Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Non DI Talent At the Midlands = The 1980's


Lions Roar At 1983 Midlands 

Two of The College of New Jersey's best wrestlers of all time shined during their final Midlands appearance as Lions. Two time NCAA DIII champion Bob Glaberman & four time NCAA DIII finalist/two time champ Ron Bussey both made some noise at 158 & 150 lbs respectively.  Bussey who took 5th, only lost to Iowa legends Jim Heffernan & Marty Kistler, defeating everyone else in his way.  Glaberman's only loss was in the semi-finals to three time NCAA DI champion Jim Zalesky of Iowa by a score of 8-4. For 3rd place, Glaberman defeated Greg Elinsky, who would eventually go down in history as Penn State's first four time All American.  He defeated the Nittany Lion by shutting him out with a 5-0 decision. 

SFSU's Morris Johnson Defeats Future NCAA Champ & Future Olympic Silver Medalist

Morris Johnson was more than happy to show his NCAA DI competition that an NCAA Division II wrestler could go.  The 1983 NCAA DII runner-up entered the Midlands championships & stuck Jim Phillips of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club in 2:26.  He then had to face future Olympic Silver Medalist Matt Ghaffari of Cleveland State in the quarter-finals. After a loss in the semi-finals, Johnson would hand future NCAA champion Bill Hyman of Temple an 8-4 loss, before eventually settling for 4th. Johnson would go on to win the NCAA DII that season as he later had some international success of his own winning PAN-AMERICAN gold in 1986. 

From Walk On To Midlands Place-Winner 

Steve Tekander was not a sought after recruit in high school. There was no scholarship offer.  As a result he walked onto the Southern Oregon wrestling team & after a while he more than proved himself worthy of his varsity position.  As a junior during the 84'-85' season, he went into the Midlands paired with the *2 seed Greg Elinsky of Penn State (who noted above, is known for being Penn State's first four time All American).  In a huge upset, he upended the Nittany Lion by a score of 8-6. He would then go on to defeat Dan Boardman of Nebraska 5-3 in round two. In the quarter-finals, Tekander defeated Ken Sheets by a 6-4 decision. Sheets had finished one match shy of being an Olympian the summer prior.  Tekander went on to win back to back NAIA national titles. 

*NOTE*  - Another Southern Oregon wrestler who placed at the Midlands in the 1980's was Nathan Winner, who took 6th at the 1983 Midlands. Wasn't able to find out much about him. 

Cal State Bakersfield Continues DII Run Through Midlands Up To DI Transition 

As I said when covering Bakersfield in the 1970's edition of Non DI Talent At the Midlands I almost feel weird including them in this list because of how they were already so good to begin with. Nevertheless, they were in a DII singlet at the time, so it does count. Jesse Reyes a two time NCAA DII champion, who also went on to win the 1984 NCAA DI title, would finish second at the Midlands, losing to former Hawkeye great Harlan Kistler 12-8 in the finals. Darryl Pope, a two time NCAA DII champion who had DI finishes of 5th, 6th & 2nd, would finish as the Midlands runner-up in 1985. Ironically enough, it was a Kistler who bested him too! This time Marty, who defeated the Roadrunner by a 6-3 score. Pope would win the Midlands championship in 1986, which marked the Roadrunners first Midlands champion during their first season as a NCAA Division I program. Their other place-winner during their final season of NCAA Division II was true-freshman Rich Bailey.  After a 12-2 major decision loss in round one to Iowa's Greg Randall, Bailey worked his way back to 6th place. Redshirting the next season, Bailey finished out his career a two time All American, placing 4th as a junior & 5th as a senior. 

DIII Seras Shines for Albany

No one ever said you had to be a nice guy to be a wrestler.  Just as nasty of an individual off the mat as he ever was on it, Andy Seras had an outstanding career while at the now discontinued Albany.  While competing for the Great Danes he had NCAA DIII finishes of 2nd-4th-3rd-1st. At the 1984 Midlands he would take 6th place. As the *7 seed, he opened up with a 9-4 decision over future All American Jim Gressley of Arizona State.  He then defeated Mike Taylor 3-2, before besting Eastern Illinois' Chris McFarland 13-5 in the quarter-finals. As Albany's sole Midlands place-winner, the insolent one went on to international success capturing silver & gold medals from the PAN-AMERICAN championships.

