By Alan Grosbach, Manager of Communications and Sports Information
TOPEKA, Kan. – (Schedule | Press Book) The 59th annual NAIA Wrestling National Championships, presented by USA Wrestling-Kansas, open action Friday at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan. The capital city of the sunflower state hosts the national championships for the third-straight season. Championship bouts are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. CST on Saturday. Official brackets for the 10 weight classes will be announced Thursday evening on www.NAIA.org.
For the first time in the history of the NAIA, the first three sessions and all six mats will be live streamed at the NAIA Wrestling National Championships on www.NAIANetwork.com. Fans will be able to find the specific match they're looking for using the interactive live scoring system Trackwrestling. The title bouts (session 4) will be delivered on ESPN3.
Automatic individual qualification for the 2016 NAIA Wrestling National Championships was achieved by a top three finish at one of the six National Qualifiers. The remainder of the expanded 240-wrestler field was filled with at-large individuals. Each of the six qualifying groups received five wildcards, which were chosen by the group's coaches at a post-qualifier meeting. The other 30 individuals were determined by a national selection committee, which consisted of two representatives from each geographic area. Up to 15 nominations from each group were considered and voted upon by the group.
Three defending national champions headline the field – Davion Caston of Campbellsville (Ky.) (133 pounds), Ricky McCarty of Oklahoma City (165 pounds) and Gabi Musallam of Missouri Valley (285 pounds). All three individuals received an automatic berth after winning their respective qualifying group championships and are a combined 59-4 on the season.
Colby Crank of Baker (Kan.) (157 pounds) and Jake Ekster of Missouri Valley (141 pounds) are the only three-time All-Americans in the field. Ekster, who has never finished worse than third in three trips to the national championships, and Crank, who highlights his career with a runner-up finish at 149 in 2014, are still searching for that illusive first national title.
Each weight class will have at least one returning All-American in action, with the 197-pound event showcasing six All-Americans, including that last two national runners-up in Garrett DeMers of Montana State-Northern (2015) and Stephen Loosbrock of Benedictine (Kan.) (2014).
On the team side, Grand View (Iowa) enters the championship looking for an unprecedented fifth-straight national title. If the Vikings claim the banner, they will be the only program in NAIA history to accomplish the feat and become fifth program in collegiate wrestling history (NAIA, NJCAA, NCAA) to win five-consecutive championships. The other programs to do so are NCAA Division I Iowa (six-straight (1995-2000) and nine-straight (1978-86)), NCAA Division I Oklahoma State (seven-straight (1937-1949)), NCAA Division II Cal State-Bakersfield (five-straight (1979-1983)) and NCAA Division II Cal Poly (seven-straight (1968-1974)).
The Vikings bring one of the largest teams to Topeka with 11 individuals, including three ranked atop their respective weight class in the final regular-season edition of the NAIA Wrestling Coaches' Top 20 Poll – Jacob Colon (133 pounds), Tanner Werner (157 pounds) and Michael Pixley (184 pounds). Dallas Houchins at 165 pounds is the most decorated grappler for Grand View. He is a two-time All-American, including a runner-up finish in 2014.
In addition to Grand View, Indiana Tech (11), Oklahoma City (11), Campbellsville (10), Concordia (Neb.) (10), Missouri Valley (10), Montana State-Northern (10) and Williams Baptist (Ark.) (10) also had double-digit individuals qualify.
In the event's 59-year history, 111 institutions have had an individual finish atop the podium. Former NAIA member Simon Fraser (B.C.) boasts the most individual champions with 39, while Southern Oregon is second with 36, followed by Montana State-Northern with 30.
There have been 19 programs to previously take home the team title. Former NAIA members Adams State (Colo.) and Central State (Okla.) each took home eight, the most in 58 years. Of the current NAIA programs, Montana State-Northern leads the way with six national championships, with the last coming in 2004.
For more information on the NAIA Wrestling National Championship, click here.