Johnnies Set for National Stage This Weekend

The SJU wrestling team, ranked third nationally, returns to action at the prestigious NWCA/Cliff Keen Division III National Duals this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 8-9. The Johnnies are scheduled to face No. 26 Johnson & Wales (R.I.) at 11 a.m. in the first round of the dual tournament held at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. –  Tournament Website | Bracket

A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: SJU returns to competition for the first time since going 3-1 at the Vegas Duals Dec. 20. The Johnnies posted a 44-3 win over the University of Chicago, and sandwiched an 18-13 loss to then-No. 27 Olivet (Mich.) with tough wins over then-No. 1 Wartburg (21-15) and then-No. 3 Coe (18-17). SJU slid one spot to No. 3 in the latest Brute-Adidas National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division III team rankings released Jan. 4. Other teams ranked from the NCAA Great Lakes Region include Augsburg (No. 1), which jumped five spots from sixth to the top ranking, Concordia-Moorhead (No. 7), Elmhurst (No. 22) and North Central (No. 27).

Six of the Johnnies’ starting 10 were ranked individually: senior Minga Batsukh (7-0 record; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia/St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.), No. 3 at 149 pounds; senior Matt Baarson (10-2 record; Brooklyn Park, Minn./Champlin Park), No. 4 at 165; senior Chris Sandy (10-2 record; Spirit Lake, Iowa), No. 5 at 141; junior Dustin Baxter (9-1 record; Fairbanks, Alaska/West Valley), No. 8 at 184; junior Chad Henle (10-2 record; Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer), No. 8 at 133; and senior Tony Willaert (6-5 record, 5-3 at 197; North Mankato, Minn./Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial), No. 10 at 197.

BATSUKH THE BULLY: The bump up to 149 pounds from 141, a weight class in which he has won each of the last two national championships, seems to be a smooth transition thus far for senior Minga Batsukh, who went 3-0 in Las Vegas. Of his seven victories, he boasts three pins, one technical fall, two major decisions and just one straight decision.

BRACKET OPPONENTS: The Johnson & Wales dual will feature an All-American matchup at 184 between SJU’s Dustin Baxter and No. 6 Brennan Ward, the Wildcats’ lone nationally-ranked wrestler. Ward has won 14 consecutive matches since losing his season opener Nov. 6. He went 10-1 at 197 pounds before cutting down to 184 and posting four pins at the Gator Duals Dec. 19.

The Johnnies will face either No. 6 Ithaca (N.Y.) or No. 19 Wilkes (Pa.). Ithaca boasts five ranked wrestlers, including the fifth-ranked grapplers at 133 and 149. The Bombers are also strong at heavyweight (No. 4 Matt Mahon), 174 (No. 6 David Priest) and 157 (No. 7 Derek Brenon). Wilkes’ Anthony Dattolo is ranked eighth at 149 pounds.

The other cluster of four teams on the bottom end of the bracket features No. 2 Wartburg, No. 7 Concordia-Moorhead, No. 13 Dubuque (Iowa) and No. 28 Heidelberg (Ohio).

LAST YEAR: Saint John’s went 2-1 in the first day of last year’s National Duals. The Johnnies suffered a 22-15 loss to No. 12 Delaware Valley in the opening round before defeating Dubuque (Iowa) 19-18 and North Central (Ill.) 15-15 (won by tie-breaker criteria, most near-fall points). SJU forfeited the match at 125 in both duals the following day and fell then-No. 9 Concordia-Moorhead (22-13) and then-No. 16 Cornell of Iowa (25-20). Matt Baarson recorded a perfect 5-0 record in the tournament at 165 pounds.

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