The Elmhurst men’s wrestling team captured the CCIW Championship this year — seventh in program history — when they narrowly won against Wheaton College. Augustana College hosted the conference championship where the Bluejays beat out the Thunder by 1.5 points, the second-closest championship in CCIW history.
Head Coach Steve Marianetti, CCIW’s “Coach of the Year”, commented after capturing the title. “It takes a lot of things falling into place to create a championship season,” he said.
Things did fall right into place for the Bluejays when Sophomore Caleb Ramos, Senior Jimmy Nehls, and Senior Blake Santi all won their respective weight class, while Sophomore Anthony Munoz, Freshman Keone Derain, and Junior Colton Kelly took third in their divisions.
EC seniors Mitch Morris, Nick Dinardo, and Zack Urbanski capped off the night by taking fourth place at the championship. Arguably the biggest match of the night was Urbanski’s match versus Wheaton’s Max Gierke. The result of the match would decide which team would walk out as champions.
“The score was real tight and it came down to one of the last matches of the night with our heavyweight, Zack,” said the tournament’s “Most Outstanding Wrestler,” Nehls, after the match. “He showed great leadership and we came out on top. It was an entire team effort.”
Urbanski went into his third place match against Wheaton Freshman Max Gierke with the Bluejays having a three and a half point lead over the defending conference champs, Wheaton College.
Urbanski ultimately lost to Gierke with a final score of 2-0, taking fourth place for the senior. However, Urbanski did not get pinned and by doing so he helped his team secure the championship.
The wrestling season lasts nearly five months at the division three level. The Bluejays went 6-2 while staying undefeated at home and away, as well as going 1-2 at neutral sites.
Sophomore Grant Smiley offered a player’s perspective on the season. “Wrestling is about working through the times that you’re not 100 percent,” he said. “Even though you might [not] feel great a certain day you can always control your mentality for the day. Your mind set has to be taking it one day at a time… coming in everyday with a good attitude.”
The team was led by a cast of 11 seniors , and the young guys on the team added a mixture of experience and youth.
Having known what it takes to compete at a collegiate level the older wrestlers already know what can happen during the season.
Two of those seniors, Santi and Nehls, both had the chance to wrestle for a National Championship.
“It means everything to me [to compete for the championship]… I have great supporters in my life who helped push me to this point and will continue to until my very last match,” Santi expressed.
Nehls also expressed his gratitude to those who helped him to the Nationals. “I am unbelievably thankful for the opportunity to be called a National Champion… I’ve had a lot of people... help me get [here] … all the coaches, Ryan Prater, Blake Santi, Keone Derain, all were very important throughout the year.”
Santi and Nehls wrestled at Nationals on March 11-12 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Santi started off by winning against Mason Bohm of Wisconsin-Platteville with a score of 15-3. Next he won his next match by in 19 second fall against Zach Wilhelm of Stevens Institute of Technology.
He would then win his third match in dominating fashion versus Joey Gaccione of Johnson and Whales College. Santi match up against Dan Mirman of John Carroll College, the second seed, in a barnburner. Santi lost the match by 8-9, putting him in the fifth place match.
In his fifth place match, he wrestled against Luther College’s Dakota Gray. Santi dominated the contest with a 16-1 technical fall. Nehls, second seed, started his tournament run by pinning Cornel College’s Josh Martin in two minutes and fourteen seconds.
Nehls then wrestled Nick Wahba of Ithaca college pulling of 7-5 victory. He would match up against a familiar foe in Chris Williams of Millikin College in his next match. Nehls would ultimately come up on top defeating Williams.
Nehls would match up against Nathniel Behnke for a spot in the title match and escaped with the win, 7-5, and finish with his final bout against Van Anrooy of Luther College.
Anrooy would ultimately win the 141 pound championship 10-2. For Nehls and Santi, they would walk away as All-Americans and help earn a team top-ten finish.
It is nearly impossible to remain healthy, especially in such a physical sport, most practices involve one person trying to bring his opponent down while the other is trying their hardest not to get brought down.
Injuries are bound to happen in that environment. “It takes a special breed to handle the long grind of a wrestling season,” Marianetti said in an interview.