Banaszak among big stories as Wartburg Knights take lead at halfway point of NCAA Division III Championships

March 14, 2014, 11:42 p.m. (ET)
By Matt Levins, For

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Charles Banaszak wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen when the wrestling season began back in November.

Today, the University of Chicago freshman finds himself squarely in the spotlight on the biggest stage of all.

Banaszek, a former prep standout in Maryland, created shock waves that could have registered on the Richter scale during Friday’s opening day of the NCAA Division III National Wrestling Championships at the U.S. Cellular Center.

Banaszak stunned home-state favorite Connor Campo of three-time defending national champion Wartburg, 7-5, in the opening round at 141 pounds, sending the seven seed into the consolations.

Banaszak then pulled off another stunner, knocking off second-ranked and second seed Brandon Jones of New York University, 10-3 in the quarterfinals.

Banaszak (29-9), who wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen at the beginning of the year, now finds himself not only as an All-American, but a semifinalist on the biggest stage of all.

If no one knew who Charles Banaszak was before Friday, they certainly know him now.

“It’s been an incredible day. Coming into the tournament I was afraid I was going to go 0-2. But after the first match, I got that out of the way and a lot of the pressure was off of me. I knew if I kept my head on and wrestled the way I know how, things would eventually go my way and they did,” Banaszek said. “That was great. It’s always great to be a kid from such a powerhouse program. This whole week has been about just getting into the mindset of taking one match at a time. I’ve been thinking about him, since he was my first opponent, all week, just visualizing the match over and over again and it went the way I visualized it.”

Campo’s loss started Wartburg off on the wrong foot, but the Knights quickly righted the ship. Wartburg landed five wrestlers — Gliberto Camacho (125), Kenny Anderson (133), Cole Welter (165), Landon Williams (174) and Ryan Fank (285) — in the semifinals and took an 18 1/2-point lead in the team race.

The Knights lead the way with 56 1/2 points. Messiah is second with 38 points and has three wrestlers in the semifinals. Wisconsin-Whitewater is third with 35 1/2 points and has two semifinalists.

It was all in a day’s work for Wartburg, which has won this tournament eight times since 2003 and is poised to win it for the ninth time in the last 12 years.

“It’s big. We want six in the semis. The team score will take care of itself if we put six in the semis,” said Williams after surviving with a 1-0 victory over Zach Zotollo of The College of New Jersey in the quarterfinals.

“I didn’t get them any bonus points, but I advanced into the semis. That’s the main goal,” said Anderson, who won a 2-0 match over Myzar Mendoza of Wilkes in the quarterfinals. “It’s an eye-opener. I think it woke my coaches up, too.”

Messiah is looking to keep Wartburg within striking distance, bring home a team trophy and put itself on the map as a wrestling power. The Falcons have done that, putting Lucas Malmberg (125), Kaleb Loht (141) and Ricardo Plummer (174) in the semifinals.

The day started out with a bang for Messiah, with a pair of pins in the pigtail matches. The Falcons rode that momentum the rest of the day.

“We just have to get as many guys through to the semifinals as we can. Our goal is to come home with a trophy. If we get as many guys through to the semis as we can, then we’re going to do that,” Loht said. “We’re just trying to always score, wrestle free. If we give up a point early in the match, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to come back and get it back. Our program just keeps getting better and better each year. We’re just trying to make a statement here at the NCAA and get more people to come to Messiah.”

Loht recorded a pin in his first match and followed that with a pair of 7-3 decisions, including one over Matt Holmes of Loras in he quarterfinals.

“I knew I had to cut the corners on my shots because he had a headlock. My coaches were scouting him out. I knew he had a headlock and a cross-cradle on top. I had to defend those two and be physical on my takedowns,” Loht said.

Banaszek’s parents had their doubts about their son wrestling in college. But Banaszak never doubted himself or his ability. Now, he finds himself on the national radar screen, two wins away from a national championship.

“I was just looking at schools. Chicago is an excellent academic school. My parents weren’t sure about me wrestling in college, but I really wanted to. They wanted me to go to the best academic school I could possibly go to and Chicago seemed like the perfect fit,” Banaszak said. “They have wrestling and I figured I could start wrestling there as soon as possible. I ended up contacting the coach, so it ended up working out with wrestling. He helped me out with admissions, so it ended up working out.”

Banaszak’s 10-3 victory over Jones avenged a 13-6 loss to the Iowa native in the conference tournament two weeks ago.

