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CORALVILLE - Excitement. Energy. Tension.
The celebratory flexes and the heart-breaking disappointments.
This had the look and feel of a national tournament.
When the NCAA decided to cancel Division III winter sports championships for the second straight year, the National Wrestling Coaches Association rallied and provided a chance to have the season-ending event they deserved. About 300 wrestlers took the mat for the NWCA D-III Wrestling Championships this weekend at Xtream Arena.
'I think it's pretty impressive how the wrestling coaches and leadership council came together,” Coe Coach John Oostendorp said. 'They were able to do that and allowed the kids to have this opportunity.
'I'm happy for the kids (and) coaches.”
The layout and sessions were similar, even though Friday's sessions overlapped due to the expanded field that nearly doubled from the normal participation numbers.
The crowd was limited but it was hard to tell with the pockets of teams' fans cheering and chanting. The noise swelled with each move like the NCAA version that was last held in 2019.
'It was incredible,” Cornell Coach Brent Hamm said. 'It simulated exactly what is the NCAA tournament but maybe even more because there were more wrestlers.”
Wrestlers didn't have to go through the rigors of qualifying. Schools with an active program this season could enter a wrestler at each weight, as long as they were an eligible roster wrestler entered in the national weight management system. It gave some individuals an experience they wouldn't have otherwise.
'We had two seniors lose in the blood round,” Hamm said. 'It gave them an opportunity to wrestle on a national stage. It's something they will remember.”
The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 tournament on the eve of the start. This year, lack of participating programs - even though wrestling had the highest percentage among winter sports - was the reason for the NCAA cancellation. Organizers had 38 days to find a venue, gather workers, and determine procedures and protocols, receiving 2,000 Covid-19 testing kits from Wartburg, which administered all the tests as well.
Dick Simmons, who has served on NCAA wrestling committees and ran national-level events previously, stepped in as tournament director. He said he feels good about the product this weekend.
'We have an outstanding group of volunteers (medical, table workers & head table workers) that are making this championship one these student-athletes will cherish for a long time,” Simmons said. 'To organize an event like this in such short notice, it was only going to work because of the volunteers.”
Simmons said he assumed the post for wrestlers, coaches, team personnel and their families. He saw the eagerness to wrestle when they arrived and the relief when the action started. It made everything well worth it.
'As soon as the teams started to arrive on Wednesday you could see the spark in the wrestlers' and coaches' eyes,” Simmons said. 'They were excited to be here and have the opportunity to wrestle.”
The biggest focus was giving the athletes a chance to compete. Hamm said his wrestlers loved the meet. Oostendorp said his athletes didn't care how it was packaged or named. They just wanted to scrap on a national stage.
'There's enough competition at this tournament,” Oostendorp said. 'It felt like every bit of a national tournament.”
Cornell unseeded duo places 5th
Cornell's unique season ended with two wrestlers earning All-America honors. Killian Perrigon (157) and 165-pounder Casey Allen both placed fifth to close a season that didn't include competition until February.
Both won by fall in their placing match. Perrigon had a run to the semifinals by beating two ranked wrestlers, including the top seed at his weight. Allen was a past regional placewinner and was on the verge of making this jump.
'Casey was always in the hunt,” Hamm said. 'He's been there. We knew he had a good shot to get on the podium.”
Luther quartet medals
Luther finished with four All-Americans. Each wrestled above their seeds.
Sixth-seeded Ira Kuehn placed third at 184, while No. 9 Donovan Corn was fourth at 197, winning five straight consolation matches. Cristian Chavez, who was the No. 7 seed, came in sixth at 125 and No. 11 Tyler DiFiore (141) was eighth.
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