Tuesday, March 7, 2023

JT#1's Final NAIA Thoughts


As always with a tournament like this, my emotions are all over the place. Things happen to excite me, while other things happen  that depress me. When you follow the sport as closely as I do, you can't help but get emotional about it. You follow these guys' careers from start to finish.  You want to see them go out on a high note & when that happens you're happy to see it. When it doesn't, it's rather depressing. I don't know any other sport that tugs at the heartstrings more than wrestling.  The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly....here at JT#1's final thoughts on the NAIA wrestling season. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 125 lbs 

That Brandon Orum of Life is something else. When it comes time to get to work, Orum just plain and simple gets down to business. His focus is unmatchable as he was always prepared. I believe he is a senior this season, so won't be seeing him again. I'll miss watching him. 

Was surprised to see Esco Walker of Grand View slip to 6th place. It happens sometimes. I think when you go into a tournament with a fixated focus on being a national champion, it can be hard to bounce back when that goal isn't attained. I thought he had eligibility left, but was just informed by a former teammate of his that this was his last year.  Good career. 

Isaac Crowell of Southeastern has been one of my favorites the past few years. Was hoping to see him finish out a little higher, but in a year like 2023, becoming a three time All American was one hell of an accomplishment.  7th-5th-7th at NAIA nationals. One heck of a career. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 133 lbs 

Gulomonjon Abdullaev (did I spell that right???) of Menlo could very well be our next four time NAIA champion. At this point he looks to be unstoppable & he has three more years of eligibility left! The future Uzbekistan World/Olympic medalist may very well be one of the best NAIA wrestlers of all time in the making. I'm talking the level of a guy like Daniel Igali.  Perhaps I'm off my hinges, but this guy impresses me. 

Carson Taylor of Grand View will go into the 2023-2024 now having placed 3rd & 2nd in the NAIA. Anxious to see if he stays at 133.  He was also 4th in 2021. 

Will miss seeing Matt Gimson of Indiana Tech in action.  Was expecting a bit more out of him this season & I don't mean that disparagingly. I really thought he'd challenge for a spot in the NAIA finals is all. Nevertheless great career with many accomplishments.  8th-3rd-8th in the national tournament. 

Ca'Ron Watson of Briar Cliff broke my heart twice this season. 3rd-3rd-3rd his first three seasons at the GPAC, I was really hoping to see him win the conference this year.  Came close as he took 2nd. Was also hoping to see him make All American. Again, came close as he finished out R12. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 141 lbs 

Boy this one was a bag of mixed emotions.  Shea Ruffridge of Grand View pulled off what has to be the biggest upset in NAIA history. Kept three time NAIA champion Baterdene Boldmaa from winning his fourth title.  He'll forever go down in the history books for this monumental achievement.  It's cool on a personal level to me because of my girlfiend's connection to the Ruffridge family.  Shea's father taught her P.E. classes & her brother went to school with Shea in elementary.  What an awesome way to end a marvelous career as a Viking. 

Let's talk about Boldmaa's courage and tenacity.  What a role model he was for young wrestlers in the way that he came back to take 3rd. He could have quietly disappeared into a 6th place showing, too heartbroken and distraught to make a comeback. Instead he showed the true heart of a champion by nabbing that bronze medal. Saw a picture of him later on where he was holding his bronze plaque with a huge smile on his face. He should have a huge smile on his face.  He deserves to.  Yeah my heart breaks for him that he didn't get to join the rare elite group of four timers, but to see him come back with such strength is truly inspiring. His collegiate career may be over, but I have a feeling his international career is just about to begin. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 149 lbs 

Silver.  2nd-2nd-2nd, Ryan Moore of Thomas More finishes out his illustrious career at a three time NAIA finalist. That has to make him one of the best of all time not to win an NAIA title doesn't it? 

I got sick to my stomach when I learned that Andreus Bond of Southeastern went 0-2 at the NAIA championships. A national champ in '21 he was 4th in '22. It just goes to show you how brutally tough & unforgiving the national tournament can be at times. Some records show Bond as being a senior, while others show that he has one year of eligibility left.  I hope it is the latter so that he can make a comeback next season. If not, can't look at only the end, gotta look at the whole career & his was a good one. 

