CEDAR RAPIDS – One good day made an entire rough season worth it.
Coe’s Jimmy Gotto battled through injury and self-doubt this season, making his achievement even sweeter.
The Kohawks’ junior rode Heidelberg’s Delian Schneider the entire third period for a 5-4 win in the 125-pound quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. Gotto assured himself of All-American honors for the second straight season with the victory, while Wartburg had seven All-Americans, dominating the team race with a team record of 19-8 on the first day.
“My coaches wouldn’t let me make an excuse for anything,” Gotto said. “They made me keep working hard at it. I worked hard. They kept instilling that confidence in me slowly building me back up to where I was last year. It’s all paying off now.”
The earlier struggles seemed an All-American finish seemed far away. The Coe coaches propped him up, motivating to get better every day.
“Honestly, I didn’t,” Gotto said. “I was taking a lot of close losses and rough matches. I started questioning myself and my ability. I can’t say enough about my coaches and how much they believed in me and how much that their belief and faith in me wears on you.”
Gotto’s toughness showed in his two matches Friday. He opened with a tough 2-1 victory over third-seeded Paul Bewak of Johns Hopkins. In the quarterfinals, Gotto (14-7) surrendered the opening takedown to Schneider and answered with a reversal before Schneider’s escape gave him a 3-2 lead.
Gotto added a takedown in the second, which ended tied at four. Gotto rode Schneider the final two minutes, securing a point for riding time.
“That is the way Jimmy is going to have to win,” Coe coach John Oostendorp said. “He’s not going to go out there and slick anybody. He’s going to make it physical, hard-nosed action and fight his way to the win.
“He showed a lot to put a tough ride on for the third period.”
The adversity of the season prepared him for the adversity of falling behind in an important match.
“I love that fight,” Gotto said. “I love to get pushed mentally. I loved being able to come back and break my opponent. He was a tough kid but he wasn’t conditioned for the fight like I was. He doesn’t have the coaches or teammates I do. I came out with the win, because I never stopped wrestling or believing in my ability.”
Gotto faces unseeded Christopher Donaldson of Ursinus in the semifinals for chance to contend for a title.
He’s been a gamer last year and this year, winning big matches to get to nationals and being an All-American,” Oostendorp said. “He has another big one (Saturday) to reach the finals.”
The Knights took control of the team race early winning their first 16 matches, including a 12-0 in the first session and sending all 10 wrestlers to the quarterfinals. They put themselves in position for their third straight team title, fifth in last six years and 10th overall, and send coach Jim Miller into coaching retirement on top.
Wartburg has five semifinalists with 66 points and leads UW-Whitewater by 20. Elmhurst is third with 39 ½, seven points ahead of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“It got tougher and we lost some that we shouldn’t have,” Miller said. “We won some close ones too. It’s a battle and that’s what the national tournament is going to be. It is always going to be a battle.”
NCAA champions and top-seeded Kenney Anderson (133), Kodie Silvestri (149) and Landon Williams (165) each advanced. Anderson and Silvestri cruised, but Williams had to survive two straight overtime matches to advance.
Williams scored a takedown with nine seconds left in sudden victory overtime to beat University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Jordan Schulte, 5-3. It came after a 6-4 sudden victory win over Waynesburg’s Sam Giudi in the opening round.
“I haven’t been wrestling my greatest right now,” Williams said. “I fought as hard as I could and pulled through on conditioning.”
Those wins are a result of mental toughness. Williams said he wanted it more than his foes.
“It is all fight and guts, because both of us are tired obviously,” Williams said. “It shows I put in more work throughout the year in order to make those little positions count.”
Wartburg’s streak was extended by 141-pounder Tommy Mirocha, who posted the Knights first upset of the tournament. Mirocha, seeded seventh, trailed most of the match before, scoring a takedown with 13 seconds left and hanging on as time expired for a 9-8 win over second-seeded Ryan Earley of Elmhurst.
“I had to shoot the two I took for takedowns,” Mirocha said. “If I’m shooting and scoring he’s not, so that last little bit of the match I got it in my mind that this is a guy I might beat. I win this match and it makes the rest of the road easier for me.”
Cornell’s second-seeded 197-pounder Alex Coolidge also took a rocky road to the semifinals. Coolidge scored a takedown 13 seconds into the one-minute sudden victory overtime to beat Wheaton’s Darren Faber, 6-4.
Coolidge (28-3) beat former All-American Nathan Schmitz, of Concordia-Moorhead, 2-1 in an overtime tiebreaker, in his opening bout.
The goal is to win a title, but the junior has at least earned All-American honors after qualifying last season. Work remains and Cornell Coach Mike Duroe hopes reaching the podium eases some of the pressure.
“He has not let himself open up and I’m hopefully (Saturday) he can relax and show people in the arena what he can do,” Duroe said. “He’s a scoring machine. He can score 10 points in the first period, if he’s on.”
Luther advanced Evan Obert (133) and 197-pounder Trent Flegel into the quarterfinals. Obert lost a 5-3 decision to Ithaca’s Alex Gomez, but rebounded to win his consolation match to become an All-American. Heidelberg’s Andrew Lovins added a point for riding time to edge Flegel, 2-1. Flegel and Kyle Windquist (141) also won wrestleback matches to give the Norse three All-Americans.
“Lots of ups and downs in a national tournament,” Luther coach Dave Mitchell said. “That’s why you have to get guys ready to fight, and that’s what it comes down to more than anything else.”