SJU Wrestlers Eager for This Weekend’s NCAA Regional

The eighth-ranked Saint John’s wrestling team is set to compete at the 2012 NCAA Great Lakes Regional, hosted by Augsburg, this Saturday, Feb. 25. The meet is scheduled for 9 a.m. at Si Melby Hall in Minneapolis. – Live Results | Live Video (True-Fourth Matches, Semifinals, Finals) | Tournament Information

Preview Videos:
SJU Highlights (5:19)
Head coach Brandon Novak (5:02)

A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: The Johnnies aim to match or surpass last year’s school record of seven national entrants at this weekend’s 15-team NCAA Regional. The top three wrestlers in each weight class advance to the NCAA Division III Championships held Friday and Saturday, March 9-10, in La Crosse, Wis. Two other at-large/alternate wrestlers may also be invited to La Crosse depending on weight-class/bracket sizes at nationals. SJU has qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships 21 of the last 22 seasons.

125 pounds: Freshman Brian Waldron (Lake Zurich, Ill./Carmel Catholic) has compiled a 7-11 record so far this season. The nation’s top wrestler at 125, Nathan Fitzenreider of North Central (Ill.), headlines this bracket, will not have any other ranked wrestlers.

133 pounds: Senior Chad Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) has posted a 17-9 record this season after earning All-America honors with a seventh-place finish in 2011. He dropped a close match, 6-4, to fifth-ranked ranked Daron Hohbein of Concordia-Moorhead at the Minnesota Duals on Jan. 28. Other than Hohbein, there are no other ranked wrestlers in the 133-pound bracket.

141 pounds: Sophomore Jay Woiwor (Becker, Minn.) will be joined by the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-ranked wrestlers accompanying him in the 141-pound bracket.

149 pounds: Sophomore Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.) enters the regional with a 20-8 record this season, including wins in four of his last five matches since cutting down from 157 pounds. He lost to top-ranked Orlando Ponce of Augsburg 13-9 in his last match at 157 on Jan. 28. Arne defeated two-time All-American and 2010 National Champion Isaac Dukes of Case Western Reserve (Ohio) 8-4 at the Citrus Invitational in late December.

157 pounds: Junior Chris Stevermer (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake) has compiled a 22-9 record this season with victories in five of his last seven matches since National Duals in early January. Ponce is the likely top seed in Saturday’s bracket.

165 pounds: Junior Nick Schuler (Roseville, Minn./Totino-Grace) has remained unranked despite his 26-6 record. Twenty of his 26 victories have been bonus-point wins, including nine pins, seven major decisions and four technical falls. Schuler is a junior academically, but has sophomore eligibility due to a shoulder injury during his 2009-10 freshman season. He could receive the bracket’s top seed Saturday.

174 pounds: Senior Matt Pfarr (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson) is hoping to repeat as a national qualifier again this season. Thus far, he has amassed a 17-7 record with only one Division III loss at 174, suffered to Olivet’s (Mich.) Trevor Tyler (11-8), ranked seventh, at National Duals. Pfarr is currently ranked No. 8 by the NWCA and No. 7 by Pfarr earned All-American honors last year with a seventh-place finish. Pfarr is expected to receive the No. 1 seed at 174.

184 pounds: Junior Mitch Hagen (Sunburg, Minn./Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg) is currently ranked fifth according to the NWCA with a 19-5 record. He hopes to rebound from a 4-1 loss to third-ranked Josef Rau of Elmhurst (Ill.) at National Duals. Hagen, however is no stranger to surprise after winning his first match in the Citrus Invitational by a 20-5 technical fall against the top seed, Royal Bettrager of Liberty (Va.), a Division I national qualifier from a year ago. Hagen went on to defeat Upper Iowa’s Mitchell Schultz, the top-ranked wrestler in Division II, 7-2 in the championship bout at the tournament.

197 pounds: Senior Dustin Baxter (Fairbanks, Alaska/West Valley) aims to earn his fourth national tournament appearance this weekend. A three-time national entrant (2008, 2009, 2011) and a two-time All-American (2009, 2011) at 184 pounds, Baxter is currently 23-1 this season with his only loss coming by a 6-5 decision to Scott Schiller of Division I Minnesota. Baxter was the top-ranked wrestler at 184 pounds before moving up to 197 pounds this season. He is currently ranked second in both the and NWCA national rankings. Baxter will be joined by fifth-ranked Nathan Schmitz (Concordia-Moorhead) and sixth-ranked Brad Baus (Augsburg) in the bracket, though the SJU senior defeated them both handily Jan. 28.

285 pounds: Sophomore John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./ Holdingford) enters the regional second on the team with six pins and a 13-16 record overall. Augsburg’s Chad Johnson, the country’s top-ranked heavyweight, will assume the No. 1 seed.

LAST YEAR’S REGIONAL: Saint John’s earned seven national entrants with a second-place finish out of 15 teams at last year’s NCAA Great Lakes Regional in Sheboygan, Wis. The second-place finish and seven tournament-bound student-athletes were both program bests. Augsburg won its eighth consecutive NCAA regional with a total of 153.5 points, followed by SJU (125.5) and Concordia-Moorhead (124). Both the Auggies and Johnnies recorded three champions each. SJU managed to accumulate 125.5 points despite not having a wrestler at 125 pounds and set a school record with three Great Lakes regional champions, breaking the old mark of two set in 2009. Minga Batsukh ’11 became the eighth Johnnie in school history to make four national tournament appearances with a 5-2 win over Augsburg’s Tony Valek in the 149-pound championship match. The region title is the second of his career and first since he won the 141-pound bracket in 2009. Following a first-round bye, Batsukh posted a win by injury default and a technical fall in the semis before the championship victory. Matt Baarson ’11, the top-ranked wrestler at 165 pounds, will make his third consecutive trip to nationals after winning the regional tournament. He allowed three points the entire day, posting two technical falls and back-to-back 5-0 wins, including the shutout of St. Olaf’s Josef Waples in the title bout. Chris Sandy earned a trip to nationals by winning the 141-pound bracket. The No. 2 seed, Sandy received a first-round bye and posted a 15-4 major decision before earning a narrow 6-5 victory in the semis. He then defeated St. Olaf’s Ryan Timmerman 9-3 in the championship match.

Pfarr earned a spot at the national meet with a second-place finish at 174. He recorded a major decision, pin and an 8-6 decision in the semifinal match before falling to third-ranked Zach Molitor of Augsburg, 4-3. He then posted a 4-1 win in the true-second match to stamp his ticket without the use of a wild-card bid. Tony Willaert ’11 amassed two pins and an 8-1 decision in the semis before falling to second-ranked Jared Massey from Augsburg in the championship match, 11-2. Baxter received an at-large bid after finishing second at 184 pounds. He won a pair of close matches before falling to top-ranked Phil Moenkedick from Concordia-Moorhead in the title match. He then dropped the true-second match by a score of 7-3. Baxter led the majority of the match until he allowed a takedown and back points as time expired. Henle earned the Johnnies’ second at-large bid to bring the total to seven after finishing third at 133 pounds. He won his first match before falling to Hohbein via pin with one minute left in the match. He cruised through wrestlebacks, however, posting back-to-back major decisions to claim third.

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