DUBUQUE — The burn Alex Coolidge feels has become the fire that pushes him closer to his ultimate goal.
The top-ranked 197-pound Cornell senior was an NCAA runner-up last season but felt the same disappointment while doing so that he had when he failed to reach the podium as a sophomore. Coolidge has been powered by that unwanted sensation.
“It’s hard,” Coolidge said. “I let it motivate me every day. I don’t let it hold me back, though. It just burns a fire in me each day.”
Coolidge captured his second straight title at the NCAA Division III Central Region title Saturday at the Five Flags Center, advancing to the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships March 14-15 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
Coolidge (25-4) has grown mentally and has a stronger awareness of his potential. With two more weeks of solid training, he’s prepared to claim a title — the one he didn’t a year ago.
“Last year, I was still skeptical of my ability,” Coolidge said. “I didn’t trust myself. I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable.”
Coolidge looked at ease while building 7-0 lead and eventually pinning Wartburg’s fourth-ranked Puna Soriano in 5:32. He came out on top of a strong bracket that featured four ranked wrestlers vying for three national tournament berths.
“The finals felt good,” Coolidge said. “I knew my game plan for that match and executed it. It turned out well for me.”
The Rams had four NCAA qualifiers, including runner-up Trevor Engle at 149. Former Iowa City High prep Brent Hamm placed third at 174, and 133-pounder Phillip Opelt also placed third, knocking off 2013 NCAA finalist and second-ranked Jimmy Gotto of Coe in the third-place match.
Opelt (22-12) used a big five-point in the first period for an 8-1 lead.
“It was huge,” said Opelt, a freshman. “I felt he broke after that. I felt I had the match.”
Coe still managed to qualify six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships, which was second only to three-time defending champion Wartburg, which won the team title with nine qualifiers.
The Kohawks doubled the number of qualifiers from a year ago, led by 157-pound champion Dimitri Boyer. The second-ranked Boyer beat Loras’ No. 3 Steve DeWitt, 6-3, in the championship. He appears to be hitting his stride at the right time of year.
“I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been right now,” said Boyer, who improved to 28-6. “All year I’ve been working toward this. I had a slow start, but I’m wrestling better.”
Boyer led throughout scoring the opening takedown in the first, adding a second period escape, and closing with a takedown in the third. He gave himself a reminder to be aggressive and it paid dividends.
“I said you might as well go all out and go as hard as you can every second,” Boyer said. “Good things will come.”
Boyer returns to the NCAA tournament, looking to improve a 1-2 mark there last year. He has a sense of urgency, knowing this is the last chance to utilize all the skills he has built his a youth to win gold.
“It’s all or nothing. This is my last shot,” Boyer said. “It’s time to put it all on the line and prove myself as one of the best in the nation.”
Coe’s Ethan Ball will make his third NCAA tournament appearance, placing second at 174. The Kohawks’ Ryan Sheldon, a former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep, will compete in the national tournament, placing second at 184. Farai Sewera 9165), Donnie Horner (197) and heavyweight Corey Becker will make their NCAA tournament debuts after placing third.
Luther had two NCAA qualifiers, getting a title from 184-pounder Jayden DeVilbiss and a runner-up finish from Evan Obert at 133.
DeVilbiss dominated his way to his second straight regional title, pinning Sheldon in 3:24. He pinned his way through the bracket, ending all four before the third period.
DeVilbiss (31-9) was making arrangements to join a spring sport before breaking out with an Outstanding Wrestler award-winning performance here a year ago. Now, he expected to be heading to the national tournament.
“Last year, I had already talked to the track coach about being at practice the next Monday,” DeVilbiss admitted. “I’m a lot more confident this year.”
DeVilbiss finished a match away from All-America honors in 2013. The eighth-ranked DeVilbiss is ready for a championship run in two weeks. He said he hopes the impressive performance put him in a better position.
“This was a boost,” DeVilbiss said. “Hopefully, it will help with getting a better seed (at the national tournament).”
Two former area preps earned NCAA berths. Wartburg two-time All-American and second-ranked Ryan Fank captured the heavyweight title, beating No. 2 James Buss, of Loras, 8-1, in the finals. The Knights’ Brett Yonkovic placed third at 157 pounds, advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time.
Wartburg crowned six champions, scoring 159 points. Coe was second with 127. Luther and Cornell rounded out the top four with 95 and 91 points, respectively.