CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa Home Sweet Home.
Ever since Nick LeClere made Coe College his home, the Kohawks senior has never lost a match at Eby Fieldhouse.
So, there was no better host for his final chance at an Iowa Conference title.
The top-ranked 165-pounder captured his first conference crown, beating Wartburg's No. 2 ranked Landon Williams, 8-6, in the finals of the IIAC Wrestling Championships last night at Eby Fieldhouse. While LeClere won his first, Wartburg continued its dominance with its 20th straight team title, scoring 193 1/2 points, topping runner-up Coe by 36 1/2.
The title was especially sweet since Friday was LeClere's first action since injury a medial collateral ligament in his knee Jan. 14.
"It feels great in front of our home crowd to be on top of the podium and get that first conference title," said LeClere, who failed to advance out of the IIAC semifinals the last two years. "It could have been a little better, but a win is a win."
LeClere jumped to a 2-0 lead, scoring a takedown 18 seconds into the match, but Williams answered for a 3-2 lead by the end of the first, and a 4-3 lead in the third after they exchanged escapes. LeClere hit an underarm spin and then switched to a single-leg before rolling Williams to his back with a grandly roll for the decisive five-point move.
"I got in a little desperation there and put myself in a position I knew how to be in and realized that," LeClere said. "I knew there was short time left and I was behind so I've used that move in the past and was comfortable with it. It went great."
It didn't go so well when time expired. LeClere was consumed by confusion when the referee raised Williams' hand by mistake. LeClere worried that the nearfall points were against him and not for him.
"At first I knew I won then he raised the other guy's hand," said LeClere, who questioned the official with Coe Coach John Oostendorp briefly trying to get him off the mat. "I looked at the score and it was in my favor. I think the ref just made a mistake."
LeClere, a two-time All-American and 2011 NCAA runner-up, received a good indication of his capability after the injury.
"This was a good test to see where I'm at," LeClere said. "Coming into this national tournament, I think this is the best test. This is going to show me where I'm at with my shape and my timing. If I work on those things I can spread that gap even wider and be on the top of the podium at nationals."
Coe teammate Jordan Westfall made his debut in the Iowa Conference tournament a memorable one. The Kohawk senior captured the 133-pound title with a 2-1 victory over Wartburg's seventh-ranked Tommy Mirocha in the finals.
His reversal in the second was the difference.
"I had some tough matches out there," said Westfall, who beat Mirocha in an overtime thriller at the end of January. "That's the way it goes. It's a tough conference. You take them any way you can get them."
Westfall has put in his time, and received praise from Oostendorp.
"I'm happy for him," Oostendorp said. "He has been in our program four years, and cut down a weight class his senior year. I think he's getting better all the time."
Westfall, ranked 10th, reached the finals by avenging a loss to ninth-ranked Tigue Snider of Cornell. He wants to make the most of his opportunity to close his career with a national tournament appearance.
"I'm excited," Westfall said. "I've never got to wrestle there before. It's my senior year. I'm going to just leave it all out there."
Coe's Dale Handley won the 157-pound title, giving the Kohawks a record three IIAC Champions in a season.
"Our guys continue to make gains," Oostendorp said. "That's what you look for."
Coe had eight qualifiers to the NCAA tournament, but heavyweight Alex Burkle was on his way to winning the title before crumbling to the ground at the end of the second period. He injury defaulted and was one crutches immediately after the match. Oostendorp was not sure of the severity of the injury.
The top-ranked Knights remained in their IIAC perch, crowning five champions and advancing nine to the NCAA tournaments. Kenny Anderson (125), Kodie Silvestri (141), Bradley Banks (174), two-time 197-pound national champion Byron Tate and heavyweight Ryan Fank all won titles. It was the 22nd straight year they crowned multiple conference champions, in addition to two decades of team titles.
"I'm happy, happy, happy," Wartburg Jim Miller said. "I was more nervous about this one than a lot of them.
"I've never put a number to them before."
Wartburg has six new starters for the two-time defending NCAA champions. Miller said he heard from many alumni, parents and supporters about the importance of this year's team title. Just like the IIAC dual win streak and national duals title, this team rose to the occasion.
"I'm just proud of them," Miller said. "They've knocked down everything we've put in front of them."
Luther placed third with four NCAA qualifiers, including finalists Kyle Windquist (141) and 197-pounder Trent Flegel. Norse freshman heavyweight Conner Herman entered the tournament seeded sixth and grabbed the weight's final automatic berth, placing third with a 2-1 win over Cornell's Carl Gaul.
Herman overturned previous decisions to Buena Vista's Matt Sefcik and Gaul to advance to the NCAA tournament.
"Those were pretty big matches to avenge my losses," Herman said. "It means a lot."
Herman was a state champion and two-time medalist for Cedar Rapids Jefferson. He originally planned to attend Coe to play football and wrestle, changing his mind and deciding to wrestle for Luther. It was a nice homecoming, having family and J-Hawk assistant Rob Martin in attendance.
"It feels real good," Herman said. "It's nice to get texts from people back in my high school, saying congrats. It feels like people are still watching me even though I'm gone."
Cornell finished fourth, advancing five to the NCAA tournament. The Rams were led by third-place finishers Tigue Snider (133), Michael Buhr (141), Joe Hambleton (165) and 197-pounder Alex Coolidge. Cornell 125-pounder Tim Hood, a returning All-American ranked third, placed fourth and received the lone wild-card berth from the IIAC coaches.
One more wild-card qualifier will be selected by the NCAA Division III Wrestling Committee next week. The NCAA D-III tournament will be March 8-9 at the La Crosse Center in La Crosse, Wis.