Seven national top-10 team finishes
2015-16 dual record: 8-4
2015-16 Iowa Conference finish: 4-3 (fourth)
2015-16 NCAA Div. III finish: 20th (four qualifiers, CJ Pestano - 125 (2nd), Ryan Vandall - 165, AJ McBroom - 184,
Matt Seabold - 197)
Letterwinners lost/returning: 11/18
Starters lost: 3 (Aaron Anderson - 133, Mike Oâ€™Connor - 157, Jay Pike - 285)
Starters returning: 7 (CJ Pestano - 125, Jahleel Vester - 141, Ryan Vandall, 165, Zach Moss - 174, AJ McBroom - 184, Matt Seabold - 197)
All-time NCAA Division III top-10 team finishes: 7
Individual national champions: 3
An experienced roster and national exposure has expectations for the Central College wrestling team’s 2016-17 campaign climbing steadily higher.
Last season, coach Eric Van Kley’s 10th, the Dutch did two things they had not done in nearly two decades. A fourth-place Iowa Conference effort gave them back-to-back top-half finishes for the first time since 1993-94 and 1994-95. Then at the NCAA Division III Championships, they piled up enough points to place 20th, which they had not done since 1994.
“We want to prove last year’s success wasn’t a one-year fluke,” Van Kley said. We have aspirations of climbing up another spot to finish top-three in the conference and finish top-10 nationally. We’re capable of doing it, but we just need to put the time and energy into making that commitment a reality.”
The National Wrestling Coaches Association preseason poll voters think it’s possible, ranking Central No.7 in the preseason, its loftiest ranking in more than 20 years. The Dutch were one of three teams from the league on that list as Wartburg College was No. 1 and Luther College was No. 14.
“We’re excited our conference is as tough as it’s ever been,” Van Kley said. “It’s far and away the toughest in the country. We think that’s a good thing; we love to compete against those teams.”
Six of 10 starters should return to the dual lineup this winter, including four who qualified for the national meet.
“It’s the first year in my time at Central where we have an upperclass-heavy team,” Van Kley said. “I think the experience of being battle-tested at regionals and nationals is going to help us.”
Capping a stellar sophomore season with a runner-up finish nationally at 125 pounds, C.J. Pestano is back to set the table for the Dutch. He was the champion at four tournaments last season and posted a 25-3 record.
“C.J. just gets us started off on such a good note,” Van Kley said. “He sets the example, not only with his leadership, but also with his work ethic. He’s poised for another special season.”
A new face will follow Pestano in the lineup, with the leading contender being sophomore Cam Timok. A Virginia native, Timok had to sit out a year after transferring from the United States Naval Academy where he wrestled for the Midshipmen.
“We’re looking forward to watching him compete this year,” Van Kley said. “He really benefits from working out with C.J. every day. Those two really push each other.”
Junior Preston Adams dropped down a weight class to provide depth.
Jahleel Vester went 14-14 last year while starting most of the season as a junior at 141 pounds. He is being pushed by sophomore Tristan Clark, who went 13-10. Another Division 1 transfer, Daniel Radcliffe, is also in pursuit after arriving from the University of Illinois.
“We feel like we’ve got some good depth at 141,” Van Kley said. “It’s going to take some time to sort out who’s the man there. It’s a spot we feel good about, but we’ll need somebody to step up and emerge as the starter.”
A trio of sophomores will contest for the 149-pound spot. Devin Dilley (3-13) and Chase Petty (9-11) are moving up from 141 pounds while Jordan Challen (7-9) started last season at 157 pounds before going down to 149.
“All three of them want a crack at that spot,” Van Kley said. “They’re going to have prove themselves in competition to see who is the best fit for the job.”
Sophomore Jeremy Vester headlines a crowded field at 157 pounds. The sophomore went 12-7 last year and won the Jim Fox Open.Â Sophomore Eddie Ginnan (5-8), senior Mitchell Knock (1-4) and junior Elden Esterly (2-12) are vying for time as well.
“I would say Jeremy has the early lead,” Van Kley said. “He’s been really explosive and looked good so far in practice. Our upperclassmen have worked hard and done some good things, too. Hopefully the internal competition will make us better.”
Coming off a national meet appearance, Ryan Vandall is looking to make a return trip and earn All-American status in his final season in the red and white. He led the team with 29 victories in 2015-16 and won four tournament titles.
