Category Archives: Wrestling

Wrestling Recap

This past season, the Thunder wrestling team had some very notable wins, but also some unfortunate losses. Early on in the season, the Thunder took a tough loss to a strong Elmhurst team in a conference match. Fortunately for Thunder fans, the team bounced back during their first three invitational tournaments of the season as they finished within the top-five in each of them, helping them regain the confidence they needed as they entered the dual matches.

        The men came out strong in the duals as they won their first three matches with an average team score of over 37 points per match. They struggled to keep that momentum, though, as they tallied three more losses to the record in their last five team duals. They also suffered a disappointing eighth place finish at the Manchester University Spartan Mat Classic.

        In the midst of those tough losses, however, the team came together to finish the season with some key wins. The Thunder had an impressive fourth place finish at the Pete Wilson Invitational Tournament at King Arena and a hard-fought third place finish in the CCIW Championship.

The Thunder then finished off their season with another top-five finish at the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional Tournament and placed 44th of 58 teams in the NCAA Division III Championships. Seniors Logan Walkup and Mikey Swider and juniors Carlos Fuentez and junior Jared Fekete all qualified for individual National Tournament as well.

“As a team we praise God that he has blessed the season, but we also understand that the season didn’t end the way any of us wanted it to,” said Fuentez thinking back to the season. “Wheaton wrestling is always straining to seek perfection and settle for excellence. We’re motivated as a team to get better and make the next wrestling season one that honors God.”

Leaving it on the mat

The Thunder wrestling team traveled to Fort Wayne, Ind. this past weekend to compete in the NCAA Division III Midwest Regionals. Eight of Wheaton’s varsity wrestlers aimed to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships held March 10-11 in La Crosse, Wis. To do so required a Thunder wrestler to place top three in his respective weight class. As the meet concluded on Saturday Feb. 25, Wheaton ended up with four representatives, seniors Mikey Swider, Jared Fekete and Logan Walkup and junior Carlos Fuentez, who all placed second.

The Thunder started out strong on Friday with seven of its eight wrestlers winning the first matches of Round 1. In the quarterfinals, the winning streak was continued by Carlos Fuentez (125), Mikey Swider (197), Jared Fekete (184), Logan Walkup (174) and senior Stephen Aiello (165). Friday ended with seven of the Thunder’s eight still in position to finish in the top three, with Frank Aiello (157) and Max Gierke (285) beginning in Saturday’s consolation bracket, and Mikey Swider, Jared Fekete, Carlos Fuentez, Stephen Aiello and Logan Walkup to resume in Saturday’s semifinals.

 

In the semifinals, Fekete earned a 10-3 decision over Jason Lynch of University of Chicago, Swider won a 5-2 decision over Drew Kasper of Otterbein University, Walkup was victorious with a 4-3 decision in the second tiebreaker period over Tyler Grimsley of Olivet College and Fuentez won a 7-6 decision over Michael Schmidt of Olivet College. Stephen Aiello fell in a 6-4 decision against national champion Logan Hermsen of UW-Stevens Point. Aiello quickly bounced back with a 4-3 decision over Mitchell Hertel of the University of Wisconsin.

Both Frank Aiello and Gierke were off to a positive start in the consolation bracket. Gierke earned a pin in 3:53 against UChicago’s Patrick Mulkerin and Aiello also pinned U of Otterbein’s Willy Plaisir in 2:42. Aiello reached the consolation semis with a 7-4 decision in the first tiebreaker period over Michael Murnane of University of Wisconsin, but lost in a 4-3 decision. Aiello finished strong in fifth place with an 8-1 decision over U of Ohio Northern’s Gavin Nelson. Gierke went on to fall to a tech fall by U of Ohio Northern’s Nathan Barcaskey.

 

In the finals, Walkup fell to a 3-0 decision to Richard Carlson of UW-La Crosse, Fekete fell to an 8-2 decision to Jordan Newman of UW-Whitewater, Swider submitted a medical forfeit and Fuentez fell to a 11-3 major decision to Zac Denny of UW-Whitewater. Stephen Aiello went on to lose the third place match to Davon Jackson of Olivet College by a 13-8 decision.

