The NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships begin Friday morning with King’s College’s Tommy Desir, Berwick grad Aaron Karns and six Wilkes University athletes highlighting the field participating at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Colonels, who are coming off their first East Regional Championship, will be looking to improve on last year’s result when they finished 19th out of 64 teams.
With six wrestlers qualifying this season – Myzar Mendoza (133 pounds), Mark Hartenstine (149), Kris Krawchuk (157), Kyle Diesel (174), Eric Bach (197) and Will Fletcher (285) – Wilkes should be able to improve on that stat.
Krawchuk, who got a late start to the season, is returning national runner-up, while Hartenstine and Fletcher were national qualifiers last season.
All eight local participants are trying to not only win their first national title, but to be lauded as All-American. To do that, a wrestler has to finish in the top eight in his weight class.
Desir, who wrestles at 165-pounds for the Monarchs, is making his first trip to nationals and enters with a 26-1 record and is the No. 8 seed in his bracket after taking third at the regional event, which was held at King’s on March 2. Desir faces Colin Crowell from Roger Williams in his first match. With a win, he would likely see Centenary’s Chris Burdge in the quarterfinals. Burdge is coming off gold medal from the East Regional, where he also won the Outstanding Wrestling Award, and is the No. 1 seed in the bracket.
Karns, who wrestles for Delaware Valley, is now a three-time NCAA qualifier and paced sixth last year for the Aggies. He is coming off winning a gold at the East Regional. In the second round, the 197-pounder will get the winner of the pigtail bout between Wilkes’ Bach and Coe’s Donnie Horner. Karns has a record of 28-4 this season, while Bach – making his first trip to nationals – is 19-8.
Joining Bach as first-time NCAA qualifiers from the Colonels are Mendoza and Diesel.
Mendoza, who was second at the regional tournament, has a record of 27-7 this season and is the No. 8 seed at his weight. So, like Desir, if he wins his first match, he will likely get the No. 1 seed in the quarters.
Diesel wasn’t as fortunate. Qualifying by winning via pin in the third-place match at regionals, Diesel gets the top seed right off the bat in the first round. Landon Williams from Wartburg enters with a record of 36-3, while Diesel is 24-12.
Hartenstine and Krawchuk are both entering the NCAA Tournament as regional champs. Hartenstine, ranked No. 3 in the country, has a 39-1 record and will take on Ryan Seidler (28-8) from Wisconsin-Eau Claire in Friday morning’s round. Hartenstine went 1-2 in last year’s tournament.
Despite being national runner-up from 2013, Krawchuk got a tough first round opponent. Krawchuk (15-6) will face the No. 1 seed at 157 in Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Nazar Kulchytskyy, who has a 37-2 mark and is looking for his third straight NCAA title; he won at 157 in 2012 and at 165 in 2013. The winner of that match squares off against Josh Etzel (29-3) from Washington and Jefferson.
Last year, Krawchuk was the second straight national finalist for the Colonels following Anthony Dattolo, who did so in 2012.
Fletcher is the third Wilkes wrestler to have a pigtail match. The senior, who took third at regionals, will face Zack Gibson (28-6) from St. Olaf for the right to wrestle Loras’ James Buss (23-3), the No. 4 seed in the weight in the first round.
Fletcher enters with a record of 25-9 this season and won the last bout of the regional tournament to lift the Colonels to a one-point win over Ursinus for the team title. In last year’s event, Fletcher went 0-2.