Friday, November 5, 2021

Fantasy Warfare: NAIA Vs NCAA DIII

 If you read my article on Life Vs North Carolina, you know that I'm an advocate for NAIA wrestling. I'll admit, as their no use hiding, I was utopian in my overall analysis. Or in the least, overly optimistic, but I do not regret it.  Zane Lanham pulled off a huge upset in sticking ranked Max Shaw & despite not winning any other matches, the Running Eagles fought hard in every match they were in. 

Zane Lanham with a huge win via fall Vs UNC's Max Shaw 

NAIA wrestling has continued to grow and prove itself in a variety of ways, but it seems no matter what they do or what they achieve, the majority of the wrestling community believes that NCAA DIII > NAIA.  Now I don't want to come off as anti-DIII.  I love DIII wrestling. Attended Wartburg wrestling camps as a kid, have attended the DIII championships in the past and will attend the DIII championships this season.  I love DIII wrestling, but I grow tired of how the mentality isn't "Sometimes DIII wrestling is better than NAIA wrestling."  It isn't even, "Most of the time DIII wrestling is better than NAIA wrestling."  The general consensus is, "DIII wrestling is always better than NAIA wrestling" and I don't stand for that. That's not true.  I've been an obsessed, fixated if you will wrestling fan since about 2001. The past twenty years have taught me something.  Yes, sometimes DIII is better/tougher than NAIA, but sometimes it isn't.  Sometimes NAIA is just as good, just as tough as DIII and yes, sometimes NAIA is even better than DIII.    

You're either with me on this or you're against me, or maybe you have no dog in the fight.  At this point it's nothing more than word Vs word, and I for one would love to see it actually take place on the mat.   

We've missed out on an All Star classic the past couple of seasons.  I know the majority of fans are always excited to see the best in NCAA DI go head to head, but I wouldn't mind changing it up a bit.  Every time someone brings up the fact that DII and DIII champs/runner-ups/occasionally 3rd placer's used to qualify for the NCAA DI tournament, about 95% respond that they wish they still did.  I think having DII champs & DIII champs Vs DI at the All Star Meet would be a great start of maybe revamping that old practice.  

You know what else I'd like to do?  

You guessed it.  

All Star Meet = NAIA Champs Vs DIII Champs 

Last March when talking over the NAIA championships and how good the NAIA competition looked, got a lot of response of, "Yeah, but these are mainly Southern kids from Southern Schools, or other 'non-wrestling' places."   Half of the champions were from Southern Schools, that is correct.  Georgia, Florida and Kentucky to be specific.  Then Indiana, the "basketball state" had two champions. An Iowa school produced one champion and make what you will of Nebraska and Montana having the other two.  DIII on the other hand had more of the "wrestling state" schools produce champions.  Iowa showing their dominance with seven champions and Illinois with three.   So essentially the argument that others are making is that DIII in this particular case being Midwest Schools, with Midwest talent would dominate the NAIA with 50% southern schools/wrestlers from the south. 

 As to home state/where they wrestled in high school, we're looking at 5 Iowans, 3 from Illinois and 1 from Wisconsin.  The odd man out, from Maryland.   The NAIA champs on the other hand are not as well represented by the 'wrestling states' with two natives of Florida, one of Georgia and one of Kentucky.  Iowa had two champs, Michigan one which always get a fair amount of respect.  One champion from Ohio, which with Pennsylvania is often seen as "the wrestling state", a champ from Indiana and a champion of Mongolia.  

So essentially that's the argument and I don't think it's fair or accurate.  Being an Iowa boy that grew up in Iowa, I do like the idea of Iowans and neighboring Illinoisans representing on the mat, but I also know how much wrestling has grown in other areas and that these southern boys can scrap.   At this point it is nothing more than speculation for the most part, but in 10 matches of champ vs champ, I think NAIA does just fine against DIII. 

