MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Saint John’s finished third out of 12 teams and qualified six wrestlers to the NCAA Division III Championships on Saturday, March 2, at the NCAA West Regional in Minneapolis.
SJU has now qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships, which are scheduled for March 15-16 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 23 of the last 24 seasons.
A pair of Johnnies, senior Mitch Hagen (Sunburg, Minn./Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg) and junior Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.), earned individual titles. Senior Chris Stevermer (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake) finished third at 149 pounds to, like Hagen, earn his second consecutive trip to nationals, while sophomore Ryan Michaelis (Monticello, Minn.) and juniors John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford) and Nick Schuler (Roseville, Minn.) earned their first national-tournament appearances.
Augsburg won the regional with a total of 143.5 points and eight qualifiers, followed by Concordia-Moorhead (133), SJU (127) and Wisconsin-Oshkosh (79).
The fourth-ranked wrestler in Division III at 184 pounds, Hagen went 3-0 with a pair of pins, including a title-clinching fall over Caleb Malychwski of Pacific (Ore.). Hagen is now 16-4 on the season and will make his second consecutive appearance at nationals in two weeks.
Arne earned SJU’s other crown and his first trip to nationals with the most impressive performance of the day. Arne sandwiched a pair of major decisions with two technical falls, ending the day with a 17-1 win over Concordia-Moorhead’s Kevin Fynboh at 157 pounds. Arne is now 9-4 on the year.
Schuler started the day with back-to-back decisions before falling to top-ranked Nazar Kulchytskyy (Wisconsin-Oshkosh) by technical fall, 20-5, in the 165-pound championship bout. He is now 16-2 on the season, with both losses coming by technical fall to Kulchytskyy, last year’s national champion at 157 pounds.
Five wrestlers competed in the third-place matches of their respective weights. Stevermer posted a pair of pins before falling to Concordia-Moorhead’s Jacob Long, 3-2 in the 149-pound semifinal. He battled back with a 5-3 win over St. Olaf’s Carl Elmer and punched his ticket to nationals with a convincing 18-2 technical fall of Augsburg’s Rashad Kennedy. Stevermer is now 17-6 on the year.
Michaelis won his first match at 197 pounds but allowed a late takedown to the Cobbers’ Nathan Schmitz in a 3-1 semifinal loss. He wrapped up third place with two more decisions to improve to 10-4 on the season.
Scepaniak became the first SJU heavyweight to reach the national tournament since 1997 (Matt Wentland) with a 3-1 record. He dropped a hard-fought 8-4 decision to top-ranked Chad Johnson of Augsburg in the semifinal, but earned a trip to nationals with an overtime win over St. Olaf’s Zack Gibson, his second victory over the Ole on the day.
Sophomore Dalton Sowers (Delano, Minn.) bounced back from a loss in his first match at 133 pounds to reach the third-place match, only to fall to the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Austin Binish via pin. Sowers ended the year with an 8-6 record.
Freshman Josh Willaert (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson) registered two pins to start the tourney but fell to St. Olaf’s James Roach, 7-4 in the 174-pound semifinal. He earned a 10-5 decision over the Cobbers’ Sebastian Gardner but lost the third-place match to Augsburg’s Josh Kohler, 11-6. Willaert ended his freshman campaign with a 20-5 record.
Freshman John Wells (Janesville, Wis./Miltona) went 2-2 to claim fifth place at 125 pounds. He won his first match by a pin in 49 seconds, before falling by decision to fifth-ranked Sean Ambrocio of Concordia (Wis.) and St. Olaf’s Wesley Azariah. Wells tallied a 12-1 major decision to claim fifth and end the season with a 10-7 record.
Sophomore Evan Guffey (Wyandotte, Mich./Roosevelt) lost his first match of the day with a high-scoring 14-12 decision to Marcus McCauley of Lakeland (Wis.), and fell in the consolation bracket by a 6-3 score to Ryan Baxter of Pacific).