 

When asked about the team’s performance, Gierke explained, “Although Stephen Aiello didn’t qualify for the national tournament … [he] left it all out on the mat.”


Though the team was obviously hoping for all eight of the Thunder wrestlers to advance to nationals, the Thunder are confident their four representatives at the Division III Championship will leave it all on the mat, just like Aiello.

Terrific top four

Over the weekend, the Thunder wrestling team hosted the annual Pete Willson Invitational, a massive tournament featuring 34 of the 100 wrestling programs in NCAA Division III, and the oldest tournament in the country, save the Division I national tournament.

Head Coach Jim Gruenwald described the Pete Willson Invitational as a “mini national tournament,” since it is patterned after the national tournament in its size and format. The tournament spans 2 days and features 2 separate weigh-ins. According to Gruenwald, nearly half the coaches in this year’s tournament have wrestled in the Pete Willson Invitational in past years, and some even go as far as calling it their favorite tournament of the year.

The Thunder performed admirably, as five wrestlers placed in the top five of their weight class, and the team finished fourth overall, their highest finish at the event in decades. Carlos Fuentes led the way for the Thunder as he placed second in the 125-pound class, defeating the second-ranked wrestler in the nation, Zac Denny, in the semi-final, before falling to the top 125-pound wrestler in all of Division III, Lucas Malmberg, in the final.

Senior Stephen Aiello finished fourth in the 165-pound class, marking the fourth time he’d placed at the tournament, and Frank Aiello finished fourth in the 157-pound class. Seniors Logan Walkup, competing in the 174-pound weight class, and Mikey Swider, in the 197-pound weight class, both finished fifth for the Thunder.

“Coming in fourth is still a huge blessing,” Gruenwald explained. “It’s not first, but still… these little things keep adding up to thanking God for a great performance on a tough weekend.”

The Thunder will hit the mats next on Saturday as they travel to Naperville to take on rival North Central College Cardinals.

Tasting success

As the Wheaton men’s wrestling team headed into the last half of their season, it looked like their work was paying off as they had experienced both individual and team success on the mat. Unfortunately, the Thunder had a disappointing team finish last Saturday at the Manchester Spartan Mat Classic in North Manchester, Indiana. In competition with 12 other teams, Wheaton finished eighth.

        While the team finish may have been subpar, the Thunder had four individual wrestlers finish in the top 10 in each of their respective weight classes at the open tournament. The top performer for the Thunder was junior Carlos Fuentez at 125 pounds. Fuentez, who is the ninth ranked wrestler in Division III at 125 pounds, continued his season success with a first place finish. In fact, in the final championship match, Fuentez was able to top Baldwin Wallace’s Nicholas Berry in a 22-7 technical fall, which means Fuentez was beating his opponent by so many points that they stopped the match early. Junior David Aiello also helped the Thunder with an individual finish of third place in the 197-pound weight class. Although Aiello was defeated in his semifinal match, he put up a valiant fight against three-time national champion Riley Lefever. Aiello then won his last two consolation matches to earn his top-three finish.

        Other notable finishers from the open tournament are juniors Owen Feenstra and Tim Blickle. Feenstra was able to finish sixth at 165-pounds and Blickle finished eighth in the 174-pound weight class. Both were able to wrestle smart and it paid off as they each got top finishes.

        Furthermore, all of the juniors who wrestled in the open tournament that weekend were able to place. Part of the success that many of the Thunder wrestlers have seen this season is, in part, because “our team has found our groove,” said junior Owen Feenstra. Feenstra continued, explaining how the “guys have put in a lot of extra work on and off the mat.”

        That work certainly showed as the Thunder continued the back half of their season with their first home dual match against University of Chicago. It was a back-and-forth match from the beginning. At one point, the Thunder found themselves down 12 points, but were able to push for a late comeback.