So if we did have an NAIA vs NCAA DIII All Star Meet this season with champ vs champ, here is what it would have looked like.   

Note: I know techincally that 2021 was NWCA, but it was DIII wrestlers Vs DIII wrestlers, so I have no problem saying DIII.  I also realize that not every team/wrestler participated last season, hence why there are wrestlers who won the tournament that are ranked lower than what a returning champion would normally be ranked. 

Brandon Orum (Life) Vs Alex Friddle (Coe) 

Orum made the most of his first trip to the NAIA tournament by knocking off #1 seed Justin Portillo of Grand View in route to winning his first of what could potentially turn out to be four NAIA titles.  Friddle on the other hand, who will be taking advantage of the "free be" entered this season  an overall record of 33-8, with all 8 of those losses coming in his freshman season of 2019-2020.  Last season as a sophomore he went 13-0, as he is currently ranked #4 in DIII compared to Orum's #1 in NAIA.  I'm not even going to begin to try and predict how this match would go or who would win.  What I do know is that both of these guys are young, hungry and have plenty of time left in their prestigious wrestling careers.  I think this one would be a barn burner. 

Conner Gimson (Indiana Tech) Vs Brock Henderson (Coe) 

Gimson won the NAIA title last season as a sophomore after finishing 7th in the nation as a freshman. He's currently ranked #1 in the NAIA.  Henderson who has already had four years of varsity wrestling, qualified for the DIII championships as a junior, winning the national title as a senior last season.  Taking advantage of the extra year, he has since moved up to 141 lbs where he currently holds a #7 ranking.  

Baterdene Boldmaa (Doane) Vs Jimmy McAuliffe (Elmhurst) 

Let me steal and slightly alter a line from SUPERMAN II that was uttered shortly before General Zod was about to take on the Man of Steel and say, "Ooh, this would be good."   #1 in the NAIA Vs #1 in DIII.  Baterdene was 3rd in the NJCAA in 2019 for Northwest Kansas Technical College before winning back to back NAIA titles in 2020 and 2021.  MaAuliffe was 7th in the nation as a freshman in 2018, finishing one match shy of All American status in 2019.  2020 was canceled due to COVID-19, as he came back with a vengeance to secure the national title.  We're talking to hard nosed, experienced wrestlers. If this dual were to take place, could easily be the match of the night. 

Andreus Bond (Southeastern) Vs Josh Gerke (Coe) 

After failing to place at the 2020 NAIA tournament, Bond entered the the 2021 NAIA unseeded, upset the #2 seed and cruised his way to a title.  Gerke, the #4 seed, made the most of his only All American award, winning the DIII title. Bond is currently ranked #1 in the NAIA, whereas Gerke has turned his attention to coaching, an assistant at Coe. Two guys from two completely different worlds.  One a State champ/four time Florida high school place winner for Brandon & Lake Gibson, the other a two time Iowa high school state place winner for Cedar Rapids Xavier.  A clash of styles in this one. 

Nolan Saxton (Reinhardt) Vs David Hollingsworth (Wartburg) 

Quite the journey for both of these individuals.  Saxton was 7th-5th-5th in the state of Michigan for Lake View High School before transferring to Chippewa Hills to win a state title in his final season.  He began his collegiate career in DI wrestling for Central Michigan where he put together a pretty respectable freshman campaign going 15-12, with a 3-1 victory over Garrett Model, and keeping it close with others. He then transferred to Life University before finally settling on Reinhardt.  3rd in the NAIA in 2020, he won the NAIA title last season.  He is ranked #1 by a few publications, but per other records I have found, I believe he is done with his collegiate wrestling career.   

Hollingsworth on the other hand, a two time Maryland state champion for Owing Mills high school, began his collegiate career in the NJCAA representing Iowa Lakes.  4th in the nation in 2018 and 3rd in 2019 among the best in community college wrestling, he then transferred to Wartburg where 2020 saw a premature end due to COVID-19, as he won the DIII title in 2021.  He is currently ranked #5.  

