The Saint John’s wrestling team travels to Augsburg this Saturday, March 1, for the NCAA West Regional. The meet is scheduled for 9 a.m. at Si Melby Hall in Minneapolis. The top three at each weight class qualify for the 2014 NCAA Division III Championships, which are scheduled for March 14-15 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. – Live Results | Regional Website & Travel Information | Live Video (semifinals/finals/third-place matches only)v
A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: No. 21 Saint John’s wrestling (9-11 dual record) dropped four matches each by three points or less in a 28-9 loss to then-No. 7 Augsburg on Feb. 16 in Collegeville. Mike Fuenffinger, ranked fourth nationally, gave the Auggies a 6-0 lead with a pin of sophomore John Wells (Janesville, Wis./Milton) in 5:24 at 125 pounds. The match was Wells’ first since Jan. 11. Chad Bartschenfeld scored a takedown with 27 seconds left to hand senior Alex Peck (Edina, Minn./Benilde-St. Margaret’s) a 6-4 loss at 133 pounds. Sophomore Ben Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) put SJU on the scoreboard with an 11-4 win, one point from a major decision, to improve to 17-8 at 141 pounds. Junior Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano) led by as much as 6-2 but Augsburg’s Will Keeter recorded a takedown with 45 seconds left to cut it to 7-6 and sent the match into overtime with the addition point for riding time. Keeter won the match 9-7 with a takedown 20 seconds into the one-minute, sudden-death overtime. Senior Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.), ranked 10th nationally, built an 8-2 lead and held on for an 11-7 win, thanks to a late takedown in his favor, at 157 pounds. His opponent, Rashad Kennedy, bit Arne’s forearm after the match and was disqualified, which gave SJU three additional team points (serving as a forfeit) and cut its deficit to 12-9. Arne now touts a team-leading 18-5 record on the season. The bizarre action failed to spark the Johnnies, however, as Augsburg won the final five matches. The Auggies’ Justin Bowland won the battle of high-school teammates with a 6-1 decision over senior Brandon Seppelt (Foley, Minn.) and freshman Teddy Erickson (Annandale, Minn.) fought back from an 8-4 deficit, only to lose by a 10-8 score at 174 pounds. Tommy Teigen tallied a 13-2 major decision over sophomore Josh Willaert (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson) at 184 pounds and Matt Hechsel, ranked fifth nationally, edged junior Ryan Michaelis (Monticello, Minn.) 3-0 at 197. Two-time defending national champion, and top-ranked heavyweight, Chad Johnson ended the dual with a 7-1 win over senior John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford).
TRACK RECORD: SJU has qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in 23 of the last 24 seasons.
SJU’S LINEUP: Here is a preview of SJU’s lineup for Saturday’s regional.
Sophomore John Wells (Janesville, Wis./Milton) is 9-11 on the year and is looking to improve on his fifth-place finish at last year’s regional. He will likely face third-ranked Fuenffinger from Augsburg, who he is 1-2 against (including the loss by pin Feb. 16).
Senior Alex Peck (Edina, Minn./Benilde-St. Margaret’s) has compiled a 9-7 record this season and is looking to get a bid to the national tournament in his first and last appearance at the NCAA Regional. The lone ranked wrestler in the 133-pound bracket will be Concordia-Moorhead’s Jacoby Bergeron, who is ranked as high as eighth (NWCA). Peck defeated Bergeron’s backup 11-4 in the dual loss to the Cobbers Feb. 11.
Sophomore Ben Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) is 17-8 on the season and competes Saturday in a bracket that will not have any ranked wrestlers. The bracket does, however, contain returning All-American Nathaniel Behnke of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who Henle defeated in the first tournament of the season by an 8-7 decision. Henle has been ranked as high as fifth nationally this season.
Junior Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano) has accumulated a 17-10 record and a team-leading 11 pins so far this season. He missed all of last season, and a majority of the 2011-12 campaign, due to injury. Regionally, Hessing touts a 14-13 win over sixth-ranked Jake Long of Concordia-Moorhead, who won the region and placed fourth at the national tournament last season. Later that week, Hessing dropped an overtime decision to Augsburg’s returning All-American, Will Keeter, 9-7. Last year’s national champion at 149, Greg Sanders of Concordia (Wis.), suffered a season-ending injury and will not get the chance to defend his title.
Senior Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.) boasts a team leading 18-5 record this season and is looking to repeat as a national entrant. Arne, who won the region last season, will have the top-ranked wrestler, Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Nazar Kulchytskyy, in his bracket. Last year’s national champion at 165 pounds, Kulchytskyy dropped down to 157 pounds in 2013-14 and has a 33-2 record on the year.
Senior Brandon Seppelt (Foley, Minn.) has an 8-16 record on the year and is appearing in his first regional tournament, in his final season. This bracket is up in the air as there is no clear leader regionally at this weight.
Senior Brock Friesen (Oak Park, Ill./Oak Park and River Forest) will appear in his first regional tournament and has compiled a 4-9 record in his final season at SJU. Friesen earned a spot in the lineup with a wrestle-off win during last week’s practices.
Sophomore Josh Willaert (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson) looks to improve on his fourth-place finish at last year’s regional. He has bumped up a weight class from a year ago and is 11-8 on the season. The 184-pound bracket will have two ranked wrestlers: No. 2 Dan Schiferl of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and No. 5 James Roach of St. Olaf. Willaert missed the region finals with a close 7-4 loss to Roach last March.
Junior Ryan Michaelis (Monticello, Minn.) looks to repeat as a national qualifier this weekend. Michaelis, who is 12-9 on the season, may have to battled past seventh-ranked, and returning All-American, Matt Hechsel of Augsburg. Hechsel earned a close 3-0 over Michaelis Feb. 16.
Senior John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford) will have a tough road to the national tournament, as the heavyweight bracket contains two top-three wrestlers, top-ranked Chad Johnson of Augsburg and No. 3 Cody Kasprick of Concordia, and St. Olaf’s Zack Gibson. Scepaniak (10-12 record) lost to Johnson, the two-time defending national champion, by a 7-1 decision Feb. 16 and was pinned by Kasprick Feb. 11.
LAST YEAR’S REGIONAL: SJU finished third out of 12 teams and qualified six wrestlers to the NCAA Division III Championships at last year’s NCAA West Regional, hosted by Augsburg, on March 2 (2013). A pair of Johnnies, Mitch Hagen ’13 and Arne, earned individual titles. Chris Stevermer ’13 finished third at 149 pounds to, like Hagen, earn his second consecutive trip to nationals, while Michaelis, Scepaniak and Nick Schuler ’13 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 Malychewski of Pacific (Ore.). 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. Schuler started the day with back-to-back decisions before falling to Kulchytskyy by technical fall, 20-5, in the 165-pound championship bout. 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. 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. 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. Willaert 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. Wells 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. Junior Evan Guffey 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).