116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The championship wasn’t decided until the penultimate match of the tournament.
When it was complete, so was Wartburg’s title performance.
Cedar Rapids native Kyle Briggs provided the final point with his third-place finish, North Central’s Cody Baldridge denied Wabash in its final chance and the top-ranked Knights hoisted the championship team trophy of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships on Saturday night at Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
Wartburg edged Wabash, 79-78, for its 15th national team title. Briggs used a reversal for a 2-0 win, avenging a loss to Loras’ top-seeded Shane Liegel, for the Knights’ final and decisive point in the closest race since 1999.
“We had some things not go our way,” Wartburg Coach Eric Keller said. “These guys overcame adversity.”
The Knights entered the finals with just one finalist — 141-pounder Zayren Terukina. Wabash had three finalists, so Wartburg needed a little assistance to maintain its lead.
Baldwin Wallace’s Jacob Decatur topped Wabash’s Carlos Champagne, 6-3, for the 125 title. Millikin’s Bradan Birt handled Wabash’s Kyle Hatch, 14-2, in the 165 final. Baldridge defeated Jack Heldt, 3-2, for the 197 crown.
Interestingly, in that 1 1/2-point victory over rival Augsburg for the 1999 championship, Upper Iowa’s Ryan Birt beat an Auggie opponent for the 184 title to help the Knights win. Ryan Birt is Millikin’s head coach and his son played a similar role, preventing Wabash from overtaking Wartburg.
“I haven’t thought of that,” Keller said. “That’s a crazy parallel.”
North Central coaches told Keller they would deliver a win. As Baldridge’s match ticked down, North Central fans descended into the Wartburg section, joining them in a celebration.
“That was a long finals night,” Keller said. “I’ve been sick to my stomach the last couple hours.
“Any time you have to rely on other people it’s tough. We were cheering hard tonight for Baldwin Wallace, Millikin and North Central.”
Discussions before the finals was solely on Terukina, according to Keller. The team wanted him to come away with an individual crown. Mount Union’s Jordin James turned away Terukina, using a first-period takedown and an escape in the second for a 3-2 decision. James became a two-time NCAA champion, adding to his 133 title in 2019.
“I’m heartbroken for Zayren Terukina,” Keller said. “He wrestled his butt off. He gave himself every opportunity to win that match. I’m proud of that guy.”
Terukina was one of seven Wartburg All-Americans.
Like his father, Bradan Birt completed an unbeaten championship season. Birt notched his fourth bonus-point victory, adding the major decision to the three pins to open the tournament Friday. He was emotional and had to gather himself before commenting on the feat.
“I’ve trained so hard,” Bradan Birt said. “I have the best support system in the world and God has blessed me to be in this situation. I’m overfilled with emotion, right now. I’m very grateful and thankful to be given this opportunity I’ve got and I couldn’t be happier.”
The Birts embraced in the back halls with Bradan handing his plaque to Ryan. Not much had to be said to convey the love and pride that was shared.
“I just know (his) work,” Ryan Birt said. “He asked me if this was a dream. I just wanted to hug him. Sometimes just hugging or holding our children and they know we love them through thick and thin. This just happens to be a good time.”
The younger Birt also earned the Most Dominant Wrestler award for D-III, averaging more than technical fall points in each match throughout the season. He finished with 23 pins and 10 technical falls. Bradan said his dad played a big role in his success.
“There’s no one in the world that knows me on a wrestling level more than my father does,” Birt said. “Every aspect of my wrestling ability goes to him and his teachings, so all credit to him.”
Bradan became Millikin’s first NCAA titlist. He finished as a four-time All-American, placing seventh as a freshman, sixth as a sophomore and was a first-team selection by the National Wrestling Coaches Association in 2020. He won the NWCA national tournament last season.
The MIllikin senior noted this left no doubt with a true national field. It also will settle the debate on the family’s top competitor.
“I think if you ask him now he’ll officially say I am the best Birt over him,” Bradan said about his dad. “It’s always a running battle, but last year he said you can have it. This year, he ain’t taking that. I’m taking it.”
Coe’s Kaleb Reeves placed third at heavyweight. He received the award for most pins in D-III this season, setting a school record with 24. Reeves had pins in four of five NCAA tournament matches.
Former Wartburg wrestler Michael Ross was a runner-up at 174, falling to Mount St. Joseph’s first NCAA champion Cornell Beacham Jr., 5-1, in the final. Ross led the country with 22 technical falls.