Alma, Mich. - For the second straight season, three members of the Alma College wrestling team will be competing at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. This season, however, the Scots have a chance to do something that has never been accomplished in the program's history - return to campus with three All-Americans, which is a status awarded for the top eight finishers in each weight class.
Alma's three wrestlers - freshman Romeo Riley (Kalamazoo, Mich./Kalamazoo Central), senior Jamie Jakes (Dearborn, Mich./Divine Child) and senior Trevor Maresh (Northville, Mich./Northville) - all enter this weekend's tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, seeded among the top eight wrestlers in their respective weight classes. The distinction comes after each made it to the championship match at the Midwest Regional two weeks ago at Wabash College.
"It's better to be seeded than to not be seeded, said Head Coach Todd Hibbs. "What being seeded means is you've had a long season where you've had a chance to prove to other coaches and other teams in the country that you belong in the national tournament, that you're capable of beating people in brackets. So we're certainly happy to be going with all three guys, all seeded this year, and when you get there, you have to wrestle, you've got to show off what you did at regionals."
At 133 pounds, Riley became the first freshman in program history to qualify for the national championships and did so after winning the Midwest Region, including an upset of the sixth-ranked wrestler in the country, Wisconsin-LaCrosse's Dustin Weinmann. Riley, who is seeded seventh, spent most of the season at 141 pounds before making the drop in the second half of the season and wrestling at 133 for the first time in the regionals. He will face York's (Pa.) Ryan Flynn in the first round.
"I was doing pretty decent at 41 but I won some and lost some, and we looked in our region at who was going to be solid at 41 and likewise in 33, and Coach Hibbs said I would do well in 41 but I would do so much better at 33," Riley said. "He really wanted me to reach my full potential and so we decided to make that change. This last weekend, any kind of match I wrestled didn't feel any different, it's just another opponent to me, and so I went out there and I wrestled the best I could."
"I think a key for Romeo competing in 133 is to perform like he did at regionals," Hibbs said. "He's very fearless, gets after people, and he needs to wrestle the same way he did then."
Jakes is making his second trip to the NCAA III Championships after jumping two weight classes from his last trip in 2014. Jakes, who wrestled at 174 pounds in the 2014 nationals, is seeded sixth at 197 pounds after finishing as a finalist at the Midwest Regional.
Jakes has made four weight class jumps since arriving on campus as a freshman, originally starting out at 157 pounds.
"It's no secret that I like lifting some weights and I like eating, so it's kind of natural for me to bulk up a little bit and put on some mass," Jakes said. "Along with that I've always been a guy in high school where I was the weaker guy and I beat guys with technique. Since I have come here with the wrestling program, we've been able to turn me into the strong guy, and I can carry that technique over and have a lot of heavier guys who aren't really used to the 157 style of wrestling that I have but at the higher weight class."
Jakes, who crossed the 100-win mark earlier in the season, is in search of his first-ever All-American honor this weekend and has spend much of the season ranked among the top eight in his weight class. He will face Luke Fernandez of Elizabethtown in the first round.
"If I wrestle the way I have all season I'll be an All-American, Jakes said. "To place higher I have to make a few changes from what I have been doing, and that's mostly being more aggressive. If I make those changes I think I have a better chance of placing really high."
Maresh is making a return trip to the NCAA III Championships in the 285-pound weight class after earning All-America status with a sixth-place finish last year. Maresh made the jump to heavyweight last year after wrestling at 197 pounds as a sophomore in 2014.
"After my sophomore year I just started eating a lot more and lifting weights with (assistant coach) Fletcher (Roberts) and just putting in the work," Maresh said. "To be successful at heavyweight it's just to wrestle the same way at 97 but I have to stay more athletic and move better than the bigger guys do."
Maresh is seeded fourth and will take on Daniel Glinko of Ithaca in the first round. After his sixth-place finish a year ago, his approach this year is much the same as it was in 2015.
"It's obviously just one match at a time still," Maresh said. "I have a lot more confidence going in this year. I've wrestled there before and won matches against the best in the nation already and every match is just as important as the next one, so you can't look ahead. You just have to take it one match at a time."
"Trevor has to showcase his athleticism," Hibbs said. "Last year at the national tournament he had two of the best matches he's ever wrestled in his life, and it was because he got in scrambles and had the chance to show off his athleticism. If he goes out there and pushes the pace and puts himself in places where he is able to score, he will get favorable results."
With all three Scots fighting for the coveted All-American status, having three in one year for a program that restarted five years ago would be a huge accomplishment for Hibbs and solidify the Alma wrestling program on among the contenders on a national level.
"When we started five years ago we had a lot of visions," Hibbs said. We had visions of a complete coaching staff. Back then we had only one full-timer and one part-timer and here we are in year five with three full-time coaches on campus which is pretty extraordinary for a Division III program. We had a vision of a tremendous wrestling facility and in just a couple of months our $3.7 million facility will be completed. If we come back from the national tournament with three All-Americans, that's vision becoming a reality too. We talk about getting to a point where we have multiple All-Americans in a year. After that, the next vision is going for a national championship."
The NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships begin on Friday, March 11, at 11:00 a.m. with the preliminary rounds. The champions in each weight class will be determined on Saturday, March 12.