The National Wrestling Coaches Association decided to honor student-athletes, despite the cancellation of the NCAA Division III Championships.
Wrestlers from across the country were recognized by the NWCA for their performance throughout the regular season and national qualifying tournaments, according to a news release Tuesday. The first team consists of eight wrestlers per weight. The next 10 in each class were split between second and third teams.
“These athletes deserve to be recognized for their outstanding body of work during the 2019-2020 season,” NWCA D-III President and Johnson & Wales Coach Lonnie Morris said in the news release. “I’m proud of the NWCA Division III leadership group working so diligently to review the candidates and for developing a meaningful process for recognizing this elite group of young men.”
The American Rivers Conference and The Gazette area were represented well, including four former Metro preps named to the first team.
Wartburg’s second-seeded Kyle Briggs and Coe’s No. 2 seed Taylor Mehmen received first-team honors at 174 and 197 pounds, respectively. They were joined by Loras 141-pounder and former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Clint Lembeck and former Cedar Rapids Kennedy state champion Ben Sarasin, who is the 184-pounder at University of Chicago.
The honor was little consolation for Briggs, a returning All-American ranked among the nation’s top wrestlers throughout the season. Briggs and Mehmen entered the national tournament as strong title contenders.
“My goal wasn’t to be an All-American,” Briggs said. “I’ve done that. I don’t want that. I want to win (a title).”
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Wrestling separates itself from other sports with postseason honors being earned in the final competition. The awards were based the body of work up, leading up to the championships, but it doesn’t hold the same weight as earning it on the mat, according to Briggs.
“I’d always rather see people actually perform,” said Briggs, who didn’t know about the announcement Tuesday afternoon. “If this is true, it makes me a two-time All-American and my dad (Dick) was a two-time All-American (for University of Northern Iowa), but my dad wrestled two tournaments. That is not the same.”
Briggs was one of four Knights on the first team, accompanying Kristian Rumph (133), Max Forsyth at 165 and heavyweight Jordon Brandon. Martine Sandoval (157) was named to the second team for Wartburg.
“These guys would rather go out and earn it,” Wartburg Coach Eric Keller said. “This is a unique scenario. These guys have earned it. We’re definitely going to recognize it. We will honor them.”
Mehmen was the lone Kohawk on the first team. Coe’s 141-pound regional champion Riley Wright made the second team. Former All-American Cole Erickson (157) and former North Linn prep Brock Henderson (133) were third-teamers for Coe.
Coe Coach John Oostendorp and Coe Athletics Director Steve Cook said they would have discussion on how to acknowledge the honors.
Loras had six first team picks and eight overall. Former Iowa Valley prep Jacob Krakow was a first-team selection at 174 for Loras.
Former Western Dubuque state champion Bradan Birt was named to the first team at 165 for Millikin (Ill.) University. Former Sigourney-Keota prep Nathan Fritz was a second-team pick for Central.
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Other A-R-C first-team picks were Brandon Murray (157), Eddie Smith (165), Shane Liegel (184) and 197-poounder Guy Patron for Loras. Central heavyweight Duncan Lee was a first-team pick as well.
Central’s Robert Areyano (149) and Loras heavyweight Wyatt Wriedt were second-team selections. Loras 149-pounder Daniel Ruiz made the third team.
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