DUBUQUE — Two-time defending Division III national wrestling champion Wartburg College begins defense of those titles this Saturday and Sunday at the Five Flags Center in the Lower Midwest Regional qualifier.
The Knights enter top-ranked and have eight wrestlers ranked third or better, including four No. 1 wrestlers — Cross Cannone at 149, Mike Ross at 165, Eric DeVos at 174 and Lance Evans at 285.
“This weekend is the stepping stone to what our guys want,” Wartburg head coach Eric Keller said. “Our guys are excited to compete, excited for the opportunities here and it is what they have been preparing for all the entire year.”
The top three finishers at each of the six regionals — Northeast (Worchester, Mass.), Mideast (Ithaca, N.Y.), Southeast (Rocky Mount, Va.), Upper Midwest (Minneapolis, Minn.), Central (Crawfordsville, Ind.), and the Lower Midwest — qualify for the NCAA Division III championships to be held at Cleveland Public Auditorium March 9-10 in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Southeast, Upper Midwest and Central begin Friday, with the remaining three starting each of the two-day events.
This is the first year that all six regionals have went to two days.
“This will pretty much simulate the national tournament, even the rounds are nearly identical in how they are set up,” Keller said. “It is a good thing, good preparation for the national tournament. It is just something new, something different from the past.”
Wartburg returns five all-Americans, including DeVos, the defending national champ at 174. Cannone lost in the 141 finals a year ago, and Logan Thomsen, ranked second, was runner-up at 157 in 2017.
The Knights’ only two unranked wrestlers are Brennen Doebel at 125 and Martine Sandoval at 141.
“There is very little margin of error, but to get what you want you have to be at your best every single match any ways,” Keller said. “We have always been about keeping the focus on us in how we prepare, warm up, how we compete and not necessarily worrying about what seed we are whom we are wrestling.
“It’s about being the best version of yourself. That is all you can control. You have to be the bad draw, be the draw nobody wants.”
Joining Wartburg in the Lower Midwest Regional are Augustana (Ill.), Buena Vista, Central, Coe, Cornell, Dubuque, Huntingdon, Loras, MacMurray, Millikin, Nebraska Wesleyan, North Central, Simpson, University of the Ozarks and Westminster.
Competition kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday, with the semifinals starting at 11 a.m. Sunday and the championship matches set for 2:30 p.m.