Rathbun, Cannone and Fank win golds as Wartburg claims its third straight NCAA Div. III national title

By Jon Gremmels, Special to TheMat.com | March 10, 2018, 11:29 p.m. (ET)
CLEVELAND – The kitty is returning to Waverly, Iowa.

“The kitty's that national trophy,” Wartburg senior national champion Kyle Fank said, “and that kitty is coming back home.”

Wartburg took away any drama earlier in the tournament and had its third consecutive title secured well before Saturday night's finals began at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.

The only question was how many points would the Knights score as they won the 14th national title in team history.

The answer was 136.5 points, the fourth-highest total in school history. Fank, Brock Rathbun and Cross Cannone won individual titles for Wartburg.

Rathbun became the first freshman champion in Wartburg history and the school's first of the night when he beat Augsburg's Sam Bennyhoff 12-5 in the final at 133 pounds.

“I had one job, to come out to win, and put my head down and went for it,” said Rathbun, who transferred to Wartburg after redshirting at Iowa last year.

Rathbun took the lead 7-5 on a reversal with 1:50 left in the third period. He then turned Bennyhoff to his back and held him there for the rest of the match for a 12-5 win.

“Just keep wrestling,” Rathbun said. “If I stopped he was going to ride me. If I didn't, something was going to happen.”

Cannone, a runner-up last year at 141, made it to the top this time at 149.

“Last year was tough, coming in second,” Cannone said. “This past offseason I've just been working hard and buying into what the coaches are saying. I knew if I continued to work all season from Day One to now, I knew I'd be champion.”

Cannone recorded a 9-1 major decision against Greg Warner of York.

“I knew he was a wiry wrestler; he was tough,” Cannone said. “I knew if I just stayed in good position all the time, and stuck to the basics and what I knew best, I'd be all right.”

Kyle Fank capped Wartburg's night by accomplishing something older brother Ryan couldn't do for the Knights. Ryan Fank was a national runner-up for Wartburg in 2014. The younger Fank beat Guy Patron of Loras for the third time this season, 7-2 in the final at 197.

“This is what I put in all the hard work for,” Fank said. “Last year I was stripped of my goals in the semis, and this year I got it done. I've wrestled this kid six times. I knew the gameplan well and executed it perfectly.”

Wartburg's other finalists were Logan Thomsen at 157 and Tyler Lutes at 184. Both took second.

Thomsen lost the rubber match in a trio of battles with Ryan Epps of Augsburg. Epps pulled out the 3-1 win in sudden victory.

“I was expecting kind of the same thing, a grind-out match,” Epps said. “He's a great opponent. He really brings the best out of me.”

Both wrestlers had to be at their best as they fought off multiple scoring opportunities with exciting scrambles.

“He's got some great hips, and I think I have pretty good hips, too, and the scrambling ability,” Epps said.

The Auggies' Lucas Jeske followed his teamamte at 165 with his fourth consecutive dominating performance of the tournament. Jeske, who pinned his first three opponents, blanked Ithaca's Nick Velez 15-0, getting the technical fall on a riding-time point.

“I've never felt like this before in my life,” Jeske said. “I've worked toward this every single day, grind every single day, and this is all I could ever dream of and made it come true.”

Jeske was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler.

“I knew I was going to come into this tournament and dominate every match,” he said.

Jeske's win pushed the Auggies ahead of Ithaca and into second place in the team race with 82 points.

Ithaca was in second place heading into the finals and won its other championship match when Ben Brisman avenged a pair of losses and defeated freshman Brett Kaliner of Stevens 10-7 in the final at 141.

“Every single time I wrestled him I knew he wasn't better than me … he was just taking advantage of my mistakes, and I wasn't taking advantage of any of his,” said Brisman, who wrestled at 157 pounds last season. “I always got to his legs and didn't finish. … This time I got to his legs and was calmed and prepared, and I knew I could beat anybody.”

The Bombers had five All-Americans, with Jake Ashcraft, third at 184; Jake O'Brien (fifth at heavyweight) and Ferdinand Mase (seventh at 125) joining the two finalists on the awards stand. Ashcraft also was awarded for having the most falls (four) in the least time (8:41).

“The guys wrestled great,” said Ithaca Coach Marty Nichols, who was named NWCA Coach of the Year. “It was a lot of fun.

“We knew we had a chance to be in the top three and that's what we were shooting for. You never know about Wartburg. They obviously wrestled good. They're always tough, and so is Augsburg.”

Johnson & Wales crowned its first champion in school history when Jay Albis survived a late rally by Wheaton's Carlos Fuentez for an 11-10 victory at 125 points.

“It's surreal; it hasn't set in,” Albis said of becoming the school's first champion. “I'm at a loss for words. It's really undescribable.”