Kyle Kirkham (Southeastern) Vs Bradan Birt (Millikin) 

How many teams can say they entered two unseeded wrestlers into the national tournament and had both of them walk out champion? Southeastern can.  After going 1-2 at the NAIA's in 2020, Kirkham who needed a wildcard just to get into the 2021 NAIA's, won the tournament unseeded.  He upset the #10, #7, #3 and #8 wrestlers in route.  He is currently ranked #1. 

Birt on the other hand was 7th in 2018 and 6th in 2019 (2020 not wrestled due to COVID-19) entering the DIII championships as the #1 seed where he completely dominated his way to a title collecting three technical falls, one fall and one major decision.  He's currently ranked #2.  

Brennan Swafford (Graceland) Vs Kyle Briggs (Wartburg) 

After finishing 7th as a freshman in 2019, Brennan Swafford has completely dominated the NAIA the past two seasons winning back to back national titles. He's now currently at Iowa where he's not likely to make the varsity lineup this season with Michael Kemerer in the lineup, but he could likely be representing the black and gold in 2022-2023. The season still young he's bound to get into some opens as well as get a shot to show what he can do against DI competition if he is entered at the Midlands.  Noted, that while he had an outstanding high school career representing the Mediapolis Bulldogs, he never won a state title.  

Briggs a pinning machine, stuck his way through the semi-finals, winning an 8-0 major decision in the finals last season.  Hard to believe watching him take a total of 26 seconds to make it to the DIII quarter-finals last season, that this was his first time placing.  He is currently ranked #2.  

Eric Vermillion (Indiana Tech) Vs Shane Liegel (Loras) 

The best Vermillion ever did in high school was place 5th in the Ohio state championships as a senior.  Placing 8th in the nation as a sophomore, he won the NAIA title last season as a junior, entering his final season ranked #1 in the country.  Liegel who is #1 in the country in DIII, won the national title last season as a sophomore.  Although there was no tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19, he finished out his freshman season 26-5. 

Isaac Bartel (Montana State Northern) Vs Cody Baldridge (North Central) 

Bartel obviously must have thought the winters of northern Iowa weren't cold or bitter enough as the Mason City state champion headed up north to compete for the Lights where he has thus far had an outstanding career.  Thus far 3rd-2nd-2nd-1st, he looks to make history becoming the first five time All American in school history.  Baldridge who is currently ranked #3 in the country, won the DIII title last season as the #4 seed.  2020 canceled because of COVID-19, he went 2-2 in 2019. 

Brandon Reed (Lindsey Wilson) Vs Wyatt Wriedt (Loras) 

Reed completely owned the NAIA the past three seasons. After finishing 4th in the nation as a freshman, he won three consecutive titles in 2019, 2020 and 2021.  He is now taking his knowledge and talents as he his helping to coach the Blue Raiders.  Wriedt began his career wrestling at Nebraska but soon transferred to Loras. After the 2020 DIII's were canceled due to COVID-19, he won a national title as the #6 seed. 


So NAIA champion Vs DIII champion, these are the matches that would take place in such an All-Star classic.  Lots of opinions. Lots of thoughts. I think the following is fair to say. 

Some of these matches are toss-ups. 
Some of these matches clearly favor DIII
Some of these matches clearly favor NAIA

And I think that's almost always the case.   I'd love to see it played out on the mat.  Such an event would be awesome to see year in and year out.  

1 comment:

  1. Oooo baby! I'm a small college guy and this is great stuff. I've seen quite a few of these guys compete in person. I do recall DII vs. DIII I believe one year at the Lone Star Duals along with NCWA vs. NAIA (NAIA destroyed the clubs). If anything, I'd be a big proponent of smaller colleges/universities (NON D1) having an All-Star Extra Match Extravaganza (not necessarily a dual) the night prior to DI's. Maybe at a different but close by venue?