Small College Sports

Iowa - the state - still king of wrestling

Ogden column: Grand View, Wartburg set high standards

Grand View's 2018 national championship wrestling team. (Twitter/NAIA)
Grand View's 2018 national championship wrestling team. (Twitter/NAIA)

Penn State won the NCAA Division I wrestling title for the third straight year and seventh time in eight years Saturday night in Cleveland.

Tom Ryan has built a consistently dominating program at Ohio State and toppled Cael Sanderson’s mighty Nittany Lions two weeks earlier at the Big Ten Championships in East Lansing, Mich.

But Iowa still is No. 1 in wrestling.

The state of Iowa, that is.

Wartburg won its third straight NCAA Division III title the previous weekend, also in Cleveland, and its sixth in seven years. Iowa Central finished third in the NJCAA Championships this year, but was the 2017 and 2015 national champion.

Then there’s Grand View University, a private liberal arts college in Des Moines and a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

The Vikings won their seventh straight NAIA title earlier this month in Des Moines. That’s second only to the University of Iowa’s nine straight NCAA titles from 1978 to ’86 and matches the streaks of D-I Oklahoma State (1937-49) and D-II Cal Poly (1968-74).

“We’ve got something really unique here,” said Grand View Coach Nick Mitchell, who built this dynasty from scratch.

Mitchell cut his “small-college” teeth at Wartburg, helping Jim Miller build that dynasty as a wrestler and assistant coach. He came to Grand View and started the program in 2008-09.

“We built a room, put some mats in and said ‘go,’” Mitchell said.

Nine years later the Vikings are seven-time NAIA kings.

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Don’t scoff at the NAIA level. Mitchell used the “wrestling is wrestling” line when asked to compare NAIA to NCAA II or III.

“These are all really good divisions,” he said, noting NAIA is the fastest growing for a sport that can use every boost it can get. “There’s good wrestling all the way through.”

He’s watched as the NAIA talent pool has improved as it grows and thinks the top wrestlers could compete in NCAA II or III. He’s also seen a shifting attitude toward his program over the last seven seasons.

When Iowa was in the midst of its nine-year run, some wondered if the Hawkeyes were hurting the sport.

Mitchell can relate.

“They were real happy for us” when the Vikings won their first title, he said. “Now they aren’t happy for us.”

He’s OK with that.

“There’s a new set of adversity every year,” he said.

This year’s team was led by a couple of former Gazette-area preps. Dean Broghammer of Manchester won his second national heavyweight title and ended his career a four-time All-American. Grant Henderson of Alburnett won at 165, his second national title.

Mitchell looks for the “right fit” when recruiting and said Broghammer and Henderson were just that.

He looks for wrestlers who “want to buy into our mission and philosophy” and want a good education.

“We want them to live a championship lifestyle,” he said.

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Like his coach at Wartburg, Mitchell doesn’t necessarily see greener pastures at bigger programs.

“I love this situation.” he said. “It would have to be really unique to pull me away from Grand View.

“I like winning. I want to be in a place I know I can be successful.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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