Seven national top-10 team finishes
There’s an unfamiliar balance in the Central College wrestling room.
For the first time in six years, the roster has just as many upperclassmen as it does underclassmen. And numbers aren’t lacking. The room is near capacity for the second consecutive year with 40 wrestlers.
“We feel like we finally have the experience to lean on and the depth to take the program to the next level,” coach Eric Van Kley said.
The Dutch made significant growth last season. Central compiled a 10-10 dual record, its second straight 10-win season, and climbed to sixth place in the rigorous Iowa Conference tournament, its highest finish in 15 years. The Dutch also sent a wrestler to the NCAA Division III Championship, the program’s first national appearance since 2004. But the squad is hungry for more.
“We want to make nationals a regular part of our yearly finish and to make another step up the ladder in the conference,” Van Kley said. “We know it won’t be easy but I think our wrestlers are ready for the challenge.”
The Dutch embrace a lofty goal to finish in the top five in the league.
“It’s an achievable goal,” Van Kley said. “We’ll have to make a huge jump and we’ll have to beat some good teams to be there, but it’s something we aspire to get to.”
Central will rely on its once-lacking upperclass leadership.
“A large part of our success will be associated with our upperclassmen taking the next step individually and collectively,” Van Kley said.
When he arrived at Central five years ago, Van Kley inherited a squad with as many as five open weights and endured a winless debut season. Now his first recruiting class is in its senior year.
“It’s a first for me in my career,” said Van Kley, who was head coach at the University of Great Falls (Mont.) for three seasons. “It’s been fun to watch a group of wrestlers develop over four years, see their relationships grow and see how they’ve impacted the program.”
Sophomore Kalen Greiner splashed into the national scene last year. Competing at 125 pounds in the conference tournament, Greiner stunned two nationally ranked opponents in back-to-back overtime wins to finish fourth and earn an at-large bid to the national tournament. He posted a 17-13 season record and placed sixth at 133 pounds at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational. Greiner also received the squad’s Outstanding Freshman Award.
“Kalen has a tremendous work ethic and a very big gas tank,” Van Kley said. “He beat a lot of very talented wrestlers with his conditioning last season. We’re still seeing what weight he’ll be at this year – either 125 or 133.”
Freshman Daniel Page from Yelm, Wash. will be in the mix at 125.
“He’s one of our more experienced incoming freshman,” Van Kley said. “He comes from a great program in Washington and has a positive attitude that really comes out with wrestling.”
Sophomore letterwinner Bryan Connolly is a contender at 133 pounds. He was 10-17 last season, finishing third in his division at the Augsburg (Minn.) Invitational.
“Bryan’s a Florida guy that has found a home at Central,” Van Kley said. “He’s really intentional about putting in the time both in and out of season.”
Three-year letterwinner Eric Wilkerson was 15-19, placing fifth at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational and sixth in the league tournament.
“He’s really come into his own the past year, year-and-a-half,” Van Kley said. “He’s worked hard at understanding how to wrestle his best match to make him most successful.”
TJ Peretti is also in the lineup. He was 12-9 as a freshman and won his division at the Augsburg (Minn.) Invitational.
“He’s as technically sound as anyone we have,” Van Kley said. “TJ is solid in all three positions. He made big improvements as the year went on last season.”
Sophomore Keegan Overbey could have a breakthrough season at 149 pounds. He was 3-8 last year and placed fourth in his class at the Augsburg (Minn.) Invitational.
“Keegan’s probably the most improved wrestler on the team,” Van Kley said. “He got a lot stronger with a good off-season. That and his time on the mat last year will show dividends for him this year.”
Junior Ry Davis, a junior college transfer from Minnesota West, will get an immediate look.
“He’s a new guy but he has a lot of experience,” Van Kley said. “Ryan’s from one of the top junior college programs in the country. He’s competed in the national tournament and the entire team will benefit from his experience.”
Van Kley called 157 one of the deepest weights for the Dutch.
Two-time letterwinner Joe Atwell will make the jump from 149 pounds where he compiled his second 20-win season with a 23-15 mark. He was seventh in the league tournament and won his class at the Knox (Ill.) Invitational. The junior also recorded third- and fifth-place finishes in Wisconsin and Minnesota tournaments.
Older brother Josh Atwell, also a two-time letterwinner, was 19-18 last year after a 22-9 rookie campaign. He placed seventh in the league after finishing fifth at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational and fourth at the Augsburg (Minn.) Invitational.
“They’re a neat combination,” Van Kley said. “Their sibling rivalry brings out the best in both of them. They did a good job sticking around this summer and another year of experience and maturity on the mat is really going to help them and the team.”
Crowding the picture is three-time letterwinner Zach Beekman. The senior was 3-11 last year but was recognized as the hardest worker with the team’s Lawrence Award.
“Zach is invaluable to the team,” Van Kley said. “He has extremely high character and is a terrific leader. He’s a great leader on and off the mat.”
Senior leadership is most evident with three-time letterwinners Reid Imerman and Tommy Van Renterghem.
“They both have a lot of leadership qualities and they will both probably approach 100 career matches this season,” Van Kley said. “Their experience helps our younger wrestlers see how things need to be done.”
