DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Notre Dame sent 17 grapplers to the National Collegiate Wrestling Association's title event -- the NCWA National Championships -- and the Falcons have emerged as champions of the three-day (March 8-10) event in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The Wrestling Falcons, which are in a provisional year in the NCAA Division II membership process (and therefore cannot contend for an NCAA title in 2011-12), are no strangers to grabbing hardware at this time of year. NDC won the NAIA national title in each of its last two years prior to the move to NCAA-II (2010, 2011). The Falcons' crown in 2010 marked Notre Dame's first national title in any athletic program.
“This was a great week for our program,” said Head Coach Frank Romano. “To win three national titles in a row is very special, and we've set this program up for what we hope is even more success at the D-II level.”
The NCWA is a post secondary athletic association which includes some collegiate teams not currently sanctioned for postseason competition in the NCAA or NAIA including several programs, like Notre Dame's, transitioning from the NAIA to the NCAA. The Falcons competed this season as an NCWA Division I squad and in Daytona Beach took the title in a field of 37 teams.
On Saturday in Florida, it was two veterans and a freshman that paced Notre Dame en route to posting a team total of 168 points. Freshman Cody Shivener, senior Ashtin Primus and junior Jon Bittinger all won championships and were the leading edge of a Notre Dame contingent that captured 11 NCWA All-America awards.
Shivener won the title at 149 pounds with a 7-3 over California Baptist's Dylan Cataline. That bout proved to be a key in the points race, as Cal Baptist placed second in the meet, seven points behind NDC in the standings. The top five in the championships were Notre Dame-168, Cal Baptist-161, Liberty (Va.)-150.5, Lindenwood (Mo.)-114, Simon Fraser (British Columbia)-89.5.
Ashtin Primus -- an NAIA national runner-up a year ago -- won the championship at 157, with a three-day bout record dotted with quick pins. Jon Bittinger -- a third-place winner at last year's NAIA National Championships -- won the NCWA title at 174. All three of NDC's titleists won by decision in their championship bouts.
NDC's other eight All-Americans (top-eight finishers) were: Mark Smilek (third at 174 pounds), Maurice Miller (fourth at 141), Daniel Demick (fourth at 285), Austin Sanders (fifth at 141), Anthony Burge (sixth at 165), Charles Mason (sixth at 184), Louden Gordon (seventh at 149), Paul Rose (eighth at 133), Justin Schafrath (eighth at 235).
The three-day event included two divisions of men's competition and a women's competition. Witchita State's club team won the Division II crown, while Southwest Oregon Community College won the women's title. The event was held at Daytona Beach's Ocean Center.
For the Wrestling Falcons what has to be particularly gratifying about their “three-peat” of sorts is that they hauled in the NCWA title on the backs of no less than seven freshmen finishing as All-Americans.
“It is an amazing group,” said Romano, who has been Notre Dame's only head coach since the program's inception in 2006. “And we want to keep this momentum heading into what we hope will be a nice transition into Division II.”