Central College’s Joseph Atwell faces a steep hill to climb as he prepares for the NCAA Division III Wrestling Tournament, but the 157-pounder wasn’t exactly a favorite to reach the National Tournament anyway.
Atwell, a junior, earned his first national appearance by capturing a third-place finish at the Iowa Conference Tournament to claim an automatic bid. Having lost in the first round, he had to muscle his way through the bottom half of the bracket, defeating a nationally-ranked opponent and avenging his opening-round loss along the way.
Carrying a 23-9 record into Friday’s meet, Atwell will face top-seeded Orlando Ponce of Augsburg College, who is 20-0 and a three-time national runner-up. The winner advances to the championship quarterfinals, while the loser moves to the consolation bracket.
It’s the second straight year Central has sent a wrestler to the NCAA Division III Wrestling Tournament, which is being held Friday and Saturday at La Crosse, Wisconsin.