February 17, 2012
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Kansas City, Mo. – The 2012 NAIA Qualifying Group Tournaments will open Saturday in four different groups across the country with the top four wrestlers in each weight class punching their ticket to the 55th Annual Wrestling National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, March 1 – 3. The official list of National Championship qualifiers will be announced on Feb. 23.
The central group, hosted by Grand View (Iowa), features 11 schools, including the top-ranked Vikings. Grand View is led by two-time NAIA Wrestler of the Week Eric Thompson, who currently ranks atop the heavyweight division. Five other Top 20 teams are present in the group, including No. 5 Oklahoma City and No. 7 Baker (Kan.). Individually, the Stars feature two top-ranked wrestlers in Nikolas Tuner at 157 pounds and Kevin Hardy, a 2011 NAIA All-American, at 165 pounds.
The north qualifying tournament showcases five Top 20 teams, led by No. 6 Morningside (Iowa), No. 8 Midland (Neb.) and No. 10 Concordia (Neb.). The Mustangs, fresh off their second-straight Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) Championship, boast the top 174-pounder in Joseph Sievert. Sievert enters the contest with an unblemished 23-0 record en route to two GPAC Wrestler of the Week awards. The 184-pound weight class could spotlight a showdown between the NAIA’s top two ranked competitors in the division in top-ranked Kody Kersten of Midland and No. 2 Brian Block of Morningside. In their previous meeting on Jan. 27, Kersten pinned Block in 4:23.
No. 2 Campbellsville (Ky.), who finished seventh as a team at last year’s NAIA National Championships, features the east groups only top-ranked individuals in Tim Thurston (133 pounds), who garnered All-America honors with a third-place finish in last year’s championships, and Jamelle Jones (197 pounds). Jones enters the weekend 8-0 in duals this season, including five wins by fall, while Thurston is 7-0 on the year. Other notable wrestlers in the division include: Larone Madison of Cumberlands (Ky.) (125-pound), Uxsunn Ramirez of Missouri Baptist (157-pound), and Joseph Stephens of Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) (174-pound).
The west group features six teams, including three nationally ranked teams in the top eight. No. 3 Southern Oregon enters the event 11-3 in duals this season, including victories against No. 4 Great Falls (Mon.), 19-18, on Nov. 17 and against No. 8 Montana State-Northern, 27-18, on Nov. 18. Individually, Mitchell Lofstedt of Southern Oregon paces the 125-pound division, while defending national champion Anthony Varnell of Great Falls (Mont.) is the favorite in the 141-pound bracket.
For additional information on the Qualifying Group Tournaments, click here.