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Portillo Bros Wrestling - Wrestlers of the Week (D2/D3)

Portillo Bros Wrestling - Wrestlers of the Week (D2/D3)

DII Nationals

For the second time in a row,Central Oklahoma won the DII team team having seven All-Americans, the most of any team. They won over second place Lander by 23.5 points, about the point of one national champion or two low AA’s. There was plenty of magic in the air and heroes writing their stories. For now we will focus on highlighting some of the best championship runs, although plan to later dive in deep on some of the best AA runs, as well. 

Gabe Hixenbaugh of Montevallo has been making a name for himself this season at 133. He first burst on the scene with tournament titles at the Patriot Open, Lucha Open, and the Midwest Classic. Having spent his previous four college years at D1 Campbell, Hixenbaugh decided to move closer to home and be a path finder for a new program in his home state of Alabama. In just Montevallo’s first year eligible for postseason NCAA competition, they earned their first national qualifier, first All-American, and first national champion. Hixenbaugh had shown promising glimpses against D1 competition while at Campbell, but his domination this year was so impressive. His run this year at nationals featured a literal last-second comeback against 3x AA Reece Barnhardt (Mary) in the semifinals and a second victory over defending national champion Gavin Quiocho. Hixenbaugh still technically has one year of eligibility left, so it will be intriguing to see if he decides to use it. 

Gabe Johnson of Central Oklahoma made his name be known this weekend by beating the number two-seed and beating the defending national champion/number one-seed. He avenged two different in-season losses in the final two matches of his title run. In the semifinal match, he faced number two-seed Jack Haskin of Lake Erie and beat him 11-3. Then, during the final he faced the defending national champion Nick Novak of St. Cloud State who he lost to at nationals duals 4-1, but Johnson got the best of him to take home the 2024 national title. This was his third year as a national qualifier and an improvement upon his seventh place finish a year ago. Like Hixenbaugh, Johnson has one year of eligibility remaining if he chooses to take it.

174 started off as a weight that had it’s established contenders and then a fall off. By the end of the week, the nation discovered that the weight was actually one of the deepest and wildest weights of all. Not only that, but we got to see Grand Valley State’s first national champion since 1988, a 36-year gap. This was the first year the program was back in action since being discontinued 32 years ago.. Josh Kenny was the lone hero who remained when the dust settled at 174. Seeded fourth, he took out the guys who upset the five and one seeds. In the finals, he appeared evenly matched with Central Oklahoma’s Anthony Des Vigne, the six seed. That was until Kenny got his chance on top, where he turned him and pinned him for the national championship. For making history for his school and winning one of the toughest brackets of the weekend, Kenny’s performance at nationals was one of the most remarkable.

The third time was the charm for Indianapolis’ Derek Blubaugh. Heading into the national finals, Blubaugh was a career 1-7 against 2x national champion Dalton Abney of Central Oklahoma. Blubaugh had lost to Abney in the national finals both of the previous years. He once again clawed his way back to the finals and notched perhaps the biggest win over the whole weekend when he beat Abney 5-1 for a national championship. Blubaugh has one year of eligibility left if he chooses to take it. 

Seven 2023 national champions made it back to the national finals in 2024, looking to win an additional title. Surprisingly, four defending national champions lost in the finals: Gavin Quiocho (Glenville State), Nick Novak (St. Cloud State), Chase Luensman (Upper Iowa), and Dalton Abney (Central Oklahoma). This meant it was only 43% likely a defending national champion would win in their second national final. Three were able to successfully earn a second national title; which some say is harder to win than a first, given the target on your back and expectations. The first to snag his second title was Tiffin’s Zack Donathan. He won over UNK’s Nick James 13-3 in the finals. At 184, West Liberty’s Ty McGeary capped off another stellar season of wrestling. He had three majors over the weekend, including in the finals when he majored 2x All-American Matt Weinberg of Kutztown. McGeary is 90-6 in his career and has one year left if he wants to use it. Lastly was Shawn Streck. The Central Oklahoma 285 had fans curious on what his performance would look after taking a loss to Ryan Herman (Maryville) in their super region. Well, he avenged that loss by majoring Herman and majoring his way to the finals before taking out Lander’s Juan Edmond-Holmes for his second national title to cap his career. 

DIII Nationals

If you didn’t follow Division III nationals this year, you missed out because it was a tight three way team race when it came to the team scores between UW-La Crosse, Wartburg, and Augsburg. Going into the finals, each team had a chance to win it, but it was ultimately clinched by Augsburg with Bentley Schwanebeck-Ostermann’s national title at 184. This was Augsburg’s 15th national title and it came in one of the most exciting D3 team races in recent memory.

The big guy this weekend was Chase Randall of the Coast Guard who not only became the first national champion for his program, but also upset three ranked guys to capture his title.  In the quarterfinals, he faced #4 and past wrestler of the week Dominik Mallinder of UW-Whitewater, where he won 10-5. Then came the semifinal match, where he knocked off the 2x NCAA Champion, stopped his 90-match winning streak, and beat #1 Robbie Precin of North Central in sudden victory. Lastly, in the finals he had big throw and pinned the #3 Jaden Hinton of Baldwin Wallace.  This historic championship run also earned him the most outstanding wrestling of the D3 national championships.

Randall wasn’t the only wrestler who became the first in their program; Josh Wilson of Greensboro did the same. The semifinals and finals were both of the 4x All-American’s closest matches of the tournament. Wilson was the number two-seed and took out the number one-seed, Jacob Reed (Ohio Northern), in the finals. In 2021, he placed at the NWCA national tournament and the next two years, he placed 5th & 8th at the NCAA DIII national tournament. He finished the season 30-3, with those three losses only being to D1 wrestlers. 

Junior Nicholas Sacco got the gold this weekend, giving the College of New Jersey both a male and female national champion (Sandra Guerrero being the other). He won a dramatic semifinal at 165 over Coe’s Will Esmoil, narrowly avoiding two as time expired. He then beat Lacrosse’s Noah Leisgang in the finals. After placing 4th last season, he bounced back for a 28-0 record against D3 competition this year. 

We had a rematch from last year's finals at 174-lb between Zane Mulder of Wartburg and Jared Stricker of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Last year Mulder won the title 7-5 but this year Stricker stepped it up and won 10-3 over the defending national champion. Stricker became the second national champion in Wisconsin-Eau Claire program history and the first since 2006. Honcluded the season with a 42-2 record and his only two losses were to D1 guys at Midlands.


Written By Justin Portillo & Joshua Portillo
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