Nick Novak earns National Championship at 157 pounds, Huskies take third at 2023 NCAA DII Tournament

True sophomore wins 3-1 decision in Finals to earn NCAA Title, four Huskies earn All-American honors

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – St. Cloud State Wrestling true sophomore 157-pounder Nick Novak became the 18th National Champion in program history with a 3-1 decision in the Finals on Saturday night as the Huskies – despite facing six teams with more qualifiers – took Third at the 2023 NCAA Championships held at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids. 174-pounder Abner Romero finished runner-up, Dominic Murphy took Fourth at 197 while Anthony Herrera placed Seventh at 165 to provide SCSU with a total of four All-Americans.

A product of New Prague, Minnesota, Nick Novak began his Championship Saturday with a bout in the 157-pound Semifinal against Nathan Smith of Pitt-Johnstown. The Huskies’ sophomore bulldozed through a 9-2 decision, clinching a Finals match with Logan Bailey of Indianapolis.

The first period of the 157-pound Final featured feisty chain wrestling and a few great shots from Novak that Bailey scampered out of, keeping things scoreless after three minutes. Bailey chose down to start the second, with Novak riding tough for just over 50 seconds – albeit taking his stall warning as he got caught in the air unable to keep the action going midway through. Indy’s Finalist earned his escape before Novak could rack up a minute of riding time then drew his own stall warning late in the period.

Facing a 1-0 deficit with both sides facing a potential stall point, “Tricky Nicky” lived up to his monicker and picked a neutral start to the third. The sophomore opened up firing shot after shot, working back to his patented underhook and finishing the go-ahead takedown. Novak locked in the riding time point, sealing the 3-1 decision to become the 2023 NCAA Champion at 157 pounds.

Fellow finalist Abner Romero punched his ticket to the 174-pound Finals with a Semifinal fall of Fort Hays State’s Cade Lindsey – sticking his foe at 4:30 to earn his second career finalist spot. Romero dropped a 12-4 major decision in the Finals, closing his storied collegiate career as a three-time NCAA All-American, two-time Finalist and a 2021 NCAA Champion with an incredible 75-3 record.

197-pounder Dominic Murphy wrestled the Huskies’ third Semifinal bout, drawing eventual back-to-back NCAA Champion Dalton Abney of Central Oklahoma. Murphy reversed Abney in the second before letting him out then the latter added his escape in the third to enter sudden victory locked at two apiece – fireworks notwithstanding Murphy nearly finished a blast double just as the whistle signaled the end of the third. A scramble on a snapdown earned Abney a 4-2 decision and sent Murphy to the wrestlebacks. Murphy won a 3-2 decision over Logan Kvien of McKendree in the consi semis, then dropped his Third Place match with Tereus Henry of Fort Hays State by a 7-5 decision to take fourth.

At 165 pounds, Anthony Herrera began Championship Saturday in the wrestlebacks and lost a gut-wrenching 6-4 decision to Alex Farenchak of Gannon. Herrera earned Seventh in his placement match by injury default as Mike Vernagallo of Mount Olive was unable to continue after the Huskies junior brought him down 20 seconds in.

St. Cloud State finished Third in the team points with 64.5, trailing Central Oklahoma (121.0) and Lander (78.0). Western Colorado (61.0), Adams State (58.5), West Liberty (55.0), Indianapolis (46.0), Nebraska-Kearney (43.0), Glenville State (42.0) and Gannon (35.0) rounded out the top 10 teams at the Tournament. The Huskies’ top-five National finish is their 16th such placement in program history.

Nick Novak’s National Title is the 18th earned by a St. Cloud State wrestler, while the program’s All-American count has been pushed to 154. Under the direction of head coach Steve Costanzo, the Huskies have earned a top-four NCAA finish in eight straight tournaments as well as in 11 of the last 12 held. Additionally, St. Cloud State now has seven NCAA Champions, 22 NCAA Finalists, 87 NCAA All-Americans and 124 NCAA Qualifiers under Costanzo.

Novak is the first National Champion since Kameron Teacher earned the heavyweight title in 2021 and as a true sophomore, becomes one of just two wrestlers in program history to earn an NCAA Championship in his second year out of high school alongside Brett Velasquez’ 2016 title as a redshirt freshman. He is the second 157-pound Champion in program history, following John Sundgren’s 2011 title.