It came down to the final match between Wheaton’s sophomore Max Gierke and University of Chicago’s Patrick Mulkerin in the 285-pound weight class. Going into this final match, the score was 21-19 with University of Chicago at the advantage. In the final minute of the first period, Gierke was able to gain the advantage of Mulkerin and pinned him to take the individual win, which pushed the team score to 25 and helped the Thunder win 25-21.

As the Thunder look to finish up the last quarter of their season, Feenstra said the team hopes to continue to get better and get ready for postseason.

“We need to keep wrestling with our motto in mind, ‘to strain,’ and squeeze every last ounce of energy out of our performances,” said Feenstra.

The Thunder will continue their season next Friday, Jan. 27 when they will host the Pete Willson-Wheaton Invitational.

First Duals win ever

On Dec. 10, as Wheaton students were studying for their upcoming final exams, the Thunder wrestling team made a short trip to Naperville, Ill., to participate in the North Central College Invitational. The team finished the tournament in fifth place out of 10 teams.

 

Three of the Wheaton wrestlers finished in the top four of their weight class. Senior Jared Fekete was first in the 184-pound weight class. Senior Stephen Aiello also performed well, finishing third in the 165-pound weight class. Sophomore Max Gierke was fourth in the 285-pound weight class.

 

One week later on Dec. 17, while many of the other Wheaton students travelled home for the holidays, the travel continued for the team as they drove to Dubuque, Iowa, to compete in the University of Dubuque Jim Fox Duals. In the first match, Wheaton bested the University of the Ozarks by a score of 47-6. Every Wheaton wrestler competing in the match won their matchup, highlighted by junior Carlos Fuentez in the 125-pound weight class by a score of 22-5 and senior Frank Aiello with an 18-6 victory in the 157-pound weight class.

 

In the second match, the Thunder were again victorious over Dubuque by a score of 38-9. Fekete won his 184-pound weight class matchup by a score of 17-9 and junior Tim Blickle won his 174-pound weight class matchup 10-2.

 

With all the travel, Frank Aiello explained that the team stays loose by sticking to a healthy diet of Subway sandwiches before matches and plenty of Disney and Pixar films on the way to their destinations.

 

“We also just do a good job of being loose and cracking jokes at each other which I think helps us compete at a high level,” he said. “We are a tight knit group who cares about the guy next to us a lot.”

 

Due to the holidays, the Thunder took a few weeks off until after the new year. Last Thursday, January 5, Wheaton traveled to Fort Wayne, Ind., for the NWCA National Duals. Overall, Wheaton went 1-3 during the Duals.

 

The first game saw Wheaton beat Millikin by a score of 27-16. The Thunder then lost to nationally-ranked #1 Wartburg 37-2. In the third meet, the team was defeated by Mount Union 30-16. Finally, the Thunder just missed out on upsetting nationally-ranked #13 New York University by a score of 21-17. The victory against Millikin was the Thunder’s first in its three National Duals appearances.

 

Even though seven of the team’s 10 starters are ranked within the top 20 in the country, the team was unable to perform as well as they hoped since one of the team’s starters broke his hand at Duals and was unable to compete. Therefore, the team had to forfeit the weight classes and start every competition down 12 team points.

 

Numerous Thunder wrestlers still performed very well during the Duals. In the 125-pound weight class, Fuentez was 3-1 during the Duals. Frank Aiello was 3-1 over the course of the weekend. Senior Stephen Aiello also went 3-1 and was the only Thunder wrestler to win against #1 Wartburg. Senior Logan Walkup went 2-2 against the Thunder’s opponents. Seniors Jared Fekete and Mikey Swider, as well as sophomore Max Gierke, all went 3-1 during the Duals.

 

“The team has been performing well,” Frank Aiello explained. “We have a solid group of guys who are all continually getting better and have been competing at a high level.”
The Thunder will be back in action on Saturday when they travel to North Manchester, Ind. to compete in the Manchester University Spartan Mat Classic.

Wrestling just misses CCIW Championship

While the winter sports season may be winding to a close, the best wrestling of the season has just begun. The Thunder competed in their first championship meet of the season as they traveled to Augustana for the CCIW championships this past Saturday.

