The Saint John’s wrestling team opens its 2017-18 season at the annual Augsburg Open this Saturday, Nov. 18. The tournament is scheduled for a 9 a.m. start at Si Melby Hall in Minneapolis.
Sixteen Johnnies competed at last year’s Augsburg Open. Sophomore Noah Becker (Browerville, Minn.) led SJU with a third-place finish at 133 pounds. He won his two first matches of the day against NCAA Division II opponents, 5-2 over Upper Iowa’s Lincoln Monroe and a pin of MSU-Mankato’s Dakota Welsh, before falling to Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Ryan Weinmann, 8-4. Weinmann was ranked No. 1 by D3wrestle.com and No. 7 by the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association (NWCA) earlier in the week. Becker bounced back with a narrow 7-6 decision of Mankato’s Paul Selman to take third and is now 10-5 on the young season.
A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: The Saint John’s wrestling team is turning to a new coach who has mentored student-athletes at all three levels of NCAA competition.
No stranger to the SJU wrestling program, Kevin Schiltz was named the Johnnies’ head coach July 20 after serving 16 seasons as an assistant. His tenure as an assistant coach covered three different head coaches at SJU: John Elton ’80 (2000-04), Brandon Novak ’01 (2004-14) and Tony Willaert ’11 (2014-16). During that span, the program produced 18 All-Americans, including national champions Novak and Minga Batsukh ’11 (three-time), and 53 national qualifiers in 16 seasons.
He started his coaching career as an assistant for two seasons (1996-98) at Division I Virginia and returned to Minnesota to serve as an assistant for one season at Division II St. Cloud State in 1998-99 before joining SJU. Schiltz is the first non-SJU graduate to lead the wrestling program since Jim Lind, who coached the Johnnies for two seasons from 1979-81. Lind later served as an assistant football coach with the Green Bay Packers from 1992-98, and later the Seattle Seahawks from 2000-08.
Returning National Qualifiers
The Johnnies return a pair of national qualifiers from last season in Becker and junior Luke Dodd (Apple Valley, Minn./Eastview). Both wrestlers were nationally ranked in the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association (NWCA) preseason rankings released Oct. 30. Dodd was ranked eighth at 184 pounds and Becker was ranked ninth at 133 pounds.
The Johnnies’ sophomore class experienced a fair amount of success as freshmen last season. Most notably was Becker, who posted a team-leading 24 wins (24-11 record) and became the first SJU freshman to appear at nationals since Dustin Baxter ’12 in 2008. Becker’s record was no joke, as he defeated wrestlers from all levels of collegiate competition, including an opponent from Division I Iowa and four Division II competitors.
Sophomore Jerod Novak (Aitkin, Minn.) posted a 20-14 record last year and just missed a trip to nationals with a 4-2 loss in the NCAA West Regional’s third-place match. Sophomore Anthony Hennen (Cologne, Minn./Norwood-Young America) also broke the 10-win mark with 11 in his first season at 125 pounds, while classmate Quincy Spiering (Mounds View, Minn./St. Thomas Academy) won two of his final three matches at heavyweight to finish at 5-8.
Don’t Call Him Junior
SJU’s roster includes one junior, Dodd, who makes up one-third of the team’s upperclassmen. Dodd finished with an 18-11 record last year, including wins in 14 of his final 20 matches. He suffered an opening-round loss at the regional but battled back with three straight wins to earn a national-tournament bid.
The 2016-17 team and four of its student-athletes received NWCA academic honors last March. Dodd, Novak and a pair of recent graduates, Teddy Erickson ’17 and Robert Tait ’17, were named NWCA Scholar All-Americans, while the Johnnies recorded the fourth-best GPA (3.40) in Division III en route to NWCA All-Academic team honors. SJU has now totaled 20 Scholar All-Americans over the last nine seasons.
To be eligible for Scholar All-America distinction, a student-athlete must carry a GPA of at least 3.20 (cumulative or last academic year), have a .500 match record or better and meet one of the three criteria: qualify for the NCAA Championships, place in the top six at the NCAA regional or wrestle in 50 percent of the scheduled dates. The team grade-point average was determined using a system that includes 14 student-athletes from each program, including all 10 that competed at the NCAA regional.
SJU opens its 2017-18 season Nov. 18 at the annual Augsburg Open and follow that with a string of competitions with NCAA Division II institutions on the marquee; a Nov. 30 dual at MSU-Mankato and a pair of opens at MSU-Moorhead (Dec. 2) and St. Cloud State (Dec. 9). The Johnnies host St. Cloud State for a home-opening dual Dec. 28. SJU takes on St. Olaf Jan. 18 at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul and visits Moorhead Jan. 23 for a dual with Concordia. The annual North Country Open is scheduled for Jan. 27 in Collegeville and Augsburg visits Sexton Arena Feb. 9 for a dual. The newly-named, 17-team NCAA Upper Midwest Regional is scheduled for Feb. 23-24 at Augsburg. The top three finishers in each weight class advance to the NCAA Division III Championships March 9-10 in Cleveland, Ohio.