From the junior college ranks of Spartanburg Methodist in South Carolina, Johnson was not among those picked to win the 157-pound Division II national championship this weekend. The numbers favored Nebraska-Kearney’s Destin McCauley, a national champion last season at 149 pounds, or Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Cody Law, an unbeaten transfer from Penn State.
But Johnson did not pay much attention. On Friday night, the senior took out Law with a 12-10 sudden victory thriller. Barely 24 hours later, it was McCauley’s turn to run into a freight train. An early cement mixer failed, and a third-period bear hug by Johnson resulted in six points and eventually a 14-5 win. Johnson was energetic, entertaining, and a fan favorite all weekend.
He was also named OW.
“This has actually been about the last couple of years, not the last couple of days,” Johnson said. “I’ve been putting in the hard work with my teammates and doing a lot of mind-set training. It helped me not worry about who’s ranked where, what their records are – they have the same blood, breath the same air as me.
“I’ve always come close to achieving things, many times, I’ve failed a bunch of times, so not being afraid to fail helped me this weekend. I thought, why not me?”
Johnson admitted that he felt confident when he got to Birmingham; after the Law win Friday night his confident increased significantly.
Limestone’s third-year coach Kelly Revells could only smile.
“He’s an awesome kid, doesn’t worry about who he is wrestling,” Revells said. “He doesn’t carry about the other singlet, he just works so hard. I don’t know if the win over (Law) boosted his confidence, but as a coach you know he’s there, having a great tournament. He really bought into our system and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
While Johnson provided major highlights for the weekend, it was Notre Dame College of Ohio who dominated the team race. With five in the finals, the Falcons easily won a second team championship in four years, totaling 103 ½ points to outdistance St. Cloud State (67) and the rest of the field. California Baptist (56 ½) was third with Nebraska-Kearney (55 ½) and McKendree (47 ½) rounding out the top five.
Ivan McClay started off the evening with a 10-7 decision of Mercyhurst’s Willie Bohince, a four-time All-American and finalist the last two seasons. McClay (27-3), a junior, used a big 6-point whip-over on the edge of the mat to take a 10-3 lead and cruise to his first title.
“It’s not surprising to me that we have this many guys in the finals,” said McClay, a native of Massillion, Ohio.
Falcon senior Garrett Lineberger (22-2) mauled California Baptist sophomore Nick Fiegenger, 16-0, to win his second title. His first came in 2014, when NDC also won the team trophy. NDC won three of five on Saturday night.
“I’ve got three words … to hell and back,” Lineberger said. “We’ve been through so much, everything that you can possibly think of. We had a bad year, during the regular season in duals. We knew individually we were tough; we just had to fill in a few holes and be ready for the postseason.
“It’s hard to put into words. I was the freshman in 2014; it’s a book-end finish and it feels great.”
NDC freshman Isaiah White (24-2) was virtually untouchable all weekend, finishing off McKendree’s Brock Wingbermuehle, 10-3, in the 165-pound final. Sophomore Juwon Edmond, a national qualifier at 165 pounds in 2016, lost to Nebraska-Kearney’s Keith Surber in the 149-pound final. Surber (19-2), a veteran of three NCAA meets, used a tough second period ride-out and eventually a 4-1 victory.
“We had a great tournament,” Romano said. “The kids held up well, wrestled great on their feet both days.
“I feel great for (Lineberger) to win as a freshman and again as a senior; he’s been a great leader. Isaiah White is a star, we saw that and we are looking forward to big things from him. And Ivan (McClay), everybody kept saying he was a senior, but we’ve got him back. Only two seniors … we like what we are building.”
Romano, a graduate of Ohio State, hopes the Falcon mojo helps his alma mater next week in St. Louis.
For Ashland’s Michael Labry, Saturday night marked the apex of a great career. After finishing fourth, third, and second, then taking a redshirt in 2015-16, Labry beat fellow senior Blake Bosch of Minnesota-Moorhead, 10-7, to finish 35-1. It was Bosch’s second loss in 31 matches.
