By Joe Guistina, Lycoming College Associate Athletic Director/Communications
WILLIAMSPORT — They are the two winningest wrestlers in Lycoming College program history, combining for 278 wins in their careers.
They have taken Lycoming College from a program that didn’t have a national qualifier two years in a row to a program that has three All-American honors in the last two. They have led the Warriors to back-to-back top-25 finishes at the NCAA Division III Championships.
Now, seniors Nolan Barger of Clearfield and Seth Lansberry will have a final opportunity to step onto the mat with their eyes fixed on becoming the school’s first national champions in nine years when the NCAA Division III Championships open in La Crosse, Wis., Friday morning.
The road for the title will be clogged for both, with Barger’s 165-pound bracket featuring six other returning All-Americans and the returning national champion in Stevens Point’s Logan Hermsen, and Lansberry’s 149-pound bracket featuring two-time champ Kenny Martin of Wartburg.
Neither one has ever backed down from a challenge, though, and this one they have worked towards with every practice and meet during the past four years.
The day before they headed on the road, Barger downplayed the excitement in another chance at becoming an All-American and instead focused on the tournament in front of him.
“It’s about staying mentally tough,” he said, “and taking it one match at a time – just focusing on the match in front of you and the tournament will come together.”
Lansberry, meanwhile, was a bit more excitable.
“I’m ready to go out there and kick some (butt)” he said. “As hard as it is to say, it is just another tournament. Yeah, it’s the last one, but I had a lot of fun last year, so I am just going to go out there with that same mentality. I am just going to give it my all.”
For anyone who has followed the Warriors, the yin-and-yang relationship between the two comes as no surprise. What Barger does with a stoic poise, Lansberry will do with a natural excitation. What doesn’t differ is their focus, their work ethic, or their heart.
Lansberry, who is the No. 2 seed in the draw, enters the tournament with his name firmly entrenched at the top of Lycoming’s record book. His 142 wins are a school record, along with 25 technical falls and 26 major decisions. This season, he has tied the school record with a 38-match winning streak and set a school record with 13 technical falls. Before this season, no one had more than 12 in their careers at Lycoming.
“Seth developed a mentality after beating a couple good guys that he realized he was as good as them,” Barger said. “It’s about being strong in every position.”
The Klingerstown native is lightning on his feet – he has been taken down three times this year, all in a 12-10 sudden-victory win over Waynesburg’s Shaun Wilson in the NCAA Mideast Regional final. He is tough on top and quick to get opponents in position to give up back points. He also is willing to cut an opponent to get back to work on his feet, where he has more than 70 takedowns.
“That last match really did open my eyes,” Lansberry said of the regional final, where he scored two takedowns in the final 30 seconds of regulation to tie it. “There’s a lot of stuff that I needed to work on. I wrestled a full match in the semifinals, but that was the first match that had gotten out of the first period in a month. I wasn’t used to wrestling in that style for a full seven minutes. It was a wake-up call to get going. I am ready to go as long as it takes. If I have to go overtime four times to win a national title, I will do it every time.”
Lansberry (38-0) will open the tournament by facing Centenary’s Christopher Muce Friday morning, and if he wins, he will wrestle the winner of Ferrum’s seventh-seed Collin Saunders (27-8) and Wabash’s Griffin Schermer (28-7) in the quarterfinals Friday night, with the winner of that match being guaranteed All-American honors.
Barger, the No. 6 seed with a 35-3 record, also enters the tournament with his goal to leave a mark on the school record book unlike any other. He can become the first three-time All-American in program history after finishing third at the championships the last two years.
“Nolan’s a heck of a competitor,” Lansberry said. “He hates losing as much as I do. If you’re going to be as good as he is, you have to hate to lose. He doesn’t necessarily want to go out and shoot, shoot, shoot to score 1,000 points. That’s not his style. He has the ability to score 20 points, but he is more of a pinner. That is what makes him dangerous.”
Strong as an ox, Barger’s funky style has led to a 136-25 record in his career, while his 45 career pins, like his win total, are second in school history. His 13 technical falls are also second, as his penchant to score big points adds up quickly.
“I always have been a big move kind of guy,” Barger said. “It’s where I came from in high school. Clearfield focuses on the big moves, and guys have won state titles on the big moves. A lot of the people I surrounded myself with focused on that, and it kind of became my style. If you can pin somebody in 30 seconds, that leaves a lot less room for error. I just want to get out there, get it done as quick as possible and get off the mat.”
In two years at the national tournament, Barger has racked up a 10-2 record with three pins and he enters the loaded 165-pound field as the only two-time All-American. He is the Warriors’ first three-time NCAA qualifier since Chris Dahlheimer from 2008-10, and he will be wrestling in the championships in a third state, after going to Hershey in 2015 and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2016.
“It was nice to start in Hershey, a place I was comfortable at,” Barger said. “It’s cool wrestling in your backyard where your friends and family can come watch you. It’s also cool to travel the country. Last year was the furthest I had ever been out west. The sport has given me a lot of opportunities to go places I have never gone before. It’s the same thing this year – we’ll go even further west.”
The Clearfield native will begin his quest for a title when he faces the winner of the pigtail round match between The College of New Jersey’s Nick Herring (23-3) and St. John’s (Minn.) Teddy Erickson (16-9) Friday morning. If he wins, he will face the winner of the match between Johnson & Wales’ No. 3 seed Stephen Jarrell (41-2) and Olivet’s Davon Jackson (24-10) in the quarterfinals Friday night.
“There are a lot of guys that are returning All-Americans and a lot of guys that have made it to the blood round,” Barger said. “It’s definitely a deep bracket and anybody can take it. It just comes down to who puts together the best tournament. If I wrestle in positions that I am good at, if I get opponents in the positions that I am best at, I’ll win the matches.”