TOPEKA, Kan. – The Lindsey Wilson wrestling team posted its best-ever team finish at the 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships held at the Kansas Expocentre on Saturday in Topeka, Kansas.
The Blue Raiders racked up 74.5 total team points to earn national runner-up status, finishing behind only Grand View (Iowa), who shattered its own tournament scoring record with 234.5 points en route to a sixth-consecutive team national title.
Lindsey Wilson's previous best result came in 2015, when the Blue Raiders placed third.
LWC sent four competitors to the podium on Saturday. Daniel Leonard (ranked No. 9 at 149 pounds), Cam Tessari (No. 1 at 157 pounds), Rhodes Bell (No. 10 at 174) and Matt Walker (No. 4 at 184 pounds) all placed in the top eight of their respective weight classes to earn NAIA All-American distinctions.
The Blue Raiders now have 32 All-Americans in eight seasons as a program.
Tessari and Bell placed second at 157 and 174 pounds, respectively, after falling in their championship bouts in tightly-contested matches.
Tessari began Saturday with a semifinal matchup with fourth-seeded Nate Croley of Cumberland (Tenn.). The Monroeville, Ohio native won the showdown 3-2 after riding Croley for the entire third period.
The junior grappler then squared off with second-seeded Brandon Weber from Montana-State Northern in the championship bout.
After a scoreless first period, Tessari elected to begin the second period on bottom. He reversed Weber midway through the period but soon yielded an escape. Heading into the final period, Tessari led 2-1.
Weber started on bottom in the third period and leveled the tilt just 10 seconds in on an escape. Tessari had an opportunity to win the match in its dying seconds, but could not convert a takedown as the long-limbed Weber held strong on defense.
The match then went to SV-1, where Weber, who was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the championships, won on a takedown inside the final 15 seconds.
Tessari's loss in the championship match was his lone defeat at the hands of an NAIA opponent this season. He finished the season with a 39-3 record.
Seventh-seeded Bell pushed into the finals with a 3-2 victory over Campbellsville's (Ky.) Justin Brown – the 11th-seeded wrestler at 174 pounds – in the semifinals.
Bell then drew top-seeded Lawton Benna of Grand View in the championship tilt, where he lost 3-2.
Benna led 2-1 after the first period on the strength of an early takedown. Bell then fell into a 3-1 hole in the second period after giving up an escape.
Bell started the third period in the down position and promptly escaped within three seconds to trail 3-2. The senior from Stanford, Kentucky then searched the remainder of the period for a decisive takedown – nearly gaining control of his opponent in a mad scramble in the closing seconds of the match – before ultimately falling just short.
Bell ended his Lindsey Wilson career with 101 total matches – the fourth most by a Blue Raider wrestler.
Leonard and Walker wrestled back through the consolation bracket to secure top-five finishes at 149 and 184 pounds, respectively.
Leonard won three matches on Saturday to take third place in his weight class.
The senior grappler handed seventh-seeded Thomas Garty of Indiana Tech a 12-2 major decision loss in his first match of the day.
Leonard then continued his push through the consolation bracket with a narrow 2-1 victory over 10th-seeded Jaedin Sklapsky from Campbellsville (Ky.). The match was tied 1-1 going into the third period. Leonard began the period on top and rode out Sklapsky for the entire two minutes to secure the ride time point and the win.
The Sherwood, Oregon native then drew fourth-seeded Tyler Cowger in the third-place match. It was a tightly-contested bout but Leonard won it 6-5 on an escape with less than thirty seconds remaining in the final period.
The third-place result is Leonard's best at the national tournament. The two-time NAIA All-American placed fourth at 141 pounds in 2015.
Leonard ended his Blue Raider wrestling career with 84 victories – the most all-time in program history – and appeared in the third-most matches (111).
Walker lost his first two matches of the day to drop into the fifth-place match at 184 pounds. He fell 7-2 to third-seeded Chuck Sharon of Campbellsville in his first consolation match on Saturday.
The second-seeded senior then faced ninth-seeded Joshua Chiles and lost a close one 2-1.
Walker concluded his collegiate wrestling career with a 7-5 victory over Cumberland's Kyle Delaune (ranked No. 5) in the fifth-place match.
The NAIA All-American nod is the second in Walker's career. He also finished third at 174 pounds in 2016.
Campbellsville finished 10 points behind the Blue Raiders in third place. Williams Baptist (Ark.) and Southern Oregon rounded out the top five.
After the conclusion of the competition, Lindsey Wilson head coach Corey Ruff was named the 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Coach of the Year for the first time in his career. The award was voted on by the coaches at the national championship and encompasses the entire 2016-17 season as well as the postseason competition.