Five wrestlers headed to NAIA championships


Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

The No. 19 Baker wrestling team will send five wrestlers to compete at the NAIA national championships this weekend at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka. This will be the team’s first trip to nationals under head coach Cody Garcia.

Seniors Colby Crank (157 pounds) and Connor Middleton (165 pounds), juniors Kyler Atwood (197 pounds) and Victor Hughes (149 pounds) and sophomore Tyler Dickman (141 pounds) will represent Baker in Topeka. None of the five have competed at the national championship level.

Baker has had a big presence in Topeka for the past two national championships. Last season the Wildcats also sent five wrestlers to nationals and finished with three NAIA All-Americans. In 2014 former Baker wrestler Bryce Shoemaker became the program’s first national champion. Shoemaker now wrestles for the University of Nebraska at Kearney Lopers.

The Wildcats finished third at their regional qualifier in February at Missouri Valley College. Baker finished third behind four-time defending national champion Grand View University and second-place Missouri Valley. Grand View enters the national championships at No. 1 in the NAIA for the fifth consecutive season.

Baker’s wrestlers will match up with wrestlers from Williams Baptist, Embry-Riddle, Montana State-Northern and York in their opening matches. Colby Crank is the only Wildcat that will receive a first-round bye. These preliminary brackets are still subject to change. There are 240 wrestlers at this year’s championship, up 30 from last year.

Six different teams at this weekend’s championships will represent the Heart of America Athletic Conference. Graceland, Grand View, Missouri Valley, Benedictine, William Penn and Baker are all sending at least one wrestler to Topeka.

The weekend’s events begin at 10 a.m. Friday at the Expocentre. The event will feature four sessions, leading to the championship rounds that start at 7 p.m. on Saturday.