Jack Heldt ’23 firmly cemented his Wabash legacy by capturing the national title at 285-pounds on Saturday, March 11, at the NCAA Division III National Championships in Roanoke, Virginia. He joins an exclusive club of Wabash wrestlers, becoming the fifth Little Giant to win a national championship.
The national title capped off an impressive college career for the Carmel native, finishing with a 91-14 record over four years. It also made him just the second Wabash wrestler to compete for two consecutive national titles, with four-time champion Riley Lefever ’17 the only other Little Giant to do so.
Heldt went into the national tournament seeded number one and unbeaten on the year. In the first two rounds held on Friday, March 10, Heldt swept aside the University of Chicago’s Cole Fibranz and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Carl DiGiorgio to make it to Saturday’s semifinal and secure All-America honors.
In the semifinal, Heldt faced off against fourth-seeded Tyler Kim of Augsburg University. Just 2:46 into the match, Heldt put Kim on his back and pinned him to the mat—Heldt had secured his place in the final, where he would wrestle the No. 3 seed Kaleb Reeves of Coe College.
“It’s definitely a rollercoaster of emotions—not much sleep is had over the weekend, that’s for sure” Heldt said. “But once you get to the tournament, you have to realize that you’ve already done as much as you can. So even in the matches where I knew I was the favorite, I just had to go out there and keep doing my thing, try not to let the pressure get to me.”
Reeves came into the final off the back of an upset victory over Olivet College’s Donovan King. But he was no match for the in-form Heldt. The Little Giant dominated the match, taking an early lead and holding out for a 6-1 victory. Heldt was the national champion.
“It is a pure pleasure to coach Jack Heldt,” said Head Wrestling Coach Brian Anderson. “He has done a great job at being very coachable during his career at Wabash and knows how to adapt in high pressure matches, which is a special gift to have. His day-to-day approach and championship lifestyle have been the key to his success. He is a relentless worker and competes in everything he does.”
Heldt finished the season undefeated with a 40-0 record, despite this being his first year wrestling at 285. In all three of his previous years at Wabash, he had wrestled in the 197-pound category where, in 2022, he finished as national runner-up. But the shift, he says, came naturally.
“It honestly wasn‘t a crazy adjustment,” said Heldt. “Wrestling is wrestling, so it‘s not like by going up weight class I reinvented the wheel. I just worked really hard over the summer to put on as much mass as possible and try to get to where a lot of the other heavyweights are.”
The senior’s undefeated year is made even more impressive by the fact that, in the middle of the season, he had to study for comprehensive exams. But student-athlete as he is, Heldt achieved a distinction in biology, the highest grade awarded on senior comps.
Five other Little Giants wrestled at the national tournament, including Chase Baczek ’25 who, alongside Heldt, also earned All-America honors. Baczek placed seventh at 184 pounds, falling to a 3-2 defeat in the opening round of competition. He was, however, able to make amends in the seventh-place bout, defeating Roanoke College’s Mahlic Sallah with an 8-0 major decision.
James Day ’26 entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed at 125. However, Day fell in his opening match to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Luca Paladino in a 5-3 decision. Evan Burge ’23, who competed at 141, also lost in the first round after having beaten Bradley Rosen of North Central College in the preliminary match.
The Little Giants finished tenth in the standings, extending the team’s run of top ten finishes to seven years.
“The coaching staff knew that this season would be a ‘hold in the top 10’ season,” said Coach Anderson. “Our expectation is to never fall out of the top 10, and we fully expect to challenge for a top four trophy next season. We have finished in the top 10 at nationals every year since 2014, and we don‘t plan to stop!”
With five of Wabash’s six national qualifiers returning in 2023-24, the Little Giants hope to come back even stronger next year.
“It‘s tough to lose the firepower we did to graduation in 2022, and we were a very young team this year,” said Coach Anderson. “But place a strong recruiting class on top of [this year’s national qualifiers] and good things are going to happen at the 2024 Championships. I‘m excited already!”