Sophomores Dillan Schouw and Oliver Brukardt, along with juniors Jason Fraser and Trey Hicks, will compete for national titles at the event in their respective weight classes, beginning with the first of four sessions Friday. The championships are slated for Saturday.
“We’re really excited to be taking these four guys,” said Mike Miller, coach of the first-year program. “At the beginning of the year, and when I was out recruiting, I didn’t know how many guys we’d have advance to nationals. To have four qualify the first time out is almost unheard of.
“This is a great opportunity to represent Life at Des Moines. It will be huge to get our name out there for recruiting and to have some success. I like what we can do next year based off this.”
Life’s wrestlers advanced to the national championship by virtue of their places in the NAIA East Regional on Feb. 16. Hicks finished as the runner-up at 184 pounds to automatically qualify, while Schouw, Brukardt and Fraser placed fifth at their weight classes and received wild-card berths into the tournament.
“This is special to me and assistant coach Ron Gorman because it’s the first for the program we’ve built from the ground up,” Miller said. “That makes this group, and this time, unique. It’s our first year out here, so it’s really special.”
Hicks, who is ranked sixth nationally, was a junior college All-American at Darton College in Albany, where Miller was an assistant before coming to Life, so he’ll be familiar with the type of environment he and his teammates will face.
“Hicks went from
being ranked 16th early in the year to being sixth in the nation going into
this,” Miller said. “He beat some ranked guys in our qualifier, which was one of the toughest regions nationally.”
For the other three, this will be a new experience.
“The top eight guys in each weight class earn all-American,” Miller said, “and I think our guys have as good a chance as any of getting it.
“Anybody has the possibility of doing it. If you show up or not is what makes the difference. On that day, you have to bring it, and all of my guys have that potential.”
With its early success, Life is gaining recognition from elsewhere in the nation. The Running Eagles fell just three spots short of the top 20 in the last NAIA coaches’ poll.
Individually, Schouw is ranked No. 15 at 141 pounds, while Brukardt and Fraser are unranked at 157 and 165, respectively.
Miller said he and his wrestlers planned to leave Life today in the early-morning hours for the 15-hour bus ride to Des Moines. Once they arrive, Miller is sure to have some encouraging words.
“I’m going to tell them it’s anybody’s day,” he said. “They just need to bring it. They have nothing to lose. Nobody
knows about them or about Life, but they can step up and get noticed and be a champion if they want to.”