WAVERLY — Wartburg College continues to set the standard for NCAA Division III success on the wrestling mat.
The Knights captured the program’s 13th national championship last March and are favored by the National Wrestling Coaches Association to win number 14 this spring.
Coach Eric Keller returns five of his nine All-Americans from a year ago, including defending 174-pound national champion Eric DeVos, national runners-up Cross Cannone (149) and Logan Thomsen (157) and top five finishers Kyle Fank (197) and Lance Evans (heavyweight).
DeVos will rejoin the team at semester, while the other four returning All-Americans enter the season ranked either No. 1 or 2 in their respective weight classes.
It’s a group driven for more.
“Not a single one of those guys is satisfied with how the national tournament went last year for them,” Wartburg coach Eric Keller said Monday during the school’s winter sports media day. “They’re hungry, they’re motivated. Even DeVos winning the national championship last year, he wants to separate himself. He works every day to do that.”
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The lightweights present one of the bigger unknowns for the defending national champions. Newcomers will fill vacancies at 125, 133 and 141.
New Hampton native Connor Cleveland is in the mix at 125 and University of Iowa transfer Brock Rathbun is among the options at 141.
There’s certainly an abundance of wrestlers working to crack the lineup within a Wartburg program that brought in the No. 2-ranked recruiting class for all non-Division I schools, according to Wrestling USA Magazine.
“We have guys at these weights that want to be good, they’re just unknown right now,” Keller said. “It will be fun to see how it shakes out and what these guys can do.”
MEN’S BASKETBALL: Wartburg graduated its entire backcourt from last season’s NCAA Sweet 16 run, including the school’s second all-time leading scorer Jordan Cannon. However, recent success could still serve as a springboard into the 2017-18 season.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to build off last year’s success,” assistant coach Jason Steege said. “A lot of different guys contributed in that success. We have some guys returning who played big roles in that and they can do some really good things for us this year.”
Among the key returners is Jaran Sabus, a 6-foot-1 junior who averaged 13.5 points in just 18.8 minutes off the bench a season ago. Nate Woeste, a 6-foot-4 senior, and former Gladbrook-Reinbeck standout Camden Kickbush return as valuable 3-point shooting threats with Woeste also ranking among the team leaders in steals and blocked shots.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Plenty of depth can be found within a Wartburg women’s basketball roster. The Knights return their entire rotation from a season ago when they went 25-3, suffering a loss to Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after reaching the Final Four in 2016.
Katie Sommer, Miranda Murphy, Kristie Sommer, Morgan Neuendorf and Aryn Jones all return for their senior season after each averaged at least 10 points a game as juniors. Katie Sommer, a 5-foot-5 guard, also led the Knights in assists, steals, 3-point percentage and rebounds and enters her final year as a D3hoops.com first-team preseason All-American.
Wartburg is ranked No. 8 nationally in the initial D3hoops.com poll and already owns an exhibition win over Division II Upper Iowa. Neuendorf and Jones will rejoin the team after a break from NCAA Tournament runs in soccer and volleyball.
“Our kids understand that we’re really good together,” Wartburg coach Bob Amsberry said. “As long as we continue to play to each other’s strengths and share the ball, I think that we’re really good.”
Seeing a successful season end with just one NCAA Tournament game has motivated the Knights.
“I do believe we’re talented enough to beat anybody in the country, but at the same time there’s a lot of teams that can beat us," said Amsberry.
TRACK AND FIELD: Wartburg kicks off its indoor track season on Jan. 20 in Waverly.
Coach Marcus Newsom says he’s excited by the group that returns to both his men’s and women’s team. There’s plenty of potential for points in the distance running events as Wartburg has qualified for the men’s and women’s cross country national championships.
“What really kicks our indoor season off and being successful is what we do in cross country,” Newsom said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had both men and women at the national championships.”