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Elmhurst wrestlers finish second in D-III nationals

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Updated: April 22, 2013 12:24PM

To say the NCAA Division III wrestling meet went well for Elmhurst is to make a massive understatement. Not only did the Bluejays finish second for the school’s first team trophy in the championships, but all five wrestlers they took to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, finished in the top seven. Two of them, 184-pounder Joe Rau and 197-pounder Mike Benefiel, won individual championships.

“The meet went pretty close to as well as it could have. We had a very big goal of bringing home a team trophy, which we’ve never done here,” said 11th-year coach Steve Marianetti, who had been an assistant on an Illinois team that finished sixth in Division I, just missing a team trophy. “To bring five guys and leave with five all-Americans is a pretty amazing day.”

Rau scored a 6-3 victory after trailing 3-2 through two periods in his championship match against the College of New Jersey’s Brian Broderick.

“Joe has been battle-tested at the national tournament, placing twice but also not wrestling his best, certainly last year,” Marianetti said. “His only goal this season was to be a national champion, not an all-American, so that put a lot of pressure on him. He really wrestled well all the way up to the finals. He didn’t have a great finals match, but was able to pull it off.”

Benefiel took a roundabout route to his championship, starting college at Northwestern, transferring to Oklahoma State and finally landing at Elmhurst for his senior year. He topped Alex Coolidge of Cornell of Iowa 7-3 in their final. Benefiel also earned the National Wrestling Coaches Association award for most falls in the least time, with three pins in a total of 5:56.

“Mike Benefiel has had a pretty long strange journey for his wrestling career,” Marianetti said. “He had one year left and decided to come here and try to finish it off right. He had a very inconsistent year, I think. For all his inconsistencies during the year he came in focused for the nationals and ready to perform, and he performed incredibly well.”

Elmhurst finished with 82 points, while champion Wartburg totaled 103 and third-place Wisconsin-Whitewater 78. In addition to the two champions, Ryan Earley (fourth at 141 pounds), Miguel Venecia (fifth at 125) and Dalton Bullard (seventh at 133) earned all-American status.

going strong

The national championship dream is alive for third-ranked North Central (27-3), who play No. 7 Middlebury (25-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball quarterfinals in Salem, Va. The winner advances to a semifinal Saturday against Amherst or Cabrini.

The big goal ahead is the national title game April 7 in Atlanta.

The Cardinals got to the quarterfinals by ousting CCIW rival Illinois Wesleyan, 83-73 Saturday in Naperville. Jack Burchett came off the bench to lead North Central with 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting.

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