ORANGE CITY, Iowa | Needless to say, it’s been a strong season for Morningside College’s wrestling team in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
Co-champions during regular-season action with Concordia, Coach Jake Stevenson’s Mustangs crowned three individual champions and overall, advanced six individuals to the NAIA national tournament following Saturday’s GPAC Tournament held at the Bultman Center on the Northwestern College campus.
Champions Keegan Hessler (125 pounds), Caleb Deemer (197) and Phil Rasmussen (285) paced Morningside, which scored a first-place 136.5 points, six point better than second-place Briar Cliff (130.5). During a meet that also doubled as the NAIA North Qualifier, the Mustangs also advanced Dakota Drenth (2nd, 149) to the NAIA Nationals along with Kyle Fowler (2nd, 157) and Jacob Wiley (2nd, 184).
Hessler opened the tournament with a 15-1 major decision over Briar Cliff’s Braedon Clopton, then reached the finals with a forfeit win over his teammate, Devin Phaly.
Currently ranked sixth nationally among those in his weight class by the NAIA, Hessler hiked his season record to 24-5 after a 5-1 win in the finals over Northwestern’s Austin Boles.
Deemer (20-9), following a first-round bye, edged Doane’s Perry Baltz 7-5 in the semifinals. Deemer claimed the title by decisioning Northwestern’s D’rell Gist 7-1 in the finals.
Rasmussen (23-11), after a first-round bye, posted a 9-1 major decision over Briar Cliff’s Scott Dollison in the quarterfinals. Rasmussen then blanked Jamestown’s Chumkar Dhaliwal 6-0 and won the title with a 6-0 decision over Concordia’s Michael Stann.
Briar Cliff will send four wrestlers to the NAIA Nationals – 149-pound champion Zac Funderburk, D’earion Stokes (2nd, 133), Isiah Lysius (4th, 133) and Chris Paulsen (3rd, 165).
Funderburk posted a 4-0 record while winning the 149-pound title. He opened with a 12-2 major decision over Jamestown’s Tyson Leon, then rolled past his next two opponents, posting a 4:06 fall over Doane’s Kalen Roth while adding a 17-2 technical fall in the semifinals over Morningside’s Carson Hartnett.
Funderburk hiked his season record to 20-10 after a 7-5 win over Morningside’s Dakota Drenth in the finals.
Northwestern will send three to the national tournament – 165-pound champion Andrew Null along with Austin Boles (2nd, 125) and Dante Preciado (3rd, 149).
Null, an All-American a year ago, opened with a first-round bye, then decisioned Morningside’s Keagan Putnam 6-2. Null reached the finals with a 12-6 decision over Briar Cliff’s Chris Paulsen, then improved his season record to 19-5 after a 6-2 win over Midland’s Stephon Gray.
There’s the possibility that Northwestern, Morningside and Briar Cliff will qualify more for the NAIA Nationals, set for March 1-2 at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines. An NAIA committee meeting will be held to determine at-large participants and their decision will be made Tuesday.