“He beat me in our conference championship, almost by major decision. Getting this revenge was really great,” Banaszak said. “It definitely helped my confidence a lot, knocking off the No. 7 seed. It shows me that I’m a contender, right up there with some of the best in the country. It made me realize that I have nothing to be afraid of when I wrestle against these guys. I’m such a young guy I can go out and wrestle with nothing to lose.”

Also putting himself not only in the spotlight, but in position to win a national championship, was Waynesburg senior Anthony Bonaventura. 

Bonaventura had a rough regional tournament and found himself with a tough road in the national tournament. No matter. Bonaventura knocked off second seed and hometown favorite Ethan Ball of Coe, 4-2, in the quarterfinals at 174, guaranteeing Bonaventura All-American status and putting him in the national semifinals. That set off a wild celebration for Bonaventura, who was almost beyond words.

“I was unseeded. I had a bad regional tournament. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. You just have to get here and put four together. I’ve got two down so far. Two more to go (Saturday),” Bonaventura said. “It’s my senior year. I want to be on that podium. I want to be on that big stage on Saturday night.”

Wabash also finds itself in contention for a team trophy, thanks in large part to the Lefever brothers — twins Conner and Reece and their younger brother, Riley. While Conner came up short in the quarterfinals at 165, Reece (157) and Riley (184) will be competing in the semifinals.

Reece advanced with an 11-3 major decision over Jon Garrison of Mount Union, while Riley moved on with an 8-6 win over Josh Thomson of Messiah.

It was a special moment for the family. The brothers used to wrestle in the living room at home and left numerous holes in the walls as lasting mementos.

“I usually don’t usually get nervous going into tournaments, but I was really nervous coming into this one. My brother, Reece, is wrestling in the semifinals. Conner had a tough one. It’s fun wrestling with my teammates and brothers,” Riley Lefever said. “At first it stunk because they always beat me up. I’m the youngest but now I’m the biggest, so I get back at them sometimes. There are a ton of holes in the wall. My Mom is so glad we moved out.”

Team scoring

1. Wartburg, 56 1/2; 2. Messiah, 38; 3. Wisconsin-Whitewater, 35 1/2; 4. SUNY-Cortland, 30 1/2; 5. Johnson and Wales, 28 1/2; 6. Coe, 28; 7. Augsburg, 25 1/2; 8. Concordia-Moorehead, 24; 9. Wabash, 21 1/2; 10. tie, Ithaca and Wisconsin-LaCrosse, 18.

Semifinal matches

125 — Matthias Ellis II (Brockport State) vs. Mike Fuenffinger (Augsburg); Lucas Malmberg (Messiah) vs. Gilberto Camacho (Wartburg). 133 — Kenny Anderson (Wartburg) vs. Jeremy Border (Mount Union); Alex Gomez (Ithaca) vs. Ryan O’Boyle (McDaniel). 141 — Kaleb Loht (Messiah) vs. Michael Ferinde (Johnson and Wales); Matt Adcock (Wisconsin-Whitewater) vs. Charles Banaszak (Chicago). 149 — Robert Dierna (SUNY-Cortland) vs. Daniel Mirman (John Carroll); Mark Hartenstine (Wilkes) vs. Ryan Prater (Elmhurst). 157 — Nazar Kulchytskyy (Wisconsin-Oshkosh) vs. Reece Lefever (Wabash); Jorge Lopez (Williams College) vs. Dimitri Boyer (Coe). 165 — Chris Burdge (Centenary) vs. Nicholas Carr (Washington and Jefferson); Kristopher Schimek (Ithaca) vs. Cole Welter (Wartburg). 174 — Landon Williams (Wartburg) vs. Ricardo Plummer (Messiah); Dan Schiferl (Wisconsin-Oshkosh) vs. Anthony Bonaventura (Waynesburg). 184 — Riley Lefever (Wabash) vs. Christopher Chorzepa (Williams College); Caleb Malychewski (Pacific, Ore.) vs. Brian Broderick (The College of New Jersey). 197 — Alex Coolidge (Cornell) vs. Joe Giaramita (SUNY-Cortland); Jacob Lowry (Thiel) vs. Shane Siefert (Wisconsin-Whitewater). Hwt — Chad Johnson (Augsburg) vs. James Buss (Loras); Jacon Minske (Wisconsin-LaCrosse) vs. Ryan Fank (Wartburg)