Seven national top-10 team finishes
PELLA—A field loaded with nationally-ranked teams awaits 28th-rated Central College as the Dutch travel to Dubuque for the Central Regional wrestling tournament Saturday.
The 11-team regional is hosted by Loras College at the Five Flags Center. The top three wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes will advance to the NCAA Division III championships, held March 15-16 at Cedar Rapids.
Schedule—Action begins at 9 a.m. with 30 first-round matches. The championship quarterfinals will start at 10:15 a.m. with consolation rounds and championship semifinals at 1 p.m. and consolation semifinals at 3 p.m. The championship, third place and fifth-place matches are set to begin at 5 p.m.
Tickets—Gates open at 8 a.m. Admission is $13 for adults and $11 for all students and seniors. Tickets will be on sale at the box office and Visa, Mastercard and Discover will be accepted.
Hungry for more—While the regular season exceeded the expectations of many, the Dutch have unfinished business.
Central posted a 12-6 record, its fourth-straight season with 10 dual wins, and finished sixth in the Iowa Conference. The Dutch were also sixth last year, which was the program’s highest finish since 1995-96. Central cracked the NWCA rankings and climbed as high as No. 14, the best standing since a fifth-ranked 1991-92 squad. The Dutch also knocked off three higher-ranked opponents. Yet it’s not enough.
“We’re pleased and happy with our progress in the regular season,” coach Eric Van Kley said. “But we want to continue to improve and keep chipping away in the postseason.”
Joseph Atwell (senior, Jamaica, Panorma HS) is the lone Dutch wrestler with NCAA experience. He earned an automatic bid to the championships last year with a third-place finish at 149 pounds at the league tourney. Atwell knocked off a nationally ranked opponent and before avenging a first-round loss to make his national debut. Competing at 157 this year, Atwell is 16-5 and the leads the team with eight falls.
Van Kley also cited Theron Stewart (senior, Marshalltown). He’s the team’s wins leader at 24-4 and has notched seven pins.
“They’re two of our top contenders,” Van Kley said. “They’ve been two of our senior leaders throughout the year and have had terrific seasons.
Sophomore Daniel Page (Yelm, Wash., Tumwater HS) is 21-5 at 125 pounds. He received league male athlete and wrestler of the week recognition Jan. 28 after scoring his second upset of the year over a ranked opponent at the league duals. Aaron Anderson (Clarion, Clarion-Goldfield HS) is having a stellar rookie campaign and is 22-10.
“Daniel and Aaron have had solid years and have high expectations in the postseason,” Van Kley said.
Powerhouse regional— The Central Regional features the eight league schools as well as Cornell, Augustana (Ill.) and Knox (Ill.). Seven teams and 22 individuals are ranked in the latest NWCA poll. League champion Wartburg (19-0) has held the No. 1 spot all season. Coe (13-6) is No. 14 with Luther (12-8) at No. 22, Dubuque (10-8) at No. 24, Loras (10-13) at No. 25 and Cornell (5-5) at No. 30.
“It’s far and away the most challenging regional in the country and we embrace that,” Van Kley said. “If we can be competitive and get through that regional we feel confident that we can wrestle with anyone in the country. But it won’t be easy.”
B-E aggressive—To be successful Saturday, the Dutch will need to do the attacking.
“We need to be on offense and be aggressive in every match and every position,” Van Kley said. “If we do that we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”
Format change—The new qualifying process streamlines into six regional sites with the top three wrestlers in each weight class advancing to the national meet to fill a field of 180 wrestlers.
Previously the championship field featured 170 wrestlers who were determined by seven automatic qualifying tournaments at the conference level and two regional tournaments. The Iowa Conference sent the top three individuals in each weight class, decided at the league tournament, and five wild cards were chosen at-large after the tourney.
“The new format makes it that much more challenging,” Van Kley said. “Adding teams and taking away the qualifying spots makes it hard but at the same time simplifies things. You have to be in the top three to get to the national meet.”