Albis raced to a 9-1 lead through two periods, but Fuentez started his comeback with a six-point throw. Later, a takedown with 45 seconds left tied the match at 10, but Albis escaped with 4 seconds left to win.

“It's wrestling; that's just the beauty of the sport,” Albis said of how the match got wild. “It's going one way, it turns the other, you've just got to battle back. Adversity is part of the process.

The victory vaulted Johnson & Wales ahead of Wisconsin-La Crosse for sixth place (43.5-42.5).

Waynesburg also had its first champion in school history. It came from 29-year-old heavyweight Jake Evans, who rallied late to beat James Bethel of Oneonta State 10-5.

“Honestly, I didn't have any expectations at all,” Evans said, looking back to to 2015, when he decided to resurrect his career eight years after finishing high school. “It was sort of a dream of mine to wrestle in college some day.”
Evans trailed Bethel 5-4, but got a takedown with 1:05 left to take the lead and then put Bethel on his back for a four-point near fall.

“I knew he was more tired than I was, and he was a little bit smaller of a heavyweight, so I knew I could blast-double him,” Evans said. “It just happened to lay him on his back, so that was real lucky for me.”

Wisconsin-Whitewater moved up four spots in the team standings on the strength of Jordan Newman repeating as champion at 184 pounds. He defeated Tyler Lutes of Wartburg 9-1.

“It kind of made me see what I have to do as far as preparation,” Newman said of how his 2017 title affected him this year.

Newman, who handed Fank his only two losses this year, wrestled at 197 all season until cutting to 184 for the regional tournament.

“It was a good move for me team-wise to move to 184,” Newman said. “I made the move, and it worked out good. I'm happy.”

Mount Union also moved into the top 10 when Kent State transfer Jairod James beat Wisconsin-Platteville's Jon Goetz 4-1 at 174 pounds. Mount Union and Oneonta State tied for 10th place with 34.5 points.

“The match was fun, and I wanted to have fun,” James said. “It was my last match of the season, and everything went as planned. I stuck to my gameplan.”

Mathematically, Wartburg wrapped up its third title in a row during the Saturday morning session, but for all intents and purposes the crown was clinched Friday night when the Knights advanced seven wrestlers to the semifinals and built a sizable lead.

“It feels good,” Keller said.

But even Wartburg had some disappointments along the way. Top-seeded freshman Mike Ross lost Friday and placed eighth. Top seed and defending national champion Eric Devos lost 4-2 to Jon Goetz of Wisconsin-Platteville in the semifinals at 174 despite coming close to a defensive pin in the final seconds of the match.

Another top-seeded Knight fell a few matches later.

Heavyweight Lance Evans fell behind early and lost 8-6 to Jake Evans of Waynesburg. The Wartburg coaches believed they had a last-second takedown that would have forced overtime, but the official review affirmed the original call.

At Cleveland, Ohio

1st - Jay Albis (Johnson & Wales (RI)) 48-2 won by decision over Carlos Fuentez (Wheaton (IL)) 37-3 (Dec 11-10)
3rd - Mike Tortorice (Wis.-Whitewater) 35-4 won by decision over Jonathan Haas (Brockport) 35-3 (Dec 3-2)
5th - Nick Mancini (Mount Union) 27-4 won by major decision over Clarren Pestano (Central IA) 31-3 (MD 10-0)
7th - Ferdinand Mase (Ithaca) 32-7 won by decision over Christopher Doyle (Baldwin Wallace) 27-9 (Dec 8-1)

1st - Brock Rathbun (Wartburg) 25-5 won by decision over Sam Bennyhoff (Augsburg) 35-6 (Dec 12-5)
3rd - Troy Stanich (Stevens) 37-1 won by fall over Austin Sisco (SUNY Oneonta) 37-8 (Fall 1:50)
5th - Anthony Munoz (Elmhurst) 30-6 won by decision over Joao Vicente (Johnson & Wales RI) 28-6 (Dec 8-7)
7th - Owen McClave (Coast Guard) 28-10 won by decision over Brenden Velez (Delaware Valley) 29-20 (Dec 3-2)

1st - Ben Brisman (Ithaca) 38-5 won by decision over Brett Kaliner (Stevens) 40-3 (Dec 10-7)
3rd - Chris Williams (Millikin) 27-4 won by fall over Joseph Ghione (Elizabethtown) 27-6 (Fall 6:22)
5th - Josh Martin (Cornell College) 32-5 won by fall over Brendan Ladd (Alma) 36-10 (Fall 1:31)
7th - Jimmy Mcauliffe (Elmhurst) 24-5 won in tie breaker - 1 over Joseph Ferinde (Johnson & Wales RI) 34-8 (TB-1 7-6)