Quotables – St. Cloud State sophomore and 2023 NCAA 157-pound Champion Nick Novak

“It feels good. It’s a goal I’ve been working for all year long – it feels great. You have to stay consistent. You have to stay in every match and can’t be off mentally. Physically, you have to be ready every match. I knew I had to get to what I’m good at and what I’ve been doing all year long – all tournament long as well.”

On whether the coinciding stall warnings weighed on his mind after two… “A little bit, yeah. I also went back on that – I knew I could probably get a takedown or a stall point, because I was going to be coming after him in the third period.”

On choosing neutral entering the third then scoring the go-ahead takedown… “I knew what I wanted to do after the second. I went back to that underhook I’ve been using all tournament long and could finally finish.”

“I just want to thank all my coaches, family and teammates. I thank God for putting me in this position. I want to thank everyone who came down to support me.”

Quotables – St. Cloud State head coach Steve Costanzo

“Team-wise, to come away with a Third Place trophy – we only brought six guys down here and got four All-Americans, a couple of National Finalists and a National Champion. It’s definitely a team effort when you bring a trophy home. It’s a reflection of not only the guys wrestling in this tournament but also a reflection of everyone involved in this program. We’re very grateful that we did as well as we did this weekend.”

On Nick Novak winning an NCAA Championship… “I’m not surprised – I’m not surprised one bit. The guy lives the right lifestyle, he trains the right way, he’s very coachable – he has all the ingredients to be a National Champion and today it became a reality. It just shows that if you do everything right and you work hard, good things are going to happen for you, and it did today. We’re really going to lean on Nick through the next couple of years and use him as an example. I hope to have a lot of guys on our team look to emulate him. Not just the way that he wrestles, but the kind of character that he has on and off the mat. I’m just really proud of him, and super excited that we’re going to continue have him in our room these next couple of years.”

On Novak still continuing to grow as a true sophomore… “He still has a lot of room for growth. He knows that. Now he has a big target on his back – every time he steps out there, somebody’s going to bring their A-game every time. He’s going to have to continue to develop and get better, be more dominant, and I know that he well. That’s the nice thing about this – a guy like Nick Novak winning a National Title today is not going to slow him down any. I don’t think he will want to be content with this. He has an opportunity to be one of the all-time greats that we’ve ever had in our program, and we’ve had some really good ones. Nick’s on course and on pace to do that.”

On the impact Abner Romero provided on the SCSU program… “I’ve really enjoyed having him and getting to know him over the last year. He’s got an infectious personality. He’s fun to be around, he lightens the mood, he works really hard and is super driven, super competitive. He’s been a great addition to our team and he’s been a great leader – more of a guy that leads by example, and of course I hurt for him tonight. I think if you wrestle that match again it’s a different story. We made one mistake out there when we gave up a reversal and backpoints…there’s more to Abner Romero than just being an All-American and a National Champion. He’s a special young man.”

On Dominic Murphy and Anthony Herrera adding All-American honors… “Dom Murphy has been a pleasant surprise in terms of how far he’s come over the last couple of years. His development has been unreal. He wrestled at 174 pounds last year, we bumped him up two weight classes this year – not really cutting any weight. It really benefited him. He’s another guy that does everything right, lives the right lifestyle, very coachable and works very hard. He’s consistent, he’s persistent – you’ve got a guy like him, Nick and then you add a guy like Anthony Herrera in there. These guys are just quality human beings – probably some of the best young men that I’ve had the pleasure to coach. I’m not just saying that in terms of their wrestling skills. Their people skills, what they bring to the table is the whole package. When you’ve got guys like that on your team, you’re going to bring home trophies from the National Tournament. We need to get more guys like that. I’m super proud of our guys, but obviously when you’re talking about guys like Nick Novak, Anthony Herrera, Dominic Murphy – they’re just a coach’s dream.”

“Fortunately we’ve built a strong enough culture that we have a certain expectation to perform well. Although we only brought six guys in with six teams bringing more than us, we expected to come in here and win a National Championship – I’m going to be honest with you, our goal wasn’t to bring home a trophy, it was to win a National Championship. It’s possible. We’ve done it before. But it’s really hard to do, obviously. To come out of it with a top three finish is something we should be proud of. It was a good year. It was a good year, we’ve done a lot of great things, I had a great time with this team and have enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve had some adversities, but it’s been very enjoyable.”

NCAA Division II National Championships Results

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