Ryan Epps is ranked No. 2 at 157 pounds (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Augsburg coach Jim Moulsoff knows it won't be easy to say goodbye to Ryan Epps.
The two-time national champion embodies everything you want in a successful student-athlete.
Epps is one of the leaders on the loaded Augsburg College wrestling team and he also excels in the classroom.
Epps, a senior from Cannon Falls, Minn., has compiled a remarkable 136-12 career record in college. Seven of those losses came his freshman year.
"Ryan's the hardest working kid," Moulsoff said. "He never stops moving forward and looking to score. He's relentless."
Epps, who competes at 157 pounds, is one of four returning national champions in the powerful Augsburg lineup. The Auggies also feature two-time national champion Lucas Jeske (165) along with national champions David Flynn (141) and Lance Benick (197).
"It's nice to have guys on our team who have similar mindsets of wanting to be successful -- I think each guy feeds off that," Epps said. "Everyone is buying into what we're doing and everyone is working hard."
Augsburg has 120 points back from the team that rolled to the NCAA Division III team title in 2019.
"Last year, we did a great job peaking at the right time and wrestling to our potential," Epps said. "We're working hard to do the same thing again this season."
Epps is 24-1 this season and ranked No.2 nationally at 157 pounds. His lone loss was an 8-4 setback to fourth-ranked Brandon Murray of Loras at the National Duals. All-American Grant Zamin of Wisconsin-La Crosse is ranked No. 1 at 157.
The Auggies were ranked No. 1 before falling to rival Wartburg College at the National Duals.
The teams battled again in a dual meet at top-ranked Wartburg on Feb. 6. The Auggies, wrestling without Jeske and Benick, fell 19-14 to the Knights.
Augsburg and Wartburg have won every Division III national team title since 1995. The Auggies have won 13 championships, one fewer than their rivals from northeast Iowa.
"It's a great rivalry with Wartburg," Epps said. "They always push us to get better. The loss we had to them at National Duals showed us where we were at and let us know what we need to work on. It's a fun atmosphere whenever we wrestle. It's always a battle."
Epps began his college career by going 34-7 as a freshman. He fell one win short of being an All-American. He's only lost a combined five times since then while capturing a pair of national crowns.
"I made it to the blood round my freshman year, but I wrestled defensively and paid the price at nationals," he said. "I was wrestling not to lose instead of wrestling to win. I made sure the next year it didn't happen again."
Anybody who steps on the mat to face Epps knows they are going to be in for a grueling, seven-minute battle.
"I push the pace and I don't want to give my opponent a break," he said. "I like to wrestle a physical style. I wrestle aggressively and keep the pressure on."
Now Epps is down to the final few weeks of his senior season.
"It's been a fun experience at Augsburg," he said. "I've taken on more of a leadership role this year and helped some of the younger guys adapt to college wrestling. It's been an enjoyable season. I'm just trying to keep improving and finish strong."
Epps and Jeske have provided a lethal 1-2 punch at the DIII level, winning back-to-back national titles at 157 and 165 in 2018 and 2019.
"Lucas is a tough wrestler who is really solid in all three positions," Epps said. "He's had a great career. It would be awesome to win back-to-back titles with him again."
Epps is an Academic All-American who carries a 3.4 grade-point average while studying exercise science and physical therapy. He hopes to move on to graduate school after earning his degree at Augsburg.
Before that happens, Epps has two final goals left to achieve. Lead his team to another national championship and win a third straight individual national title.
Marcus LeVesseur is the only wrestler in school history to win three NCAA Division III titles. He went on to capture a fourth championship for Augsburg in 2007.
Epps and Jeske can become the second and third Auggies to win three national titles apiece.
"That would be really cool," Epps said. "That is some elite company and it would be special to do it. It's what I've been working for my whole career. Hopefully, I can finish with another title."
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.