“(The redshirt) really helped,” Labry said. “I went up to 141 and got some good competition in Open tournaments. I really just kind of laid back. I didn’t have a year off, but a year off to get ready for my senior year.
“This is what I wanted, the way I wanted to finish my career.”
California Baptist senior Jacob Waste (30-3) followed up Fiegener’s loss for the Lancers with a victory over Ft. Hays State senior Jon Inman in the 197-pound title bout. Waste, who started his career at DI Buffalo after a high school career at Apple Valley, Minn., dominated Ft. Hays State senior Jon Inman, 9-2.
Tiffin’s Garrett Gray finished in style, locking up a bear-hug and pinning NDC’s Kameron Teacher in 1:23. It was Gray’s 40th victory of 2016-17 and moved his record to 117-16 over the last three campaigns.
“It couldn’t have ended in a better way,” said Gray, who failed to qualify for nationals in 2016.
Wisconsin-Parkside junior Nick Becker moved to 66-0 in two seasons of Division II with a tough 8-4 decision of North Carolina-Pembroke’s Blaze Shade in a rematch of the 2016 final. Becker was 41-0 as a sophomore and 25-0 in 2016-17.
McKendree’s Darren Wynn failed in his bid for a second title, losing a tough match to Maryville senior Nate Rodriguez (32-2) in the 141-pound final. A reversal early in third gave the Bearcat a 4-3 lead after trailing 3-0, but Rodriguez, who started his career at Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas and missed last season’s postseason due to injury, out-scrambled the 2016 champ for a big takedown with :20 left and won 6-5 to finish a solid career.
SCSU rebounded from its ugly start and earned runner-up honors. Head coach Steve Costanzo’s teams have finished in the top three in six of the last seven years, winning titles in 2015 and 2016.
“We are disappointed,” Costanzo said Saturday. “We brought the most guys down here and came to win a championship. We had a hellatious first day, nothing was going right. But we got four guys through. I was really pleased with the way our guys bounced back today, went 10-2. It showed a lot of character.
“We have our work cut out for us because Notre Dame is going to be tough for years to come.”
NCAA DIV. III NATIONALS
At Birmingham, Ala.
1st - Ivan McClay (Notre Dame) dec. Willie Bohince (Mercyhurst), 10-7
3rd - Brett Velasquez (St. Cloud St.) maj. dec. Austin Petril (Kutztown), 12-2
5th - Trung Duong (Newberry) med. fft. over Alan Diltz (Seton Hill)
7th - Dustin Reed (Newman) maj. dec. Darek Huff (Adams St.), 11-3
1st - Michael Labry (Ashland) dec. Blake Bosch (MSU Moorhead), 7-5
3rd - Dustin Kirk (King) dec. Dustin Warner (Wheeling Jesuit), 4-2
5th - Carmine Ciotti (Gannon) dec. Anthony Sparacio (LIU Post), 8-2
7th - Josh Walker (Upper Iowa) pin David Bavery (Notre Dame), 3:46
1st - Nate Rodriguez (Maryville) dec. Darren Wynn (McKendree), 6-5
3rd - Nick Crume (UIndy) dec. Daniel Salazar (Colorado Mesa), 9-3
5th - Joshua Ailey (Central Okla.) pin Brandon Ball (Fort Hays St.), 1:38
