On Saturday, Dubuque’s Five Flags Center played host to the 2013 NCAA Division III Wrestling Central Region Championship to kick off the postseason and send 30 wrestlers to Nationals.
Among the teams competing were all eight Iowa Conference Schools, Augustana, Knox, and former Iowa Conference member, Cornell.
At the end of the day, the IIAC conference crowned champion at 9 of the 10 weight classes and secured 27 of the possible 30 national qualifying positions. Of those 9 champions, Loras heavyweight James Buss punched his ticket to nationals going 3-0 with two decisions and one major decision.
Heading into the regional tournament, 7th-ranked Buss had high expectations.
“My expectations were to take on my first opponent, win that match, and go from there,” said Buss. “Of course I thought I was going to win it all, but I had to take it one match at a time.”
Buss took care of business in his first match with a decisive 9-1 victory over Knox’s Stephen Bora. His following match in the semifinals was much tighter as he needed an overtime period to beat Luther’s Nick Pearch. With a 5-5 tie after the three periods, Buss was able to hit a quick take-down to move on to the finals with a 7-5 win.
In the finals of the heavyweight division, Buss squared off against Ryan Fank, of Wartburg.
In December, Buss beat Fank 3-1, but in their most recent meeting Fank was able to steal away a 3-2 victory over Buss, setting up the final match many expected and hoped to see at regionals.
After an early escape in the second period, Buss added a riding point and then sealed the victory with a late take-down in the third period to beat Fank 4-2.
“Once I got that riding point, I put the pressure on him to take me down, which I was not going to let happen,” said Buss. “Overall, the biggest thing about all the matches I wrestled came down to heart and the fact that I wanted it more than anyone else.”
Buss has had a successful first season and doesn’t plan on it ending anytime soon as he looks forward to Nationals on the 15th in Cedar Rapids.
“I don’t look at myself as a first-year athlete,” said Buss. “I have to look at myself as a senior, wrestling every match as if it was my last. I have to go out there and believe that I am going to be on top and no one will stop me from reaching the goals I have set.”
As a team, Loras finished fifth overall in the 11-team field with 74.5 points.
At 133-pounds, first-year Nick Steger lost 7-1 in the 3rd place match that would have sent him to finals. First-year Evan Weaver also took 4th place, losing to the top seed from Wartburg in the third place match.
At 149-pounds first-year Greg Vance was able to rally for a late pin to take 5th place away from Ryan Davis of Central in the final ten seconds. First-year Malcom Watson took 5th place at 197-pounds with a 4-2 decision over Dubuque’s Cory Ortmann.
“The expectations were to qualify as many kids as possible. That being said, many people have commented that we have a young team and while I get that, I have preached to them for the last month that they were no longer (first-years) and they had an opportunity to go make a statement,” said coach Randy Steward. “While I am certainly not disappointed in the kids, I am disappointed in the results.”
Steward mentioned the coaches will work hard to make sure Buss is ready to make an impact in the NCAA’s, but at the same time wished he saw more out of his other wrestlers.
Steward understands that he is in a good position with this team, but also knows how valuable the experience at the final tournament.
“People say you have everybody coming back you should be excited. While I am excited with that fact.What people do not understand is that I wanted to get these ‘young’ kids to make it through the regionals so that they could gain “NCAA tournament” experience as early as possible in their careers,” said Steward. “That way they come back next year with national competition experience under their belts. What that does is help our program progress to a high level much quicker. With all that being said, we do have a great foundation for the future.”
As bright as the future may be, the first act of business is to have Buss reign supreme at the top of his weight class and results from all the hard work will show itself in Cedar Rapids on March 15-16 for the Duhawks.