St. Cloud State won its third consecutive NCAA Division II national championship (Photo/Thomas Breach)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- It was supposedly a down season for the St. Cloud State University wrestling team. The perennial power had supposedly taken a back seat. Despite completing a perfect season in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) play, the Huskies were ranked third in the final National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) rankings with just six wrestlers individuals ranked in the top-10. The University Nebraska-Kearney surged from third to first, with nine wrestlers nationally ranked in the final poll entering the Super Regional and NCAA Championship.
In the words of Michael Jordan ... St. Cloud State took that personally.
The Huskies proved just how dominant they are and put the naysayers to bed in the best way possible: by winning their third consecutive NCAA championship. After seeing the 2019-20 championship canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and falling behind 58-51.5 after the opening day of the 2020-21 competition, St. Cloud State outlasted Nebraska-Kearney, winning the national championship with 107 total points compared to the Lopers 105.5.
The Huskies did everything they needed to in Saturday's morning session, as all seven wrestlers advanced to the championship round with wins in both the semifinal and consolation semifinal matches. In fact, four of those seven qualified for the championship bout, as Garrett Vos (Bonifacius, Minn. / Waconia), Joseph Bianchini (Elk Grove Village, Ill. / Immaculate Conception), Garrett Aldrich (Albert Lea, Minn. / Albert Lea) and Kameron Teacher (Grove City, Ohio / Central Crossings) advanced with wins in their semifinal matches. Colby Njos (Anoka, Minn. / Anoka) and Devin FitzPatrick (Mahtomedi, Minn. / Mahtomedi) advanced to wrestle in the third place match, while Noah Ryan (Mantorville, Minn. / Kasson-Mantorville) battled his way to the seventh place match after a first round loss on Friday.
Right on St. Cloud State's heels, though, was Nebraska-Kearney, the No. 1 team in the nation that sent 10 wrestlers to the NCAA Championship. In fact, the two teams traded leads early and often during the opening session, with the Lopers holding a 100-96 lead after Saturday's opening session.
St. Cloud State looked to close the gap with perfect performances in the third and seventh place matches. The Huskies did just that, starting with Njos in the 157 third place match. After earning his place with a tightly contested 4-3 win in the semis, the redshirt-freshman left no doubt about his standing in the nation, as he upended No. 2 seed Dawson Combest 5-2 to win the third place match. Immediately following Njos, FitzPatrick kept the good times rolling, as he defeated No. 8 Cory Peterson by fall in 2:16 to potentially close his collegiate career with a "W".
Ryan closed the consolation finals with a pin win of his own, and he was nearly as quick as FitzPatrick. The junior downed Chris Groege at 2:17 in the first period to finish in seventh place at 197 pounds.
Still, for all St. Cloud State's success, the team could not regain the lead from Nebraska-Kearney, as the Lopers did just enough to hold a slim 105-103 lead over the Huskies entering the championship bouts. However, St. Cloud State seemingly had nothing to fret, as the team had four different wrestlers competing in the finals matches Saturday evening.
First up, at 133 pounds, was Vos, the No. 1 wrestler in the weight class for the entire 2020-21 season. The redshirt-junior had seemingly the toughest matchup of the night, as he was set to face No. 2 Tyler Warner, the defending national champion at 133 pounds. Despite a strong game plan, Vos was defeated by Warner 8-4 in the championship bout.
Even with Vos' loss, the Huskies were feeling confident, with three more wrestlers in championship matches. In fact, the very next weight class featured a St. Cloud State wrestler, as Bianchini was battling Newberry's Isiah Royal for the national championship at 141. Despite falling into a 2-0 hole just seconds in, Bianchini battled his way back into the match, evening the score 2-2 and taking a 3-2 lead at the end of the first period. The sophomore, though, suffered a takedown late in the third, resulting in a 7-6 loss by decision for Bianchini.
Down 105-103 with two championship matches to go, Aldrich came to the mat, hoping to clinch his team its third consecutive national title. The redshirt junior came up short, falling by 12-5 decision at the 149 weight class.
In the end, it all came down to Teacher. The senior came to the mat relaxed and loose, ready to win the first individual title of his impeccable career. More importantly, though, Teacher was ready to win the championship for his team. Meer seconds into the match, the senior earned a key takedown against Colorado Mines' Weston Hunt, taking a 2-1 lead early in the first period.
Teacher continued his aggressive style of play, containing Hunt and its hopes of upending the No. 1 ranked wrestler at 285. After earning an escape and another takedown, Teacher held the slimmest of leads, one point at 6-5, with a minute remaining in the third period. The seconds ticked away, far too slow for the St. Cloud State fanbase, but when the clock struck zero, Teacher was proclaimed the victor, as he clinched the national title for both himself and the Huskies with the 6-5 decision win.
Thanks to Teacher's win, St. Cloud State outpaced Nebraska-Kearney 107-105.5 to win its third consecutive national title and five in the last seven total years. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the Huskies have won five of the last six national titles, as the 2019-20 championship was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teacher closed his season, and potentially career, with a perfect 13-0 season at 285-pounds. The senior additionally led the team in points scored at the national tournament, tallying 21.0 total over the course of the two day tournament.
FitzPatrick tallied 18.0 points over the weekend thanks to his third place finish at the 165 pound weight class. The senior closed his season with a 13-2 record and will graduate from St. Cloud State as a three-time All-American.
Vos, Bianchini and Aldrich all scored 16.0 points for the Huskies over the weekend, earning All-American honors with their second place finishes at their respective weight classes. Vos closes the season with an 11-1 record, while Bianchini closes with a 12-1 mark. Aldrich finishes the season with an 8-3 record at 149 pounds.
Njos came seemingly out of nowhere to earn 12.0 points for St. Cloud State at the NCAA Championships, as the unseeded redshirt freshman finished third at 157 pounds. Njos closes the 2020-21 season with a 10-3 record and earns All-America honors for the first time in his career.
Ryan earned All-America honors with his seventh place finish on Saturday and earned 8.0 points towards the team score. He closes the season with a 10-4 record, while Billy Pitzner's (Jefferson, Wis. / Milton) season came to a close at the national championships on Friday.