American Rivers

Wartburg Prevails In Closest D3 Race Since 1993

Wartburg Prevails In Closest D3 Race Since 1993

Wartburg captured its 15th D3 title Saturday and by stopping Wabash's bid to break up the Burgs' reign.

Mar 13, 2022 by Andy Hamilton

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Wartburg has taken virtually every possible path to the top of the Division III mountain during the past three decades, but the Knights have never won quite the way they did Saturday. 

An almost-perfect Friday turned into a super-stressful Saturday for coach Eric Keller and company as a comfy lead and numbers advantage dissolved during a dismal semifinal round.  But the Knights righted themselves just enough in the placement rounds and got help from three other schools in the finals to prevent Wabash from breaking the Burgs’ grip on the D3 title. 

Wartburg went 14-1 on the tournament’s opening day to take a 13-point lead over second-place Augsburg into Saturday. It turned out the Knights needed every point they could find. They went 6-13 in matches on Saturday, won just one bout on the championship side of the bracket and had to rally back in the consolations with three placement-round victories. 

Kyle Briggs defeated top-seeded Shane Liegel of Loras 2-0 in the third-place bout at 184 pounds to break a Wartburg-Wabash tie in the team standings, putting the Knights ahead 79-78. It turned out to be the final — and decisive point — in the closest championship chase in 29 years as Wartburg captured its 15th D3 national title and first without an individual title winner. 

“Anytime in life you want to be in control of your destiny and tonight, we weren’t in control,” Wartburg coach Eric Keller said. “We were relying on some other teams to score those points. That was tough. But overall with our guys and how they competed and the effort, I’m proud of them. There are some guys who are heartbroken they didn’t get what they wanted, but collectively as a group, we’re so proud of these guys.” 

Making a bid to become the first school other than Wartburg or Augsburg to win a Division III title since Ithaca in 1994, Wabash won three semifinal bouts and erased a 17.5-point deficit to claim the lead. But the Little Giants couldn’t find the last big individual win to slay one of the D3’s big giants. 

Baldwin Wallace’s Jacob Decatur scored a first-period takedown and two-point near-fall to race out to an early lead on his way to a 6-3 win against Wabash’s Carlos Champagne in the 125-pound title bout. 

Wartburg’s lone finalist — 141-pounder Zayren Terukina — couldn’t cash in on a single-leg in the final minute and ran out of time while trying to finish a rear-standing position as time expired, dropping a 3-2 decision against Mount Union’s Jordin James. 

At 165, Millikin’s Bradan Birt racked up more than five minutes of riding time in a 14-2 major decision against Wabash’s Kyle Hatch, leaving the title up for grabs going into the 197-pound title bout. 

North Central’s Cody Baldridge made a first-period takedown stand as the difference in a 3-2 win against Wabash’s Jack Heldt. Baldridge’s victory also vaulted North Central into a tie with Augsburg for third place with 62.5 points. 

North Central — which also picked up a title at 133 from Robbie Precin — was one of four schools that crowned its first D3 champion on Saturday. Birt, Stevens Institute of Technology 149-pounder Brett Kaliner and Mount St. Joseph 174-pounder Cornell Beachem also became their school’s first national champion. 

3Augsburg 62.5
3North Central62.5
5Stevens Institute of Technology46.5