On the second day of the NCAA Division III National Championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, junior Mike Denver carried much more than the 184 pounds he had used to keep his hopes alive in his first trip to the tournament.
His first Saturday bout would not only decide his All-America fate, as he needed a win to claim the honor, but he was the College’s last chance to add a link in a 37-year-old chain of excellence. At least one Lion had claimed All-America honors each year without fail since 1972, when the achievement was first created.
Denver, a No. 5 seed in his weight class, squared off in the consolation bracket against No. 6-seeded Todd Becker of Wartburg College, a junior and Iowa native. As Denver outlasted Becker 6-4 in overtime, he claimed at least a top-eight national finish at 184 pounds, along with a spot next to a list of 134 past College wrestlers who became NCAA All-Americans to cap off their seasons.
“It feels great to be an all-American and be part of such a great tradition,” Denver said.
In spite of his accomplishments, the junior still wishes he could have placed higher.
“I’m happy with being an all-American but I am not content or satisfied with taking seventh place,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong seventh in the nation is nice to say and has a nice ring to it, but not as good as saying you’re a national champ, it’s all or nothing.”
In his next bout, Denver took on Coe College’s No. 1-seeded senior, Tyler Burkle, who had been upset by a No. 8 seed earlier in the tournament. Burkle defeated him 9-2, sending Denver to the seventh-place bout, which would decide his final place in the weight class.
Denver outlasted John Carroll University senior Ben Adams 8-7 to finish seventh nationally at 184 pounds.
“I feel as though I performed pretty well for it being my first time out there,” Denver said. “The coaches were telling us all week that ‘you have to make the most out of every chance you get because you might not make it back here again so take advantage.’ I think
that played a big part in my success out there especially when I was tired and had to push through to achieve what I wanted.”
“We were happy with (Denver’s) performance,” head coach David Icenhower said. “This was (his) first time ever at a major tournament, as he never qualified for the state tournament in high school.”
Denver’s 3-2 performance also gave him a final season record of 45-4, tying 1994-95’s John Johnson for the most wins by a Lions in a single season.
Also representing the College at the tournament were junior Ed Broderick at 285 pounds and sophomores Kyle Packer and Dan Herr at 165 and 133 pounds, respectively.
None of the three were able to tally a win in the tournament.
Herr, unseeded entering the tournament, suffered a bit of bad luck, falling to a No. 7 seed before facing off against No. 2-seeded freshman Nate Fitzenreider of North Central College. Fitzenreider defeated Herr 13-5, as Herr finished his season with a record of 31-8.
At 165 pounds, Packer, also unseeded, snapped his 10-match win-streak after a difficult 1-0 loss to sophomore Joey Favia of Stevens Institute of Technology. In the consolation bracket, Packer fell to unseeded freshman Jordan Schulte of University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, 8-2.
Broderick fell to Coe College’s No. 7-seeded senior Mitch Sander 4-1, and later fell in 6:37 to Wilmington’s senior Adam Salyers in the consolation bracket. Broderick finished the season with a 27-9 record.
“I feel as though (Herr, Packer and Broderick) wrestled very well,” Denver said. “All of us, except for (Broderick), were first time national qualifiers and (he) had eight returning all-Americans in his weight class, the most of the entire tournament. I feel we wrestled very well for such a young group of guys.”
Coach Icenhower added, “I thought the other three did well but was disappointed in the fact they did not place,” he said. “I feel the end of the season injuries to two of our captains hurt the whole team mentally. Both Dan DiColo and Tyler Branham could have placed high at the National tournament and it affected the team.”