By Michael French, Rporter
Three members of the Raven wrestling team travel to Topeka, Kansas Friday for the NAIA Wrestling Championships.
The team enters the tournament ranked 8th in the NAIA Wrestling Team Group Ratings for the Central division with 44 total team points.
Junior Stephen Loosbrock makes his third trip to the tournament after last season’s run ended with a heartbreaking loss in the championship round. The Lismore, Minnesota native finished third in the regional tournament on Feb. 21 and earned an opening round bye at nationals. He’ll square off against Midland University’s Kolton Kersten in the second round of the 197-pound group. Kersten currently holds the No. 5 spot in the NAIA rankings.
Some believe that opening round bye’s hurt players as they will inevitably face an already tested and proven opponent from the prior group and won’t be as physically or mentally prepared for the challenge.
“It really depends on the wrestler,” said coach Thomas Williams. “Some guys want to have as much break time as possible from their weigh in to their match. Others want to have the first match right away, get rolling and not sit around all day. I don’t think our guys have a preference.”
Junior Ethan Jirak is making his second straight appearance at the national tournament. Jirak, out of Oakley, Kansas, enters the tournament ranked 14th in the NAIA. He also finished third at the regional tournament and will compete in the 184-pound weight class against Dickinson State’s Lane Oversen in the first round. Oversen went 18-12 on the season in the North Star Athletic Association.
The Dickinson State Blue Hawks have history with the Ravens. Just last year their current assistant coach, Jesse Hellinger, ended Loosbrock’s hopes at a national title in a thrilling championship match that ultimately ended in disappointment for Loosbrock. Last year’s runner up could potentially face the Blue Hawks’ Hudson Buck, should he make another run at the title. Buck is currently the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the NAIA for the weight class. Loosbrock is ranked 1oth.
“He has a good chance,” Williams said. “He has a pretty tough weight but the class as a whole was just about as difficult last year as it is now. He can do it but it just really depends on how things work out.”
Junior Gabe Suthoff makes his first trip to the national tournament representing the 174 pounders. He earned an at large berth during regionals and faces Marvin Lawrence, one of 10 national qualifiers from wrestling powerhouse, Campbellsville University. Lawrence finished fourth in the NAIA East Regional tournament and is tied for 16th in the NAIA rankings.
“I feel like the underdog coming in because I don’t have nationals experience,” Suthoff said. “That’s just going to drive me to work harder and accomplish more though.”
“Both Ethan and Gabe have tough first-round opponents,” Williams said. “We have a game plan for each of them so if they stick to that they should do pretty well. The guys are in a good mental state. We’ll be ready to roll.”
The NAIA Wrestling Championships begin at 10 a.m. March 6 at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kansas, and runs through March 7.