session 1 – opening rounds
6 p.m. – Session 2 – championships and consolations

Friday, March 11
9 a.m. – Session 3 – consolations
4 p.m. – Session 4 – championships and consolations
7 p.m. – Session 5 – championships and consolations

Saturday, March 12
9 a.m. – Session 6 – championships and consolations
11:30 a.m. – Session 7 – consolations
4 p.m. – Championship finals
8 p.m. – NCWA All-American Banquet
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