Three Saint John’s wrestlers travel to Iowa for the 2016 NCAA Division III Championships this Friday and Saturday, March 11-12. Competition begins at 11 a.m. Friday at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: Saint John’s earned three national entrants and finished fifth out of 12 teams at the NCAA West Regional two weeks ago (Feb. 27) at Augsburg’s Si Melby Hall in Minneapolis. The host Auggies won the tournament with 155.5 points, followed by Concordia-Moorhead (124), Wisconsin-Platteville (104), Wisconsin-Eau Claire (90) and SJU (78).
Senior Ben Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer), who is ranked eighth nationally by the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association (NWCA), earned his third consecutive trip to nationals with a regional title at 141 pounds. He started the day with a 7-2 decision and earned a trip to the title bout with a 3-1 win over Concordia-Moorhead’s Blane Tschida in the semifinal. Henle won the title when his opponent, Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Nathaniel Behnke, did not wrestle due to a medical forfeit.
Senior Mike Pleski (Stacy, Minn./Forest Lake) started his day with a pin before suffering a 4-3 overtime loss to the Cobbers’ Gabe Foltz, who is ranked as high as fifth nationally, at 133 pounds. Pleski battled back with a 3-1 win in the consolation semifinal and punched his ticket to nationals with a 16-5 major decision over Wisconsin-Platteville’s Scott Arneson in the third-place match.
Junior Teddy Erickson (Annandale, Minn.) cruised to the championship match at 165 pounds with a pair of wins, 5-0 and 5-3. He suffered a loss in the title bout, via pin, to Augsburg’s Eric Hensel, who is ranked as a contender by the d3wrestle.com poll and is a returning All-American.
CONTINUED SUCCESS: SJU has now qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in 26 of the last 27 seasons. The three entrants are the program’s most in three years, since it sent six in 2012-13.
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AT 133: Pleski (20-18 record) earned his first trip to nationals and will square off with second-seeded Nathan Pike of New York University in the first round. NYU’s junior (28-3) enters the tournament ranked first in both the NWCA and d3wrestle.com polls. He won four bouts at the NCAA Championships last year, earning him a sixth place finish and All-America honors. Pleski comes into the match having won 14 of his last 18 bouts.
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AT 141: Henle (23-11) enters his third career national tournament ranked as high as eighth nationally, and kicks it off with a matchup against sophomore Ryan Budzek (24-2) from The College of New Jersey. Budzek, who is making his first appearance in the NCAA tournament, is ranked as high as sixth nationally. Also on Henle’s side of the bracket is UW-Eau Claire’s senior, Nathaniel Behnke (22-2). Henle and Behnke have wrestled Henle enters his final NCAA tournament with an 81-38 career record.
AT 165: Erickson (15-18) will make his first appearance in the NCAA national tournament in a pigtail match against top-ranked Farai Sewera of Coe College, the defending national champion at 165 pounds. Sewera enters the match coming off 15 straight victories and boasting a 25-2 season record. The winner will face Connor Brummett of Wabash.
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