Monday, May 18, 2020

Gone, Lost & Forgotten: Their Best = Western Illinois

Growing up in Southeastern Iowa, I attended the Pepsi Slam tournament held in Macomb, Illinois year in & year out from third grade all the way through seventh grade.  I'm sure if I went back home and searched through boxes I could probably find the second place trophy with the Pepsi logo all over it.  Back in those days I didn't follow collegiate wrestling much beyond Iowa & Iowa State, and I just assumed that the local college we drove past had a wrestling team. 

I was shocked when I was informed that, "No, they don't have wrestling" but remember clearly the, "but they did" that followed. 

Even more distinct, "Lots of good wrestlers around these parts.  Guess they'll have to go elsewhere if they want to wrestle in college."

At one time they didn't though.   As mentioned, at one time the Leathernecks of Western Illinois had a wrestling program.  One that was good enough to finish in 10th place twice at the NAIA championships in 1962 & 1963.  One that was good enough to finish in 10th place twice at the NCAA Division II tournament in 1972 & 1973.   Today we take a look at some of their best wrestlers.
James Shipp
147 lbs 
Shipp was a two time NAIA finalist for the Leathernecks in 1962 & 1963.

Rick Nelson
167 lbs 
Accumulating a career record of 62-7, Nelson had a standout career for the Leathernecks, highlighted in his junior & senior seasons.  As a junior during the 1973-1974 season he placed fifth at the Midlands tournament and followed it up with a sixth place finish at the NCAA Division II tournament.  He finished his career off with a runner-up finish at the 1975 NCAA Division II tournament.

Angelo Testone
137 lbs 
An NCAA Division II All American placing sixth in 1969, Testone also took a fourth place finish at the 1967 Midlands championships.
Rick Lafnitzgegger
Lafnitzgegger took third place All American honors at the 1978 NCAA Division II tournament.
Jim Kulpa
177 lbs 
One of the best to ever wear the purple & gold, Kulpa took sixth place honors at the 1972 NCAA Division II championships, following it up by winning the 1973 title.  He also placed sixth at the Midlands championships.

Jim Woods
Saving the best for last, the undisputed most successful wrestler in Western Illinois history is legendary HWT Jim Woods who also played football for the Leathernecks.   As a sophomore in 1972 he made the NCAA Division II finals & followed that with a sixth place performance in 1973.   It was in his senior season where he really decided to shine.  Winning the 1974 NCAA Division II title, he was invited to participate in the NCAA Division I tournament.  Not only did he become Western Illinois' first & only Division I All American, he became Western Illinois' first & only Division I NCAA champion. 

If you ever wonder as to how tough the Midlands was back in those days, consider this;  Woods the NCAA DII & DI champ that year, placed fifth. 

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