“Ryan keeps getting better,’ Van Kley said. “He’s really transformed here at Central. I think he’s better this year then he was last year with all of his hard work. He’s got high expectations nationally.”
Vandall’s practice partner is Jeremy Scheuermann (8-8), a sophomore ready to make a big leap.
“Jeremy pushes Ryan every day in practice,” Van Kley said. “He did some good things last year for us. I think we’re going to need him at times this year and we feel good about him.”
Zach Moss battled through an injury-riddled junior campaign to finish with a 10-9 record. Now a senior, Moss is prepping to make a bigger impact.
“Zach’s provides great senior leadership in our lineup,” Van Kley said. “We’re excited to see what he can do this year.”
A highly-touted recruit a year ago, Nathan Fritz missed the entire season with injury. Fully healed, he’s someone to watch this year, according to Van Kley.
“It’s great to have him back,” he said. “He’s going to be in line to compete for that spot.”
Lane Rumelhart (2-10), a sophomore, is up a weight class and ready to compete for mat time.
Also coming off an NCAA tournament appearance, senior A.J. McBroom is primed to take another step forward. He went 12-5 and earned the tournament title at Central’s Under Armour Invitational.
“He’s got increasingly better as the year went on,” Van Kley said. “He wrestled his best at the end of the year. The national exposure and experience is certainly going to help him.”
A third-consecutive NCAA berth is on the line for senior Matt Seabold (19-3). An All-American in 2015, Seabold made the national field did not make the podium in 2016 and is vying to rectify that this year.
“He’s put last year behind him and is excited for his senior season,” Van Kley said. “He’s done all the work to continue to improve. He’s better mentally and he’s improved physically by getting stronger and more explosive. He’s poised for a great year.”
Senior Jaime Miranda has won at least 13 bouts in his first three seasons, including 17 the last two years. He’s in line to start at 285 pounds but will have to fend off sophomore Chris Murino (5-13).
“Jaime is definitely the leader at that spot,” Van Kley said. “We hope to see him have a great year. Chris can also push him and contribute.”
This year’s incoming recruiting class features 16 freshmen from Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. They’ll compete at nearly every weight class.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
“We’re excited about the freshman class we’ve brought in this year,” Van Kley said. “They have a lot of potential and are going to provide some excellent depth.”
The coaching staff has been a pillar of consistency under Van Kley in recent years. Assistants Kevin Donahue, Matt Diehl and Bob Kuennen have all been on staff for at least six years, with Diehl in year 26. Recent Central grads Joseph Atwell (2013) and Daniel Page (2015) have been around the program since their competition days came to a close
“We feel like the biggest strength of our program is the commitment by everyone involved,” Van Kley said. “It’s a total team effort. I feel extremely blessed by the quality staff I have around me.”
Central fans will have six opportunities to watch the Dutch wrestlers at home this season. The Under Armour Invitational is scheduled for January 7 in H.S. Kuyper Fieldhouse, while the Central Last Chance Invitational is slated for February 11.
Four home duals are highlighted by the opener against Coe College November 7 and a dual against Luther College on February 2. Central also hosts St. Olaf College (Minn.) and William Penn University on November 30 and January 26, respectively.
“Our guys love wrestling at home,” Van Kley said. “It’s been a lot of fun with the crowds we’ve been getting the last couple of years. It’s going to be a fun slate.”
New to the schedule is a triangular in Lincoln, Nebraska December 7. Central takes on conference newcomer Nebraska Wesleyan University before Van Kley coaches against one of his former student-athletes with 2012 Central grad Greg Barner’s Northeastern Community College (Colo.) squad.
“It’s neat to have a new team in our conference,” Van Kley said. “And we’re excited to see Greg’s program. I’m very proud of what he’s done.”
Central also will travel to tournaments in Minnesota and Wisconsin with a dual in Illinois.
The NCAA Division III Central Regional is once again slated for the Five Flags Center in Dubuque February 25. A top-three individual finish will secure a bid for the NCAA tourney in La Crosse, Wisconsin March 10-11.
“I think it’s going to be a very exciting journey,” Van Kley said. “We’ve got a large group of upperclassmen and some really good freshmen. We feel we are capable of being in the top half of our conference and nationally competitive. Now, we’ve just got to put in the work to get there.”