Baker is sending five wrestlers to nationals in Topeka on Friday and Saturday. This marks the second consecutive year Baker has had five wrestlers qualify for nationals after the NAIA Central National Qualifier.
Despite being the defending 133-pound NAIA national champion, sophomore Bryce Shoemaker will be entering the tournament ranked No. 2 in his weight class. Michael Ruiz from Great Falls, Montana, is in the No. 1 spot.
“I never have cared about the rankings” Shoemaker said. “Anything can happen at nationals. It never ends the way everyone was previously ranked.”
Coaches gave the wrestlers one week off to get ready for the tournament. Shoemaker used his time off to mentally focus and prepare to defend his title.
“I feel good, I feel motivated,” Shoemaker said. “It’s been a good week off and I’m just excited to go out there and wrestle. It would be extremely special if I won it twice. I know I’m capable of doing it. I just need to go out there and wrestle smart and my match.”
Joining Shoemaker to compete at nationals will be senior Nick Haugen (157 pounds), sophomore Bryant Guillen (174 pounds), and freshmen Mike Andreano (125 pounds ) and Juan Rivera (141 pounds).
“We’re all ready to go out there and give it our all,” Shoemaker said. “We’ve had a good two weeks of practice, it’s always different this time of year and I like the energy that’s still in the room even after the long season. We’re ready physically. It’s just putting it together mentally when it comes to nationals.”
Haugen returns to nationals for the fourth time in his collegiate career. Last year, Haugen was able to finish in eighth place in the 149-pound class and receive All-American honors. Going into the tournament this year, Haugen is ranked ninth in the nation with a chance to repeat his All-American performance.
Guillen is a two-time Kansas 5A state champion from Topeka. He is entering the tournament ranked seventh in the 174-pound class.
Andreano and Rivera are entering the tournament unranked but Shoemaker thinks they have potential to create some upsets.
“Our new guys have a good chance of making it to the all-American round,” Shoemaker said. “we all just need to wrestle one match at a time.”
The NAIA National Wrestling Tournament will represent 44 institutions as it brings together 211 wrestlers, including six defending national champions and 40 returning All-Americans.