Carlton Haselrig At the Midlands 

You hear wrestling fans talk all the time of how the Midlands used to be the premier in-season tournament. Some even go as far as to say that in many ways, it was tougher than the NCAA DI tournament. You hear people say these words, but it doesn't really dawn on you until you take into consideration that Carlton Haselrig of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, a three time NCAA DII champion & three time NCAA DI champion never won a Midlands title. If that testimony doesn't result in "case closed" for how incredibly tough the Midlands was at one time, nothing else will.  At the 1986 Midlands after a close 5-4 match with Arizona State's Rod Severn in the semi-finals, Haselrig was bested by Olympic legend Bruce Baumgartner 8-4 in the finals. In 1987, Haselrig dropped a 6-5 decision to Tom Erikson in the semi-finals, coming back to capture 3rd.  What I loved about this time era, and I wrote about extensively in my series Post Grads At the Midlands is that we got to see some of our fantasy matches. Today we sit and ponder, "Well as good as Gable Steveson is, how would he have done against Steve Mocco? Or Tommy Rowlands? Or Cole Konrad?"  We'll never know.  Back in the day though, because of how the Midlands was structured, there were times when we actually got to find out.  I think that's pretty cool & could be a selling point for wrestling once again. I digress. 

Dave Yahner's Fight Through The Consolations 

When looking through the non-DI talent to have memorable runs at the Midlands, Pittsburgh Johnstown's Dave Yahner's 1988 run is most impressive. The DII wrestler started off his Midlands tournament with a round one loss to Arizona State All American Jim Gressley in a 9-4 decision. Wrestling as if his life depended on it, he defeated Northwestern's Mike Funk a four time All American, 5-5 t.b.  He then defeated Dominic Black a All American for West Virginia 2-0. Having to face Gressley once again in the consolation semi-finals, this time it was Yahner who would get his hand raised in a 9-9 t.b. victory.  Yahner would finish 4th as he also finished 4th at the NCAA DII championships later that season.  He would go on to earn two more DII All American honors, placing 8th in 1990 & 3rd in 1991. 

Jim Gruenwald Puts Maranatha Baptist On the Map At Midlands 

As fate would have it, in the same write-up I go from one of wrestling's most polarizing figures to writing about one of wrestling's most benevolent.  Off the mat, Jim Gruenwald is one of the most encouraging, inspiring and charitable souls you'll ever meet. On the mat, it was a different story. When he entered the 1989 Midlands championships, I highly doubt anyone had ever heard of Marantha Baptist. I'd wager to say that even fewer realized they had a wrestling team. You see, Marantha Baptist at the time doesn't even really fit into any of the above categories.  While it wasn't NCAA DI, it wasn't NCAA DII, DIII, NAIA or NJCAA either.  Being in Wisconsin, it clearly wasn't CCCAA.  If you guessed that it might have been USCAA, you'd be wrong there too.  While the Sabercats eventually did compete in both the NAIA & the NCAA DIII during their time on the mat, they were for a long period, a varsity status school whose only post-season competition involved the unofficial NCCAA championships.  National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association.  

At the 1989 Midlands championships, Gruenwald placed 4th.  In 1991, his only loss was to Iowa's Tom Brands in the semi-finals as he came back to place 3rd. Along the way he defeated Cleveland State All American Dan Carcelli 3-2.  In his final year of collegiate competition, Gruenwald would once again take 3rd place honors at the Midlands. This time, his only loss being to North Carolina legend T.J. Jaworsky, once again in the semi-finals. In route to 3rd place, he defeated Michigan State All American Phil Judge 9-6 & future MMA star Kenny Johnson 2-1.  Post college, Gruenwald would win PAN-AMERICAN bronze. 

Non DI Talent At the Midlands = 1990's Coming soon! 

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