The Thunder had some excellent performances, as senior Mikey Swider — 197 pounds, juniors Jared Fekete — 157 pounds, Stephen Aiello — 174 pounds and Logan Walkup — 174 pounds — all won conference crowns in their respective weight classes.

Midway through the championship round, Wheaton trailed Elmhurst by a daunting 14 point deficit, but the Thunder came roaring back by winning four of the next six weight classes. Ultimately, the Thunder had to settle for a second place finish as Elmhurst edged them out 69.5-68.

“As far as emotional roller coasters, it was probably one of the most intense tournaments I’ve ever been a part of,” said head coach Jim Gruenwald. “It was so close, and every match was so important, but the guys wrestled really well.”

While Gruenwald was far from satisfied with the end results of the tournament, he remains thankful nonetheless.

“It’s real easy to praise God when you win. It’s not so easy to praise God when you lose,” he said. “You still have a responsibility to do so, and when the conference tournament was finished I brought the guys in, and we praised God for the lessons learned and for second place.”

Despite the disappointing end result, the four wrestlers who did win CCIW titles give the Thunder hope moving forward. Fekete steamrolled his way to his second CCIW title in a row. Similarly, Aiello won his third CCIW championship in three years and his first in the 174-pound class. He entered as a number three seed but impressively pinned his number one seed opponent in the final.

Walkup won his first CCIW championship with a hard fought 2-1 win in the final round, and Swider capped off the night for the Thunder by winning his second consecutive title. These four hope to continue their impressive seasons at the regional tournament on Saturday, where the top three finishers in each weight class will qualify for the national tournament.

Thunder wrestle into top 10 finish

Countless individuals in Wheaton College’s history have had an impact on students’ lives. The wisdom and guidance provided by these individuals are parts of what makes Wheaton so unique from many of the colleges across the nation. One particular individual has been as much of a mentor as anybody in Wheaton’s history and has had a special impact on the school’s wrestling program.

In 1964, Pete Willson began as an assistant wrestling coach. Eventually, he took over the head coaching position in 1974, a position he held for over 15 years before stepping down in 1990. He would then return for the 1995 season to coach his grandson, three time All-American Paul Elsen, while guiding him to his first of two national championships. Willson’s impact spanned across more  than just the results of the wrestling team; the man was also devoted to mentoring and inspiring each of the wrestlers both on and off the mat.

“Pete Willson is the reason my father chose to attend Wheaton,” explained sophomore David Aiello.

Due to this impact, the wrestling team competed in an annual invitational in his honor here at Wheaton, Jan. 30. The tournament — the second oldest invitational in the NCAA — began in 1938. Originally called the Wheaton College Invitational, it was renamed in 2001 to honor the impact that Willson had on the school.

After all was said and done, the Thunder placed 10th out of the 32 schools that competed in the tournament.

Aiello, however, was slightly disappointed with the outcome and said, “We felt we could have done a lot better.”

Overall, the Thunder still had an impressive showing. The team achieved the school’s highest placing since 2003. Within their respective weight classes, senior Mikey Swider placed second, junior Jared Fekete was third and junior Stephen Aiello grabbed sixth.

Although he is not the biggest fan of the tournament being named after him, the humble Willson cannot deny the effect he has had on countless Thunder wrestlers. Without his mentorship, leadership and guidance, it is safe to say the wrestling team — and even Wheaton — would not be the same.

All in

First impressions are curious things. Seeing Jim Gruenwald for the first time, the first noticeable things are physical — short, muscular and, until recently, quite the impressive beard. In short, he looks like a wrestler. However, as is typical of first glances, oftentimes there is much more than meets the eye. This undoubtedly applies in the case of Gruenwald, Wheaton’s wrestling head coach. While a first glance might give physical clues about his foray into wrestling, qualities completely missed include his role as a devoted husband, father, world champion wrestler, inspiring coach and follower of Christ.