1st - Cross Cannone (Wartburg) 34-0 won by major decision over Gregory Warner (York PA) 34-4 (MD 9-1)
3rd - Austin Bethel (Wabash) 33-6 won by fall over Evan Drill (NYU) 36-6 (Fall 1:16)
5th - Alex Wilson (Augsburg) 35-7 won by medical forfeit over Sean Peacock (Brockport) 26-8 (M. For.)
7th - Bradan Birt (Millikin) 38-5 won by fall over Trevor Corl (Lycoming) 35-6 (Fall 1:32)

1st - Ryan Epps (Augsburg) 42-1 won in sudden victory - 1 over Logan Thomsen (Wartburg) 32-2 (SV-1 3-1)
3rd - Cole Erickson (Coe) 20-8 won by decision over Zach Wilhelm (Stevens) 46-4 (Dec 4-0)
5th - Mark Choinski (Wis.-Oshkosh) 24-3 won by fall over Kevin Edwards (Messiah) 38-12 (Fall 2:51)
7th - Raymond Jazikoff (NYU) 48-7 won by decision over Kyle Hatch (Wabash) 41-5 (Dec 10-4)

1st - Lucas Jeske (Augsburg) 39-1 won by tech fall over Nick Velez (Ithaca) 34-6 (TF-1.5 7:00 (15-0))
3rd - Anthony Arroyo (Baldwin Wallace) 37-2 won by decision over Frank Aiello (Wheaton IL) 15-3 (Dec 7-5)
5th - Nick Remke (Coast Guard) 32-11 won by decision over Jeff Hojnacki (Messiah) 42-10 (Dec 4-3)
7th - Ben Hewson (Cornell College) 15-5 won by medical forfeit over Mike Ross (Wartburg) 27-3 (M. For.)

1st - Jairod James (Mount Union) 22-1 won by decision over Jon Goetz (Wis.-Platteville) 28-2 (Dec 4-1)
3rd - Eric Devos (Wartburg) 18-1 won by fall over Darden Schurg (Wabash) 39-4 (Fall 1:57)
5th - Ben Swarr (Messiah) 41-4 won by decision over Sawyer Massie (Wis.-La Crosse) 27-10 (Dec 6-3)
7th - Tanner Vassar (Augsburg) 35-10 won by decision over Jake Voss (Coe) 30-9 (Dec 8-3)

1st - Jordan Newman (Wis.-Whitewater) 26-3 won by major decision over Tyler Lutes (Wartburg) 27-2 (MD 9-1)
3rd - Jake Ashcraft (Ithaca) 40-4 won by major decision over John Boyle (Western New Eng.) 37-7 (MD 14-2)
5th - Christos Giatras (Augustana (IL) 28-4 won in sudden victory - 1 over Dan Squires (Wis-Stevens Point) 36-11 (SV-1 3-1)
7th - Keajion Jennings (Millikin) 27-5 won by medical forfeit over Khamri Thomas (Johnson & Wales (RI)) 44-5 (M. For.)

1st- Kyle Fank (Wartburg) 33-2 won by decision over Guy Patron (Loras) 34-4 (Dec 8-2)
3rd - Wesley Schultz (Wis.-La Crosse) 30-9 won by fall over Andrew Holladay (Coe) 32-11 (Fall 1:39)
5th - Etiini Udott (Centenary (NJ)) 33-6 won by decision over Triston Engle (Brockport) 40-7 (Dec 5-4)
7th - Dylan Diebitz (Wis-Stevens Point) 24-12 won by decision over Devon Carrillo (Wesleyan (CT)) 37-5 (Dec 3-1)

1st - Jake Evans (Waynesburg) 50-3 won by decision over James Bethel (SUNY Oneonta) 34-4 (Dec 10-5)
3rd - Isaiah Bellamy (Wesleyan (CT)) 38-3 won by fall over Lance Evans (Wartburg) 22-3 (Fall 4:34)
5th - Jake O`Brien (Ithaca) 26-7 won in sudden victory - 1 over Konrad Ernst (Wis.-La Crosse) 26-6 (SV-1 5-3)
7th - Austin Bellile (MSOE) 14-2 won by decision over Tyler Ortmann (Cornell College) 26-9 (Dec 3-2)

Team Standings
1 Wartburg 136.5
2 Augsburg 82.0
3 Ithaca 79.0
4 Stevens 55.0
5 Wabash 44.0
6 Johnson & Wales (RI) 43.5
7 Wis.-La Crosse 42.5
8 Messiah 38.0
9 Wis.-Whitewater 35.0
10 Mount Union 34.5
10 SUNY Oneonta 34.5
12 Coe 34.0
13 Millikin 30.5
14 Wheaton (IL) 29.5
15 Baldwin Wallace 28.0
16 Brockport 27.5
17 Cornell College 25.5
18 Wesleyan (CT) 24.0
19 NYU 21.0
20 Waynesburg 20.0