Have always been a fan of the Gaxiola brothers. They're unorthodox, make it up as they go style can be quite entertaining to watch. Was hoping that Chris would get on the NAIA award stand. Came close with a R12 finish. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 157 lbs 

If you would have came up to me wanting to make a bet that Israel Casarez would have finished higher than Giovanny Bonilla, I'd have taken that bet & I would have lost! I never would have thought in a million years that I'd see Casarez finish higher on the podium than Bonilla. Just goes to show you that this tournament is absolutely Wild!  By the way, want a good laugh?  Wilder Wichman of Thomas More, who became a two time All American by placing 5th.  His name is pronounced Will-der or at least that's how I heard it pronounced by people who seemed like they knew what they were talking about. I've been calling him Wild-er, as in the NAIA's seem to get wilder every year.

Final NAIA Thoughts 165 lbs 

Now don't quote me on this, because I don't know for sure, but I think Rysan Leong of Menlo may very well have became the state of Hawaii's first NAIA national champion!  If he's not the first, he's gotta be one of the only.  Not only NAIA, but he has to be one of the only collegiate national champs from Hawaii, period.  I know for a fact that Travis Lee of Cornell, who won titles in both '03 & '05 is the only NCAA DI champion.  What makes Leong's accomplishment even more spectacular? He was 3rd in Cascade! 

UPDATE:  Someone just informed me that Blaysen Terukina of Menlo won an NAIA title & he's an Hawaiian!  So maybe Leong makes two?? Or are their more!?!?!? 

3rd-2nd-4th, the career of Marty Margolis of GVU comes to an end. Another Viking with an outstanding NAIA presence. 

Was depressed to see Keller Rock of Embry Riddle bow out of the tournament with injury.  Gawd, as you know it, I HATE injuries. The positive side is that he's still got two years of eligibility left.  Very confident that at least one, if not both seasons will result in All American showings. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 174 lbs 

Opinions vary, but as far as JT#1 is concerned, in the NAIA, 174 lbs was the toughest. What a stacked weight class.  I honestly think any of the four I have pictured, Gerardo Hernandez Vanguard, Isaiah Luellen Grand View, Riley Smucker Life or Nakoda Siegel of Montana State Northern could have been champion. Just so happens, this is the order they finished in. Tough, tough group of wrestlers. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 184 lbs 

3rd-2nd-3rd in his NAIA career, Ben Lee of Grand View makes yet another great wrestler who makes the list of, "best to never win an NAIA title."   

Was very cool to see Asher Eichert of Life have his redemption. 2nd at the 2021 NAIA championships, he finished a disappointing one match shy of All American status last year.  What a way to come back this year and put a stamp on it with a national championship. 

Final NAIA Thoughts 197 lbs 

5th & 3rd in previous NAIA tournament showings, Owen Braungardt of Grand View did what I thought no one was going to be able to do this season and that is keep Zane Lanham of Life from winning the NAIA title. Both I believe are seniors, who end their careers as two of the best at 197. Or so I thought...turns out both might still have one more year of eligibility? I tell you what, this COVID-19 stuff has me turned every which way but forward. It makes keeping up with eligibility near impossible. 

Have to, have to, have to throw in a word for Doane's Brad Antesberger.  What a show of tenacity! Loses in round two & comes all the way back to place 3rd!  That took guts & that took courage! 

Final NAIA Thoughts HWT 

Losing a heartbreaking 1 point decision in last year's NAIA finals, this season Greg Hagan of Grand View would NOT be denied. I was surprised how well he handled Austin Harris of Life in the finals. 

So many shocking things that happened this tournament, I still can't believe that Gage Bruan of Southeastern, last year's champion ended up going R12.  I mean as dominant as he was last year & pretty much all of this season, it just doesn't seem right.  Anything can happen in the sport of wrestling, and this is proof of it. 

With all of the great things that happened in this tournament, another heartbreaker for me was seeing Josh Isaac of Missouri Valley come up short of what would have been his third All American honor.  I have enjoyed watching this guy compete since he was a freshman. A guy that big shouldn't be able to move as gracefully as what he does. Was fun seeing someone defy the laws of physics with the quickness & agility he had.  Was hoping for a happier ending for him, but still a great career. 


That's that!  As always, as wordy and opinionated as I am, I could go on and on with thoughts.  Yet I realize not everyone has time to read an epic, so I try and condense them down as much as I can! 

Still have D3's, D2's & D1's to go!  Hope you're enjoying the season as much as I am! 

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