Interestingly enough, a fight brought Gruenwald into the wrestling world in sixth grade. After getting into a disagreement with a classmate, he punched the student three times in the face. Thinking the fight was over, Gruenwald began to walk away. However, to his surprise, the other student got up and took Gruenwald down using skills he had used from wrestling for the school’s team. After the boys’ tempers dissipated, the wrestler, impressed by Gruenwald’s determination, invited him to wrestling tryouts.

In short time, Gruenwald discovered a natural knack for the sport, giving him stability while growing up in a house with divorced parents. As an eighth grader, he won a state championship. His success continued, and by the time he graduated high school, he had appeared in three state finals and won one. Eventually, these performances would earn him a spot in the inaugural Greendale High School Hall of Fame, to be announced this spring.

Gruenwald was conflicted as to his next step, though. His father and friends urged him to choose the obvious route and attend a Division I school. This would undoubtedly propel his wrestling career. His mother, however, told him to consider a Christian college in order to strengthen his faith. Ultimately, he took his mother’s advice and went to Maranatha Baptist University, electing to stay in his birth state of Wisconsin.

“Some people said, ‘You’re going to be wasted at Maranatha,’ but I went there for different reasons,” Gruenwald explained. “I was trying to do what God wanted me to do with my life. I was still a young Christian and, as a person, knowing my weaknesses, it was good for me to be under Ben’s mentorship.”

“Ben” being Ben Peterson, a two-time NCAA champion and 1972 Olympic gold medalist, who also happened to be the head coach of Maranatha at the time.

“Ben took me under his wing,” said Gruenwald. “He really showed me what it meant to be a Christian man and how to wrestle for God’s glory, rather than my own.”

After an illustrious college career, in which he compiled a total record of 154-19 and won three NCCAA titles in the 132-pound division, Gruenwald was convinced his wrestling career was done. A conversation with his mother changed everything as she reminded him of his lifelong goal to compete in the Olympics. Inspired, he packed up his belongings and drove to Colorado to chase this dream.

coach.gruenwald1.Sports.Issue19.Courtesy.Jim.Gruenwald

Photo courtesy of Jim Gruenwald.

He was eventually accepted into the newly created U.S. wrestling residency program. He began a rigorous training program, including working as a math teacher at Hilltop Baptist School in order to pay the bills. Yet all around him, his personal life began crumbling as trials and temptations appeared. This eventually led Gruenwald back to Christianity, something he had thought little about since being at Maranatha. He had accepted Christ at the age of 11, but his faith had been either hot or cold ever since. It was time for him to make a decision.

“I either needed to act like a Christian or stop calling myself one,” he explained. “That was the moment where I knew I was Christian, but I let God take control of everything — my wrestling, my finances, my relationships — I finally stopped trying to micromanage my life and let God take control.”

In 1995, Gruenwald met his future wife, Rachel, and they were married two years later. She helped Gruenwald give control of his life to Christ and, slowly, other aspects of his life fell in line. Finally, seven years after moving to Colorado, Gruenwald was finally rewarded with a shot at the Olympics. He qualified as a Greco-Roman wrestler for the Sydney games in 2000 after upsetting the usual U.S. favorite during the qualifying rounds. Four years later, he qualified again for the 2004 Olympic games in Athens.

Unfortunately, he failed to medal in either Olympic competition and was forced to retire due to injuries and age after the Athens’ games. The impressive career he left behind includes 10 international tournament wins, a top 10 finish in every world competition in which he competed and the honor of being a two-time Olympic athlete.

After retirement, Gruenwald bounced around at a few different occupations, including a coaching job for U.S. wrestling. He even attempted a comeback by coming out of retirement in 2008 and won his third national title at the U.S. Open. However, a dislocated shoulder derailed his hope to qualify for his third Olympics and he retired permanently.

In 2009, Gruenwald answered God’s call and came to Wheaton in order to begin the tall task of turning around a struggling seven-member wrestling squad, the best of whom had finished 21-21 the year before. Seven years later, the fruits of his labor are evident as the program has 22 wrestlers, has featured a CCIW champion in each of the past two years and has had three All-Americans in the past three years. As one of the wrestling program’s mottos, “Jesus Christ is life, the rest is just wrestling,” suggests, Gruenwald is focused on more than just the wrestling mats.

