DUBUQUE, Iowa -- After a regular season to remember, the No. 1 Loras College wrestling team engineered a historic performance at the NCAA Division III Lower Midwest regional, qualifying eight wrestlers for the national tournament and securing the program's first ever regional team title, finishing ahead of American Rivers Conference (A-R-C) foe No. 5 Coe College by 15 points.
The regional performance was a historic one for the Duhawks. A school-record eight qualifiers and a team title highlighted a strong team performance for Head Coach TJ Miller. For the second year in a row, Miller and Assistant Coach Trevor Kittleson were voted Lower Midwest Regional Tournament Head Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year.
"The process of the season led to this performance. It's the toughest regional in the nation hands down. You have to place top-three to qualify. I'm really proud of our guys to get eight through to nationals" said Miller. "We're going to enjoy this, rest up and peak at the right time for the national tournament".
Building on a successful regular season, senior and two-time All-American No. 4/6 Clint Lembeck qualified for the National Tournament with a third-place finish at 141 lbs. Recording a pin and a technical fall on day one, Lembeck suffered a setback in the semifinals but rebounded right away by pinning No. 6/4 Brady Fritz of A-R-C rival No. 2 Wartburg College in overtime. Lembeck secured a place at nationals in dominant fashion, scoring a major decision over No. 10 Dan Radcliffe of Central College to grab third place.
In his regional debut for the Duhawks, Daniel Ruiz strung together two bonus point victories on day one to reach the semifinals at 149 lbs. In the semifinal bout against No. 7 Sean Sax of Westminster College, Ruiz collected a 13-6 major decision, locking up a national tournament berth for the Duhawks. Squaring off against North Central's honorable mention Anthony Rink in the championship match, Ruiz battled hard but dropped a 4-1 decision to capture second place. Senior All-American No. 4/2 Brandon Murray constructed a dominant performance at 157 lbs. Murray totaled two falls and a technical fall to reach the championship match against Wartburg's No. 10 Martine Sandoval. In the penultimate bout of the bracket, Murray outscored Sandoval 7-3 to earn a first place finish and a ticket to nationals.
Senior All-American No. 4/2 Eddie Smith, wrestling in his last regional for the Duhawks, earned a third-place finish and a spot at nationals for the Duhawks at 165 lbs. Smith reached the third-place bout by putting together an 8-4 decision over Central's Collin Groleau. In a rematch of Saturday's quarterfinal bout, Smith defeated University of Dubuque's Zarik Anderson for a second time by way of 12-3 major decision. The victory scored Smith a ticket to the national tournament for a second time in as many years. Returning All-American Jacob Krakow continued his strong season with a second place finish at 174 lbs. Krakow clinched his berth at nationals by reaching the championship match with a technical fall over No. 9 Tristin Westphal of Coe College. In the first place bout, Krakow dropped a hard-fought 3-4 decision to place second.
Freshman phenom No. 8/7 Shane Liegel forged together an impressive regional debut, placing third and qualifying for his first-ever national tournament. Winning a hard fought 8-2 decision to reach the third-place match, Liegel came out on top against Coe's Josh Edel 8-5, scoring a late takedown to clinch the victory in a back-and-forth battle. At 197 lbs., three-time All-American No. 1 Guy Patron Jr. compiled a technical fall and two pins to collect his fourth national tournament berth. After pinning Millikin's Logan Hagerbaumer in the semifinals, Patron Jr. finished the day in second place by medical default. Rounding out the qualifiers for the Duhawks, honorable mention Wyatt Wriedt used a fall and major decision to reach the semifinal bout against number one seed No. 2 Jerhett Lee. An 11-4 upset victory over Lee sent Wriedt to the championship match and clinched his spot at nationals. In the final match of the day, Wriedt dropped a 5-6 decision to snatch second place. Rounding out the Loras placers were senior Matt Randone at 125 lbs. and Mason McMillen at 133 lbs. Both captured fifth place for the Duhawks.
After collecting the first regional championship in team history, the Duhawks will take a two week break before sending eight grapplers to compete in the NCAA Division III Championships at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Session I will begin from the US Cellular Center on Friday, March 13th and conclude on Saturday, march 14th.