Friday, October 24, 2008 12:07 PM CDT
Knights eager to duplicate '08 run
By JIM NELSON, Courier Sports Writer
WAVERLY --- Short memories are almost a requirement for anybody wishing to wrestle for Wartburg College.

The six-time Division III national champions don't dwell on success or failure for an extended period of time.

In the record books, the Knights are the defending national champions.

Head coach Jim Miller returns three individual national champions and six all-Americans from last year's squad and will open the 2008-09 season as the proverbial favorites to win it all.

But as Miller sees it, his team still has question marks.

"It's pretty much the same question as every year in, can you win it or not?" Miller said Thursday during Wartburg's media day. "That is where we are at.

We've finished first or second 14 out of the last 16 years, and we're going to try to put ourselves in position to try and win it again.

"But we still have a lot of work to do before we get to that point. We have some concerns and are concerned about some weights."

Veteran leadership usually is a key to winning national championships, and the Knights have plenty of it with defending champions Jacob Naig (149), Aaron Wernimont (157) and Romeo Djoumessi (184).

In addition, three other upperclassmen Matt Kelly (133), Zach McKray (141) and Justin Hanson (165) have all reached the podium at nationals.

That said, it doesn't matter to the Knights.

"Coach never says you are or we are a defending national champion," Wernimont said. "He said something to me that means a lot to me. He said whatever happened last year, you're going to have that forever, so as far as another individual title and team title, put what happened last year behind you and go on and try to get another like it's any other year."

Djoumessi puts it more succinctly.

"I like to think of myself as still hungry," Djoumessi said. "I'm going for my first one (national title), not my second one. Right now, I'm just working for my first one."

The Knights graduated four all-Americans from last year's squad, including three national runner-ups --- Jake Helvey (133), T.J. Miller (197) and Brian Borchers (Hwt.), as well as two-time all-American Robert Struthers (125).

However, Kelly moved down a weight to take Helvey's spot, recreating a position for McKray in the lineup. Mark Kist transferred from Iowa State where he was a part-time starter last year to fill Struthers role, while Craig Kreman returns at 174 and John Helgerson, who beat the No. 1 ranked heavyweight in the nation last year as reserve, should handle the heavyweight position.

The biggest question mark comes at 197. In five of the last six seasons, the Knights have had either the national champion or national runner-up.

Junior Nick Shandri is the early front-runner, while freshman Mickey Sprague of Cedar Rapids Prairie and Byron Tate of Clinton are likely to see action.

"I like the guys we have, like our team," Miller said. "We have better depth. Last year we had around 30 athletes in the room and now we're about at 45. We have some great leaders who work hard and are motivated. Leadership is always a key when you're trying to win a championship."

Wartburg opens defense of its title Nov. 8 at the Pointer Open at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Contact Jim Nelson at (319) 291-1521 or

2008-09 Schedule

Nov. 8 - at Pointer Open

Nov. 15 ? at Harold Nichols Open (Ames)

Nov. 22 ? at Coe Turkey Open (Cedar Rapids), Augsburg Brute-Adidas Open (Minneapolis), Concordia Open (Mequon, Wis.)

Dec. 3 ? at Loras

Dec. 6 ? at Simpson Invitational

Dec. 13 ? Dick Walker Invitational

Dec. 21 ? at Vegas Duals

Jan. 2-3 ? at Cornell Matmen Invite, at Flash Flanagan Open (Dubuque)

Jan. 10-11 ? at NWCA National Duals (Cedar Falls)

Jan. 16 ? Buena Vista

Jan. 17 ? at Luther

Jan. 24 ? at Iowa Conference Duals (Dubuque)

Jan. 30 ? at Augsburg

Jan. 31 ? Delaware Valley, at Grand View Open

Feb. 3 ? at Cornell

Feb. 7 ? Central, at Loras Duhawk Open

Feb. 17 ? IIAC tournament at Luther

March 6-7 ? at NCAA Nationals (Cedar Rapids)