CEDAR FALLS, IOWA - The University of Northern Iowa qualified five wrestlers for the NCAA Championships after their performances at the NCAA West Regional. As a team, the Panthers placed second behind Western Wrestling Conference champion Wyoming.
Joe Colon took the 133-pound title with a day that included two bonus-point victories. After receiving a first-round bye, the top seed defeated Northern Colorado's Sam Bauer with an 18-3 technical fall in the semifinal. Colon then proceeded to hand a 9-1 major decision to No. 2-seeded Zach Zehner of Wyoming. The redshirt sophomore will make his first trip to the Division I NCAA Championships riding an 18-match win streak.
Levi Wolfensperger was the tournament's big surprise, as he took his weight class' only automatic qualifier spot as a No. 4 seed. Wolfensperger won the 141-pound title, defeating Northern Colorado's Casey Cruz with a 2-1 decision in overtime to secure first place. The redshirt freshman used two falls on his way to the final, pinning North Dakota State's Tyler Diamond and top-seeded Chase Smith of Wyoming. The effort earned him the distinction as the wrestler with the most pins in the tournament. Wolfensperger will also be making his first appearance at the NCAA Championships.
Blayne Beale was the third Panther to take first place in his weight class. The junior heavyweight topped Wyoming's L.J. Helbig in the final with a 7-4 decision. Beale, the top-seeded wrestler at 285 pounds, will get the opportunity to compete at his first NCAA Championships after completing a clean sweep of all conference foes during the year.
David Bonin (157) suffered his first loss in his last thirteen matches, but fortunately that loss occurred after he had secured a spot at the NCAA Championships. The top-seeded junior qualified for the championship match after an exciting overtime pin of Air Force's Josh Kreimier in the semifinal. Bonin went on to face Steven Monk of NDSU, with whom he split matches during the regular season. Monk ended up on top this time with a 4-0 decision, but Bonin's second place finish is good enough to send him to the NCAA Championships for the second time in his career.
Ryan Loder (184) also lost in his weight class' championship match, but he took the second automatic qualifier spot at 184 pounds with his runner-up finish. The nation's top-ranked wrestler, Joe LeBlanc of Wyoming, edged past Loder with a 5-4 decision in the final. Loder handed NDSU's Mac Stoll, the No. 3 seed, a 16-0 tech. fall in the semifinal before facing LeBlanc. Loder also topped Utah Valley's David Prieto in the first round with a 10-1 major decision. The sophomore will also be making his second trip to the NCAA Championships.
The NCAA Championships will take place March 14-17 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo.
For complete results, visit the NCAA West Regional Online Headquarters.
1. Wyoming (93.5)
2. Northern Iowa (76)
3. North Dakota State (51.5)
4. Air Force (50.5)
5. Utah Valley (43.5)
6. Northern Colorado (36.5)
7. South Dakota State (5)
NCAA Automatic Qualifiers
125: Trent Sprenkle (NDSU) - 1st
125: Michael Martinez (Wyoming) - 2nd
133: Joe Colon (UNI) - 1st
133: Zach Zehner (Wyoming) - 2nd
141: Levi Wolfensperger (UNI) - 1st
149: Cole VonOhlen (Air Force) - 1st
149: Josh Wilson (Utah Valley) - 2nd
157: Steven Monk (NDSU) - 1st
157: David Bonin (UNI) - 2nd
157: Josh Kreimier (Air Force) - 3rd
165: Shane Onufer (Wyoming) - 1st
165: Gabe Burak (N. Colorado) - 2nd
174: Pat Martinez (Wyoming) - 1st
184: Joe LeBlanc (Wyoming) - 1st
184: Ryan Loder (UNI) - 2nd
197: Alfonso Hernandez (Wyoming) - 1st
285: Blayne Beale (UNI) - 1st
Most Pins - Levi Wolfensperger, UNI (2)
Outstanding Wrestler - Joe Colon, UNI
Coach of the Year - Mark Branch, Wyoming
Regular Season Team Champion - Wyoming
Tournament Champion - Wyoming