While the College sent five wrestlers to the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships in Dubuque, Iowa, it was the two seniors that reached and ultimately lost in the championship round.
Seniors Joe Galante and Mike Guenther both reached the championship bout at 157 and 165 pounds, respectively, and fell to higher-seeded opponents for second place.
“I thanked them for all they’ve done and they certainly had a great tournament,” head coach David Icenhower said. “They were our captains and our leaders.”
Galante, Guenther and freshman Tyler Branham (141 pounds) all earned All-America honors, which are awarded to the top eight place-winners in each weight class.
The College finished fifth overall as a team. It is the 34th consecutive year the College placed in the top 20 and the highest finish since 2001, when the team also finished fifth. Augsburg College won the team title.
“We had a great year. We won the conference, we were 19-1 and we were a top- five team in the nation,” Icenhower said. “At the beginning of the year we were ranked 19 in the country with three teams in our conference ranked ahead of us.”
Galante lost his title match 5-2 to top-seeded and returning All-American junior Jeremy Anderson of Augsburg. After a scoreless first period, Anderson scored an escape to make it 1-0. Galante then scored a takedown to grab a 2-1 lead.
After another Anderson escape, Galante was close to finishing a shot and scoring another takedown at the end of the second period, but it ended in a stalemate. A commentator said he’d seen that position scored as a takedown earlier in the tournament, but it wasn’t called in this instance.
“It was real, real close. He was pretty close to winning the title,” Icenhower said.
“I thought I could score and get back points and it was probably a 15-second scramble,” Galante said. “I was really working to get it and I thought I could get it, but it didn’t happen.”
Galante chose to start the third period neutral and was taken down by Anderson to make it 4-2. Anderson rode out the third period for a riding time point to make the final 5-3.
In a match Galante controlled, he came up one short of the ultimate prize – a national championship – but ended his season with a career-high 31 wins and his stellar career at the College with an 84-15 record.
That same commentator dubbed Galante a “Cinderella story” as he upset second-seeded senior Ross Needham of Wisconsin-LaCrosse 2-1 in the semifinals. In the quarterfinals, the sixth-seeded Galante pinned third-seeded sophomore Aaron Wernimont from Wartburg College.
“Right now it doesn’t feel like my career is over, but I don’t think it’s really going to sink in until next September when it’s time to prepare to start wrestling,” Galante said. “I wish I could have won the national title, but I’m happy with my accomplishments and happy with my career.”
Guenther faced senior Marcus LeVesseur of Augsburg and lost 3-0. With the win, LeVesseur became only the second wrestler in NCAA history to finish his career undefeated and to be a four-time national champion – the other being Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson.
After a scoreless first period, LeVessuer chose down and escaped to earn a 1-0 lead. Guenther was then taken down, which ended the match’s scoring.
LeVesseur was thought to be the best wrestler in the field and a fan-favorite; the arena was chanting his name toward the end of the third period. Yet Guenther gave him his toughest match of the tournament as he was the only wrestler to earn a regular decision.
Guenther pinned third-seeded junior Steve Martell from Johnson and Wales University in the quarterfinals and defeated junior Shaheim Bradshaw of SUNY-Brockport 8-5 in the semifinals to reach the championship round.
Guenther finished this season with a mark of 30-4.
After winning his first two matches of the tournament, Branham fell to top-seeded and eventual champion junior Quincy Osborn from Augsburg College. Branham then defeated sophomore Zach McKray of Wartburg before losing his final two consolation bracket matches to finish eighth overall. Branham finished the season with a team-leading 39 wins.
Assistant coach Joe Pollard was named NCAA Division III Assistant Coach of Year, making the team’s coaching staff one of the most decorated considering Icenhower won the Metropolitan Conference Coach of the Year award.
The Lions also sent junior Ray Sarinelli and sophomore Greg Osgoodby to championships. Both lost their first two matches, but each finished the season with more than 30 wins.
Branham was also named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-American Team. He is the 15th Lions wrestler to receive the honor. As a team, the Lions were named an NCAA Division III/National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar Team. The College was one of 20 teams to earn the distinction since the team’s starting lineup had a GPA of 3.205.