“I need to keep the promise I made to all the parents who agreed to send their kids here to be mentored by me so that when they graduate from Wheaton College, wherever God calls them,” said Gruenwald, “they need to be able to leave this place as independent men of God, ready to serve Him. That’s what I care about.”
Without a doubt, Gruenwald is a true man of God. His office walls are decorated with reminders of both successes and failures, like when he attempted to run a 100-mile race, yet barely trained and ended up being forced to quit only 27 miles into the competition. This humility becomes apparent in the wrestling program’s chosen motto this year, printed on the back of the team’s shirts — “All in.”

“What we, as Christians, need to be is all in. If I’m at home, as a father, I’m all in. When I’m supposed to be a husband, I’m all in, too. When I’m at a wrestling tournament, I’m all in as a coach. When I’m wrestling with my guys in practice, I’m all in for whatever exercise we’re doing,” explained Gruenwald. “A balanced Christian life is a fake Christian life; we need to be all in wherever we are.”

At home, this “all in” mentality allows Gruenwald to make time for his seven children, all under the age of 14-years-old. Despite continuing to receive calls from Olympic wrestling officials asking him to return and coach for the national team, Gruenwald is convinced that Wheaton is where God wants him and his family. Watching him reminisce on his life and God’s work, the initially intimidating wrestler becomes emotional.
“I look at my life and what I could have been, coming from my dad’s alcoholism, divorced parents and growing up in the inner-city for a while… my life could have been a train wreck,” Gruenwald said. “Some of those decisions and pivotal moments, like accepting Christ and where am I going to go to college… those were defining moments for me. God is amazing.”

Dan Olsen places third in NCAA wrestling tournament

Senior Dan Olsen ended his Wheaton wrestling ca­reer about as well as anyone could ask for: with a third place finish at nationals and All-American honors for the second time. Olsen is the first two-time All-American wres­tler from Wheaton since 2001.

Four Thunder wrestlers competed in the Division III Wrestling Championships last weekend, finishing with 17 points and giving Whea­ton 23rd place. Only Olsen in the 184-pound class earned All-American honors, given to wrestlers who finish in the top eight in their weight class.

Wrestling team builds on historic 2015 season, qualifies for Nationals

The Thunder wrestling team built on their historic 2015 season by qualifying four wrestlers for Division III Nationals and finishing fifth at the Midwest Regional Championships.

Senior Mark Savenok won the 149-pound class, and freshman Carlos Fuentez, sophomore Stephen Aiello and senior Dan Olsen each took second in their respective classes to earn NCAA qualifying spots.

“I think the team performed really well,” head coach Jim Gruenwald said. “If you look at the seeds and then who got through, we earned a lot more respect from region than in recent years.”

Savenok took first in his class with wins by decisions of 8-5, 7-6 and 5-2. For Savenok, it will be his second straight trip to the Division III National Championships, as he took seventh in the 157-pound class last year.

“In a new weight class, (Mark) has to make sure he dictates the pace of the match and he did just that today,” Gruenwald said.

Fuentez surprised the field by taking second in the 125-pound class. He won his first match by pin in under two minutes then followed it up with wins by decisions of 10-2 and 10-4 over the third and second seeds in the tournament. He then suffered his first loss 17-4 in the championship match but still earned an NCAA spot.

Aiello makes his second straight trip to the NCAA championships after a runner up finish in the 165-pound class. He won his first three matches with a 2-0 decision, a 4-2 sudden victory and a 5-4 decision over the top seed Matt Tuttle from Alma. Aiello fell in the championship match by a 10-5 decision but was good enough for second place.

Olsen had a bye in the first round of the 184-pound class and then followed with wins by decisions of 9-5 and 3-2. In the championship match, he took on defending national champion Riley Lefever of Wabash College, falling 15-8 but earning a spot in the National Championships.

The four qualified Thunder wrestlers hit the mats at the National Championships in Hershey, Penn. next weekend, beginning March 13. Matches begin at 10 a.m. CST.