Small College Sports

Coe freshman Riley Wright captures NCAA D-III regional wrestling title

Kohawks advance 4 to NCAA tournament; Loras wins team crown with program record 8 qualifiers

Coe College's Riley Wright (left) wrestles North Central College's Marc Fleenor during their 141 lbs. championship match
Coe College's Riley Wright (left) wrestles North Central College's Marc Fleenor during their 141 lbs. championship match at the NCAA Division III Lower Midwest Regional Wrestling Tournament at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, Iowa, on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DUBUQUE — Everything seemed to click when it mattered most for Coe’s Riley Wright.

The Kohawk freshman endured the regular first-year growing pains in the regular season, but he shed all that in just in time for the postseason.

Wright strung together four straight wins and captured the 141-pound title at the NCAA Division III Lower Midwest region wrestling tournament Sunday at Five Flags Center. He advanced to the national tournament March 13-14 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.

“It was a great weekend,” Wright said. “We had a good two weeks of training with my coaches and team. I kind of put it all together and finished it off at the end.”

Wright dealt with illnesses throughout the grinding season much longer than high school. He entered the tournament with just a 9-8 record and seemed like an unlikely champ in a bracket with two All-Americans and another NCAA qualifier, who were all ranked in the top 10 nationally.

“Now is the time that really matters,” Wright said. “My record didn’t matter coming in. I’m right where I want to be right here.”

Wright finished his title performance with a 7-5 victory over North Central’s Marc Fleenor. He also beat Wartburg’s fifth-ranked and third-seeded Brady Fritz in Saturday’s quarterfinals and started Sunday with a 12-4 major decision over Central’s No. 10 Daniel Radcliffe in the semifinals.

“It’s easy to say it now, but we felt he was capable of a run like this,” Coe Coach John Oostendorp said. “Everything is coming together at the right time for him.”

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Wright used a strong third period in his final two matches to advance. He used three takedowns in the final frame to pull away from Radcliffe. In the championship, Wright scored two takedowns in the last 80 seconds to win.

“When I feel that momentum switch and they give a little bit, that just makes me want to go a little harder and harder every time,” Wright said. “When I start feeling that, I start picking it up.”

Second-ranked Taylor Mehmen added a title at 197 for the Kohawks. Brock Henderson (133) and Cole Erickson (157) battled back to place third, giving Coe four national qualifiers. Three more fell just one win shy.

“I think we wrestled well as a team,” Oostendorp said. “I think our guys competed hard.

“Obviously, you get down to that third-place match and there is a fine line there. You always want to win more, but I’m happy and exciting for the four we’ve got going next week. They’re battle-tested and ready to go.”

Wartburg matched Coe with two titlists. The Knights were paced by top-ranked 133-pounder Kristian Rumph and Kyle Briggs at 174.

Briggs used a takedown in the first and a reversal in the third for a 4-3 decision over Loras’ No. 4 ranked Jacob Krakow in the final.

Briggs started the season at 174, but moved to 184. He ended the regular season ranked second at 184, but dropped to 174 for the postseason.

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“All things considered this was a good tournament,” Briggs said. “This was a tactical tournament to see if I could get comfortable down at the weight class, which I do. I feel great. Also, to reaffirm my spot.”

The former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep will get to compete in front of his hometown, looking for his second All-America finish.

“It’s a really cool privilege I have, now that I’m officially going,” Briggs said. “It would be even better if I could win in front of everybody.”

Krakow, a 2019 All-American and former Iowa Valley state runner-up, was one of five Loras finalists and program record eight NCAA qualifiers.

Brandon Murray (157) was the lone champion for Loras, which won the team title with 178 points, 15 more than Coe. The Duhawks were perfect the first day and rebounded from an 0-3 start on Day 2.

“I’m pretty proud of our team,” Miller said. “They fought pretty hard. We dealt with a lot of adversity.”

All-American and former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Clint Lembeck was one of three Duhawks to bounce back from semifinal losses and claim an NCAA berth with a third-place finish. Eddie Smith (165) and Shane Liegel (184) were also third.

Lembeck defeated Wartburg All-American Brady Fritz in the consolation semifinals and Central’s previous NCAA qualifier Radcliffe for third.

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“He’s a two-time champ and it could be really easy to shut her down,” Miller said. “I’m very proud of those guys. Sometimes getting third is harder than getting into the finals.”

Millikin three-time All-American and former Western Dubuque prep Bradan Birt captured the 165-pound title. He capped an impressive weekend with a 17-0 technical fall over Wartburg’s second-ranked Max Forsyth in the final. Sixth-ranked Birt opened with consecutive pins Saturday and closed with two technical falls Sunday, earning Outstanding Wrestler honors.

Former Sigourney-Keota prep Nathan Fritz, a 2018 NCAA qualifier, will return to the national meet, receiving a berth with a runner-up finish at 184.

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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