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Portillo Bros Wrestling - Wrestlers of the Week (NJCAA / NAIA)

Portillo Bros Wrestling - Wrestlers of the Week (NJCAA / NAIA)

NAIA Men’s Nationals Recaps:

Man, what a weekend. There were so many storylines we could touch and and will go more in depth on. We could get deep on the All-Americans and those who missed out that were tough. More analysis will come later, but for now let’s take a look at some of the best championship runs.

Let’s start at 125. Hunter Sparks completed his story and took off his shoes to retire under the best circumstances: being a national champion. His semifinal win over 2x national champion Brandon Orum had the whole arena on their toes when Sparks capitalized in overtime. He closed his run with a repeat win over Menlo’s Nic Aguilar. 133’s Jovan Garcia of Menlo had a run who should not be overlooked. He ended his season 21-1, only losing to Cal Baptist’s Hunter Leake. He walked his way through a deep Cascaade Conference, including a tech fall in the finals. He had to dig deep in the natinal semifinals, scoring two takedowns in the third period to overtake Dominic Chavez of Texas Wesleyan. In the finals, he stopped Life’s Thaddeus Long 11-9. He will go down as Menlo’s last NAIA Champion, since they begin transitioning to D2 next year.

Saint Mary’s Hartwell Taylor had the biggest Cinderella run to the finals. He came into nationals as the #15 seed and ranked #12 by The Open Mat. He ended the weekend as Saint Mary’s first-ever national champion. This weight was crazy all year and we knew coming in that no clear favorite was established. Taylor had placed 7th at the Missouri Valley Invitational, a run that was not yet screaming “national champion”. But he started to look sharper and sharper at conference and some duals. He was one of the first guys to shake up the bracket when he took out the #2 seed Logan Wagner second round. In the quarters, Taylor avenged one of his losses from earlier in the season, taking out the #7 seed in overtime. He had awareness in knowing just when to strike on his feet in his semis and finals, where he took out All-Americans Gage Hudson and #1 seed Evan Potter. He was the biggest breakout star of the tournament. 

Chase Zollman of Missouri Valley won one of the toughest weights at 149. He had five wins: two tech falls and three decisions over All-Americans. He quoted his coaches’ beliefs in him as paramount to his success. Then there is Brevin Balmeceda of Life, who had one of the best seasons in the NAIA. 157 was one of the toughest weights in the NAIA and Balmeceda controlled it. This weight was loaded with national champions and All-Americans and Balmeceda took care of them all. Jon Kervin of Indiana Tech came out on top in a wild weight with big wins over the guys who got both second and third, Keller Rock and Rysan Leong. 

174 was another big story. Proof of why sticking things through pays off. Alex Reynolds lost in the blood round in 2022 and with dreams crushed, was forced to sit out for the 2023 post season. Reynolds never lost sight of his vision. Even this season, he took his lumps. But he was ready when it mattered most. He beat the #1 seed in the semifinals, before finishing his championship off with Southeastern’s Graham Calhoun. This started a string of Grand View champions. At 184, Isaiah Luellen capped off a perfect NAIA season with a national title and becoming a 5x All-American. His placements in his career were 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st! He won a top-heavy bracket with three techs and big wins over AA’s Speight and Homet. A fun fact about this weight is every person who lost in the quarters lost again in the bloodround as well. 

At 197, we saw teammates battle for the title with Grand View’s Garavous Kouekabakilaho and Owen Braungardt. Kouekabakilaho was bloodround a year ago, but made up for it this year with wins over the #1 seed and returning national champion Braungardt in the finals. He started his run by avenging both of his losses from nationals last year. The final champion of the night was Zane Lanham, who capped an undefeated season against the NAIA and took out two wrestlers on The Open Mat’s pound-for-pound list. His best wins to earn his second title were over #2 K.C. Buday and #1 Greg Hagan in the finals.

NJCAA Nationals Lightning Recap:

We also were treated to the NJCAA National Championships for both men and women this weekend. We can’t highlight everything, so let’s look at some of the most impressive champion performances in each division. 


  • Malachi Bordovsky, Iowa Western, 141

    • Bordovsky first pinned the #3 seed Cole Holien (Ridgewater) in the semis and beat returning finalist, #1 Easton Taylor (Pratt).

  • Darnai Heard, Iowa Central, 157

    • Heard teched #7 in the quarters, got a 35 second pin in the semis, and then pinned #1 Kris Ketchum (Nassau) in the finals in a minute. He ended the weekend with three pins and two techs; a perfect bonus rate.

  • Kaden Glass, Pratt, 197

    • Glass was unseeded coming into the tournament, but made the most out of his weekend beating the #10, #7, #3, #2, and #1 to win nationals. All but one of his matches was a decision, but that just further illustrates how impressive his busy weekend was. He was the unseeded finalist. 


  • Calli Connally, Carl Albert, 101

    • A champ from the #4 seed, she beat both #1 and #2  to win a national title, including beating the returning champion

  • Genesis Gilmore, Indian Hills, 155

    • One of Indian Hills' two national champions, Gilmore stood out. She was the #6 seed but ended up beating #3 by a  pin in 1:12, #2 by a pin in 25 seconds, and #1 by tech fall in the finals.

  • Taylor Knox, Southwestern Oregon, 191

    • Knox had wins over #6, #5, and #1 in the nation.

  • Eve Herlyn, Southeast, 143

    • In just their first year as a program, Southeast College has earned their first-ever All-American and national champion! Eve Herlyn pinned the #1 seed in the semis and made a huge comeback in a 14-8 win in the finals at 143.


Written By Justin Portillo & Joshua Portillo
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