Wrestling Wins Second National Championship

The Wrestling Falcons are NAIA champions again. Notre Dame successfully defended its 2010 crown with another decisive victory at the NAIA National Championships.

Two Notre Dame wrestlers -- Dante Rini (125 pounds) and Orlando Scales (Hwt.) -- earned their individual titles and three more NDC athletes placed second, vaulting the Falcons to 170 team points for the entire tournament. That was more than enough to top second-place Lindenwood-Mo. (141 points) as well as the rest of the 39-team field in Cedar Rapids.

“I'm so proud of our guys, the coaches, everyone associated with this program,” said NDC Head Coach Frank Romano, the former team captain for Ohio State (1969-70) who has now led Notre Dame to a feat never before accomplished by an Ohio wrestling program -- winning multiple national titles. “This is a talented group, but that only gets you so far. What put them over the top is the way they trained for this.”

The victory proved to be the confirmation of a champion -- coming off their 2010 national title, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the NAIA Coaches' Preseason Poll in October. The Falcons retained that lofty perch through every week of the season and came into tournament week as the top team in the nation. NDC has been ranked No. 1 by the NAIA coaches in every poll since Nov. 24, 2009.

Orlando Scales earned a 3-2 win on a late takedown in Saturday's heavyweight title bout.
Orlando Scales earned a 3-2 win on a late takedown in Saturday's heavyweight title bout.

No. 3-ranked (Coaches' Poll) Dante Rini earned the title at 125 pounds via a 5-3 win over No. 5 Johnny Papesh (Campbellsville-Ky.). Scales, the NAIA's No. 2 in the heavyweight division, used a third-period takedown to defeat No. 5 Leviticus Roberson of Midland University (Neb.), 3-2. They become the sixth and seventh NDC wrestlers to earn national titles for a program launched in 2006.

Saturday's victory capped off what was an impressive final month of the season for Rini. The Massillon, Ohio, native went 12-0 from Feb. 6 on and won three tournaments down the stretch (Feb. 6 Greyhound Open, Feb. 19 East Regional, March 5 National Championship).

Scales rebounded from a loss in last year's heavyweight finale to earn the NAIA title at 285. The Falcons' big man finished the 2010-11 season with a 29-2 record. The national championship marked his fifth tournament title of the season.

Ashtin Primus, Thomas Straughn and Derek Foore were Notre Dame's runner-up finishers (at 149, 157 and 197 pounds, respectively). Overall, nine Notre Dame wrestlers earned NAIA All-America status with top-8 finishes at the tournament.

With its 2011 championship, Notre Dame becomes the ninth team to repeat as NAIA titlists. Lindenwood was the last program to accomplish back-to-back titles -- the Lions won three in a row from 2007 to 2009.

In addition to repeating as national champs, Notre Dame has now also pulled off a “four-peat” of sorts -- NDC also won the last two NAIA National Duals titles. The Wrestling Falcons are the first NAIA team to claim victories in both the National Championships and the National Duals in consecutive years. The NAIA has been part of the National Duals since 2006.

The Falcons also accomplished something not seen before in the annals of Ohio collegiate wrestling -- winning a second national title. John Carroll won the NCAA Division III title in 1975, and Findlay won the NAIA crown in 1995; those were the only two championships by Ohio programs before Notre Dame's back-to-back performance the last two seasons.

For Frank Romano and his charges, as well as Falcon and wrestling fans in Northeast Ohio, the best part of winning that second title is that the wait was a short one.

“Winning two in a row is unbelievable,” said Romano. “It's an amazing feeling of accomplishment and gratitude.”

By Skip Snow, director of sports information at Notre Dame College


May 24
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