Pair of former Elizabeth Forward wrestlers advance to Division III Championships
The Elizabeth Forward wrestling community's heart has shifted to the nation's heartland as two of its favorite sons will try to reach the NCAA Division III podium reserved for 2014 All-Americans.
Seniors Josh Etzel of Washington & Jefferson and Cameron Fine of Waynesburg arrived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday to continue preparations for their opening matches Friday at the two-day Division III Championships at U.S. Cellular Center.
“It's been fun seeing Josh off and on because our teams compete a lot and we're often in the same events,” said Fine, who will make his first appearance in the national tournament. “It's pretty rare for two guys from a high school that didn't always have the numbers to put together a solid team all the way through the lineup to be at nationals. Even though we're competitors now, I'll always cheer for Josh.”
Etzel has qualified for his third national tournament. Like Fine, he's excited to be reuniting with his former teammate.
“We see each other a lot when we're back home,” Etzel said. “I'm happy for him this season.”
Both qualified for the Division III Championships with top-three finishes at the NCAA Mideast regional at York (Pa.). Both were runners-up in their respective weight classes after posting 3-1 records at the event.
Etzel lost a 7-5 overtime decision to Jon Garrison of Mount Union in the 157-pound championship match, and Fine fell to David Dibenedetto of Washington & Jefferson, 2-0, in the 184-pound title bout despite besting Dibenedetto, 4-1, at the Presidents' Athletic Conference Championships.
Etzel enters the national tournament with a record of 31-3 and 99 career victories. He placed sixth last season to earn NCAA All-America honors, the first Presidents wrestler to record a top-eight NCAA finish since 2002.
“It's been a process,” he said. “I reached my goal of becoming an All-American last year. Now this year, my goal is to win a national championship. I feel pretty confident.”
One of three W&J wrestlers to qualify for the national tournament, Etzel draws a tough assignment in his opener Friday, facing the winner of a match between top-seeded Nazar Kulchytskyy (37-2) of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, a two-time national champion (at 157 in 2012 and 165 in 2013), and Kristopher Krawchuk (15-6) of Wilkes, the national runner-up at 157 in 2013.
Etzel is bidding to become just the fourth W&J wrestler to reach 100 career victories.
Waynesburg, which finished third in the team scoring at the regional event, also qualified three wrestlers for nationals — Fine among them.
“This is the first year that Cam has started for us,” Waynesburg coach Ron Headlee said. “He's been in and out of our lineup a lot, and it's easy to get frustrated in that situation. He'd been stuck behind some really good kids, but Cam stuck with it. I just knew when he got his chance in the lineup that he could do well.”
Fine (31-3), who leads Waynesburg with 12 pins, including four in a total of 2 minutes, 18 seconds at the Ohio Northern Invitational, opens the national tournament against Josh Thomson (45-5) of Messiah. Like Etzel, it is a challenging draw. Thomson's 40 victories lead all wrestlers in the Division III Championships bracket.
“It's been a lot of hard work to get here,” Fine said. “I've had to overcome a lot of adversity and injuries, especially this year. Through all of that, you just have to stay focused if you want to achieve your goal. I attribute a lot of it to being in the weight room, running and just the encouragement I get from my teammates.
“This is surreal being here, but it's setting in now. I'm really just focused and determined. I'm grateful to be able to wrestle here.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.