Wartburg Wrestling Coach Gets National Honor
Coming off a string of four straight NCAA Championships, Wartburg wrestling Coach Eric Keller was tasked with building a competitive team from a group that returned just three of the 103.5 points the Knights scored at the 2014 national finals.
Keller took that inexperienced lineup to a runner-up finish at the 2015 NCAA Championships in Hershey, Pa. last month. For his efforts, the Wartburg coach has been named National Coach of the Year by d3wrestle.com.
The Knights began the season unranked for the first time in recent memory, but quickly climbed the rankings as the season progressed. It took time for Wartburg to assert itself as a top team.
An 18-16 setback at Wisconsin-La Crosse in the third meet of the season turned out to be the only blemish on Wartburg's dual record this season. As the new starting lineup began to perform, the team finished with an 18-1 record and ran its Iowa Conference dual meet winning streak to 181.
By the end of the season, the Wartburg lineup consisted of one returning starter from 2014, one freshman, two transfers, and six wrestlers who were backups the year before. This group included Andrew Steiert, the No. 1 seed at 165 pounds at the NCAA Championships; and Brandon Welter, the #4 seed at 174 at the NCAA Championships. Both were starters for the first time this year, and both had wrestled 149 in 2014.
Wartburg sophomore Kenny Martin filled the void at 149. The junior college transfer was the Knights' only individual champion this year. In 2014, he failed to place in the NJCAA Championships.
Wartburg began the postseason with a 40-point win in the Central Region and took nine wrestlers to the NCAA Championships, all of whom were seeded. Only 133-pounder Connor Campo was a starter the year before, and he had gone 0-2 at the Championships.
The Knights entered the tournament ranked No. 1 nationally, but finished second following an unexpected championship run from Augsburg. Wartburg had eight All-Americans and a pair of finalists.
It's the second time that d3wrestling.com has recognized Keller as National Coach of the Year. He shared the honor with Jim Miller in 2012 when both men were co-coaching the Knights.