7th - Bryce Killian (King) med. fft. over Cobey Fehr (Notre Dame)
1st - Keith Surber (Neb.-Kearney) dec. Juwan Edmond (Notre Dame), 4-1
3rd - Nic Goebel (Findlay) dec. James Pleski (St. Cloud St.), 7-3
5th - Nick Boggs (Lake Erie) dec. Michael Screptock (Tiffin), 3-2
7th - James Krischke (Maryville) dec. Jacob Gerken (Colorado Mines), 9-5
1st - DeAndre` Johnson (Limestone) maj. dec. Destin McCauley (Neb.-Kearney), 14-5
3rd - Larry Bomstad (St. Cloud St.) med. fft. over Cody Law (Pitt.-Johnstown)
5th - Ryan Strope (McKendree) dec. Joey White (Findlay), 3-2
7th - Eric Lewandowski (Gannon) tech. fall Heath Lange (UIndy), 22-6, 7:00
1st - Isaiah White (Notre Dame) dec. Brock Wingbermuehle (McKendree), 10-3
3rd - Francis Mizia (Mercyhurst) maj. dec. Calvin Ochs (Neb.-Kearney), 9-1
5th - Troy Warner (Kutztown) dec. Alonzo Turner (Findlay), 6-2
7th - Tyler Reinhart (Pitt.-Johnstown) pin JaCobi Jones (Colorado St.-Pueblo), 1:45
1st - Nick Becker (Wis.-Parkside) dec. Blaze Shade (UNC Pembroke), 8-4
3rd - Adam Cooling (Minnesota St.) dec. Nolan Kistler (California Baptist), 6-4, sv2
5th - Cody Carson (Central Mo.) med. fft. Dalton George (Ohio Valley)
7th - Bradley Metz (Findlay) dec. Nick Foster (McKendree), 1-0
1st - Garrett Lineberger (Notre Dame) tech. fall Nicholas Fiegener (California Baptist), 16-0, 3:21
3rd - Zeb Wahle (Maryville) dec. JaVaughn Perkins (Colorado St.-Pueblo), 3-2
5th - Aero Amo (Augustana) med. fft. Jordan Murphy (Ashland)
7th - Zach Stodden (Neb.-Kearney) dec. Corey Abernathy (Minnesota St.), 13-11
1st - Jacob Waste (California Baptist) maj. dec. Jon Inman (Fort Hays St.), 10-2
3rd - Luke Cramer (Ashland) dec. Morgan Smith (Simon Fraser), 5-2
5th - Evan Ramos (Shippensburg) dec. Matthew Rudy (Limestone), 9-4
7th - Joe Gomez (Northern St.) dec. Matt Blome (Minnesota St.), 6-4
1st - Garrett Gray (Tiffin) pin Kameron Teacher (Notre Dame), 1:23
3rd - Austin Goergen (St. Cloud St.) pin Michael Lowman (Augustana), 2:09
5th - Logan Hopp (Upper Iowa ) dec. Nick Budd (Gannon), 5-3
7th - Caleb Cotter (Central Okla.) dec. Ryan Appleby (Kutztown), 12-9
1. Notre Dame (OH) 103.5
2. St. Cloud St. 67.0
3. California Baptist 56.5
4. Neb.-Kearney 55.5
5. McKendree 47.5
6. Ashland 46.0
7. Maryville (MO) 42.0
8. Findlay 35.0
9. Tiffin 34.5
10. Mercyhurst 33.0
11. Augustana (SD) 31.0
12. Fort Hays St. 29.5
13. Gannon 28.5
14. Limestone 28.0
14. Minnesota St. 28.0
16. Kutztown 26.5
17. Pitt.-Johnstown 25.5
18. Central Okla. 23.5
18. Wis.-Parkside 23.5
20. UIndy 22.5
21. King (TN) 22.0
22. Colorado St.-Pueblo 21.0
23. MSU Moorhead 17.0
23. Upper Iowa 17.0
25. UNC Pembroke 15.0
26. Newberry 14.0
26. Wheeling Jesuit 14.0
28. Lake Erie 12.5
28. Simon Fraser 12.5
30. Colorado Mesa 12.0
31. Central Mo. 10.5
31. Seton Hill 10.5
33. Shippensburg 10.0
34. Newman 8.5
35. Ohio Valley 8.0
36. LIU Post 7.5
36. Northern St. 7.5
38. Adams St. 6.5
39. Western St. 4.5
40. Colorado Mines 4.0
41. Chadron State 1.0