116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Kyle Briggs returned to his opponent to the mat with a thud.
He added a resounding thump on the mat with his right hand, opening a floodgate of emotion that was followed by some tears and a profusion of hugs and handshakes. It was also the conclusion of a career that endured injury, uncertainty and pandemic.
“The end was basically the result of everything that’s been going on,” Briggs said. “You get everything in perspective from leading up to the tournament and then the last couple years.
“We had a lot of guys lose in the semis and you go back to our camp and there are a lot of tears and emotion. I remember sitting down afterward and telling myself you’re not going to feel anything until you’re done. Once I had it sealed in the last 10 seconds I started to feel it.”
Briggs finished with a 2-0 victory over Loras’ Shane Liegel for third place at 184 pounds at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships on Saturday at Alliant Energy PowerHouse. His decision gave Wartburg a one-point lead over Wabash entering the championship bouts.
Briggs recorded his second All-America finish, placing third as a sophomore in 2019. He was one of the top seeds for the 2020 event that was set for here. Last year, Briggs was a National Wrestling Coaches Association national titlist. He made the decision to return for one more semester and a chance to compete in the NCAA national meet again.
“It’s been tough,” said Briggs, who finished with 101 career wins. “I think I’m better for it because of that reason. I’ve learned a lot about myself, the kind of people you surround yourself with, the environment you put yourself in and that has gotten me some pretty good results.
“I’ve come up short many times. I’ve also seen quite a bit of success in that time. I’m thankful for both.”
Briggs, a former Cedar Rapids Jefferson state medalist, welcomed the opportunity to wrestle in his hometown. He bolted from the warmup area to the upper level to see his followers, including his parents, sister, girlfriend, other friends and family and even co-workers. Briggs said his career was not a solo effort.
“I had a million people up there,” Briggs said. “It was a whole militia of supporters. It was awesome.”
Wartburg had a significant lead after day 1, but a rough semifinal round allowed Wabash to close the gap and even take the lead for part of the third session.
The Knights went 1-5 in the semifinals. Zayren Terukina (141) was the lone Wartburg finalist. He majored Averett’s Brandon Woody, 12-0, to reach the finals against Mount Union’s 2019 NCAA champion Jordin James.
“The coaches had a good game plan for me, showing me some stuff I had to stay away from,” Terukina said, “and then I had to get to my stuff, open up my attacks, wrestle my match and that is exactly what I did.”
Terukina tore through his first three opponents, posting two major decisions. He scored 33 total points before the title match. He loosened the reins and the key was opening up his offense.
“Really zoning in and trusting in my coaching,” Terukina said. “Then, going out there and putting everything on the line.”
Wartburg finished with seven All-Americans. Zane Mulder placed fourth at 174. Brady Kyner (125) and Kristian Rumph (149) were fifth, while 157-pounder David Hollingsworth was sixth. Joe Pins ended up seventh at 133.
The Knights earned their 24th top-two team finish.
Coe was in sixth place heading into the finals. The Kohawks had two All-Americans. Heavyweight Kaleb Reeves had four pins and a major decision, getting third. Unseeded sophomore Will Esmoil reached the 165 semifinals and finished fourth for Coe.
Reeves bounced back from a quarterfinal loss with four victories, including three by fall. Esmoil beat the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds before dropping a battle against Wabash’s No. 3 Kyle Hatch in the semifinal.
“It showed a lot about Kaleb,” Coe Coach John Oostendorp said. “He had plans to come in and win it. You get upset and still have to come through to win four on the backside.
“I was proud of both those guys’ effort. It’s great having two guys like that competing hard down the stretch and then coming back (next year).”
Former Western Dubuque state champion Bradan Birt has been one of the most dominant wrestlers in D-III this season. He increased his pin total to 23 during the tournament to go along with his 10 technical falls.
The top-seeded 165-pounder from Millikin reached the finals with a 5-1 decision over Alvernia’s Mattv Lackman.
“In every single match, it allows me to look for the pin or the tech fall,” Birt said. “I think as long as I’m looking to score points and looking to pin somebody I’m going to keep scoring points, even if I give up a point or two.
“We always say score the next point. Keep tacking on points. If you’re always looking to pin or tech fall somebody, even if you slip up one or two times, you’re still going.”
Birt had the chance to match his father, and Millikin head coach, Ryan Birt, who won the 184-pound title in 1999 for Upper Iowa. The younger Birt won the NWCA crown last season, but wanted to cap his career on top.
“This one means a little bit more,” Birt said. “Maybe because it’s my senior year. Last year was awesome. I’m not going to take anything from it, but I really just want to go out there and do this one more time.”