DES MOINES, Iowa – In just three short years, the Lindsey Wilson College wrestling team made its mark as a championship-caliber program in the NAIA.
Holding onto a slim 3-2 lead throughout the final minute, Charlie Pingleton fought off Nik Turner from Oklahoma City to win the Blue Raiders' first individual national title at the NAIA Wrestling National Championships on Saturday at the Jacobson Exhibition Center at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
"It's been a great journey for Charlie," said Lindsey Wilson head coach Corey Ruff. "I've known him a little over two years, I'm just excited for him and proud of him. He had so many ups and downs throughout the season."
Pingleton (157) was one of three Lindsey Wilson wrestlers competing in the finals as Keith Klink (133) and Ian Stephens (174) finished as national runner-ups.
As a team, the Blue Raiders used a national champion, two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and one wrestler in seventh to finish fourth in the team standings with 96.5 points.
Grand View (Iowa) won its first team national title with 172 points, Southern Oregon was second with 141 points and Campbellsville (Ky.) finished third with 121.5 points.
Lindsey Wilson posted its highest finish in its short three-year history, topping last year's 15th-place finish with two All-Americans.
This year Klink, Pingleton, Stephens, DaMonte Riley and Isaac Thomas all earned All-American honors with their top-eight finishes.
While Pingleton will go down as the program's first title winner, there were moments late in his match with Turner that had everyone holding their breath.
It was Pingleton's defensive efforts that likely sealed the championship, avoiding a late takedown that could have turned the title over to Oklahoma City.
‘We were a little bit on egg shells," said Ruff who was animated on the sideline as the final seconds ticked down. "We're trying to hold a one-point lead and I wasn't so much nervous as I was just excited and couldn't wait to celebrate. Those second couldn't tick off fast enough.
For Pingleton, he says that last minute could have easily been 10 in his mind while on the mat.
"That final minute just felt like it was 10 minutes long," said Pingleton. "I was just waiting for the time to run out, I knew I had to not give up that takedown at the end and I got good position and became a national champ."
The championship was a good feeling on a night that Pingleton wanted so much more for his friends and teammates Klink and Stephens who came up just short of their own titles.
"I'm so proud of our team tonight," said Pingleton. "We had our ups and downs this season like coach said, but I think we all peaked at the right time."
While Klink fought hard but could never gain an advantage against Omi Acosta from Grand View in a 7-4 loss, the shocker of the night was at 174 pounds where Stephens saw a 4-2 lead vanish in the final 10 seconds.
His opponent, Brock Gutches from Southern Oregon, found enough energy for one last big move and scored two points back-to-back on a takedown and near fall to pull off the improbable 6-4 win.
"I have so much faith in Ian, he's just so fast, so athletic and so strong that it's really hard for anybody to beat him and the way to do it, to be honest, is the way it happened tonight," said Ruff. "Waiting to the very end and trying to steal it and that kid (Gutches) did a great job of doing that."
Earlier in the day the Blue Raiders earned more team points as Riley finished off six straight wins in wrestlebacks to earn third place at 141 pounds.
Overall it was a great week for Lindsey Wilson wrestling as it saw a season that was frustrating at times end in gold-medal fashion.
"We never lost our focus from March 1 through March 3," said Ruff. "These guys got on board with the system and believed in me and my coaching staff. Is it surprising that we're in this position? Maybe a little bit, but we always knew we were capable of it."