Imerman was 15-16 last season and holds a 43-35 career mark at 165 pounds. The two-time academic all-conference honoree finished fourth at both the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational and the Menlo (Calif.) Invitational before placing sixth at the conference tournament. Also exceling in the classroom, Imerman was named an NWCA Scholar All-American in 2009-10.
Closing last year’s campaign with a 26-13 record at 174 pounds, Van Renterghem won the crown at the Central Invitational, placed third at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational and took sixth in the league tournament. He also received league player of the week honors in January. Van Renterghem has a 65-32 career record and received the team’s MVP award in 2009-10.
A healthy Colton Moore, a junior, will see varsity action at 165 pounds.
“We wanted to get Colton in last year but he suffered an injury,” Van Kley said. “He’s hungry to compete and we look forward to seeing him in the red this year.”
Freshman Sam Apland will likely be part of the rotation at 174 pounds.
“We’re excited about Sam,” Van Kley said. “He competed in far and away the best club program in Chicago and he has some really good skills.”
Returning letterwinner Greg Barner had a promising rookie campaign, compiling a 19-14 record. Before taking sixth at the league tournament, he shared his division’s title at the Knox (Ill.) Invitational, placed second at the Augsburg (Minn.) Invitational and finished fifth at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational.
“Greg lives to wrestle,” Van Kley said. “He’s the most dedicated wrestler on the team. He had a nice first year and both he and we are expecting bigger things this season.”
Freshman Tyler Lowy will be an immediate contributor.
“He’s a highly touted freshman,” Van Kley said. “Tyler was a two-time state tournament participant in Arizona and at 6-5 he’s unorthodox. His extremely tall height and length is a big advantage and lets him do things most wrestlers aren’t able to do.”
Two-year letterwinner Theron Stewart, a junior, was 21-16 last season. He placed second at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational, third in his division at the Augsburg (Minn.) Invitational, sixth at the Knox (Ill.) Invitational and eighth at conference. Stewart also received the Coaches’ Award.
“Theron has outstanding dedication on the mat and in the classroom,” Van Kley said. “He took a big jump last year and we look for him to do the same this year.”
Senior letterwinner Dan Gordon had two fourth-place finishes last year at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational and the Menlo (Calif.) Invitational. He was 9-14 as a junior transfer.
“Dan gives it all on the mat,” Van Kley said. “He’s a good leader for our younger wrestlers and provides a lot of experience from the places he’s been.”
Central has options at heavyweight with three experienced upperclassmen.
Junior Jake Crawford was 14-8 last year, placing second at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational, third at the Knox (Ill.) Invitational and seventh in his division at the Augsburg (Minn.) Invitational.
“Jake is a well-conditioned heavyweight that doesn’t shy away from hard work,” Van Kley said. “He has two years of starting experience and his conditioning will win him a lot of matches.”
Senior Nate Rouse and junior Brandon Burrell will join the team after the football season. Rouse, an academic all-conference selection, missed the 2010-11 campaign studying abroad in Spain.
“We’re looking forward to having Nate return to the program,” Van Kley said. “He is a real student of the sport and has a passion for wrestling.”
Burrell was 7-5 last year and tied for third place at the MSOE (Wis.) Invitational.
“Brandon is our most athletic heavyweight,” Van Kley said. “He moves well and he’s fun to have in the room. His positive attitude is contagious.”
Former all-American Kevin Donahue is in his first season as an assistant coach. Competing for Cornell College at 141 pounds, Donahue was a three-time all-American and four-time league placewinner. He compiled a 109-41 career record.
“Kevin’s a huge addition for us on and off the mat,” Van Kley said. “He brings a lot of energy and new ideas and he understands the league. It’s a real shot in the arm to have him join the program.”
Bob Kuennen, a Scholar All-American at Wartburg College, returns for his third year assisting the varsity. Central graduate and all-American Matt Diehl is in his 21st season on staff and now serves as a volunteer assistant.
“They’re a huge help to have,” Van Kley said. “Because they’ve been around, they know all of the wrestlers well and have good relationships with them.
“It’s as good of set-up staff-wise as we’ve ever had,” Van Kley said.
Van Kley also noted an immediate impact from first-year assistant strength and conditioning coach Ryder Weischedel, a former wrestler.
“Ryder’s done a nice job with our group this fall,” Van Kley said. “He’s a great addition to Central’s athletic department.”
The Dutch open the 2011-12 campaign Nov. 12 with the Knox (Ill.) Invitational. The Central Invitational is Jan. 14 and the Dutch play host to the Iowa Conference Duals Jan. 28. The season is also highlighted with a trip to Florida for the Gulf Coast Duals in mid-December.
“Our schedule has a nice balance between tournaments and duals,” Van Kley said. “And the wrestlers are extremely excited about Florida. It will be fun to do a warm-weather trip while seeing some Division III schools.”
The Iowa Conference remains a daunting challenge. And the Dutch won’t be easing into the schedule – their home debut and league opener is Nov. 19 against perennial NCAA Division III title contender Wartburg College.
“Our league is one of the premiere leagues in the country,” Van Kley said. “I foresee five or six of the nine teams ranked in the top 25. That’s extremely unique for a conference.”
But Central has a powerful tradition with four league trophies and seven top-10 national finishes, and a more seasoned squad is anxious to leave a mark of its own.
“Our upperclassmen have been through the grind of conference a couple times now,” Van Kley said. “They’re ready for the challenge.”