College wrestling’s version of March Madness starts a week early with Division II and III hitting the postseason on Feb. 25-26.
The road to the DII NCAA Championships – March 12-13 in Kearney, Neb. — begins next weekend with regional tournaments in Erie, Pa.; Findlay, Ohio; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and San Francisco. The top four finishers at each weight class advance to the national meet.
Top-ranked Nebraska-Omaha finished its dual season on Wednesday night with a 22-9 victory against No. 2 Augustana (S.D.) and will enter the postseason in search of a third consecutive NCAA title. The Mavericks head to Findlay along with No. 5 Central Oklahoma.
Six of Division II’s top 20 squads will be in San Francisco led by No. 7 Grand Canyon (Ariz.) and No. 8 Nebraska-Kearney. The 141-pound bracket is a monster with second-ranked Naveed Bagheri (San Francisco State), fifth-ranked Kenny Jordan (Adams State), sixth-ranked Andre Harrison (Fort Hays State) and seventh-ranked Dalton Jensen (Nebraska-Kearney) all slated to appear.
Three of the top 10 – No. 2 Augustana (S.D.), No. 3 St. Cloud State and No. 8 Minnesota State Mankato – will be in Sioux Falls.
The Division III NCAA Championships are scheduled to be held in La Crosse, Wis., on March 12-13. Augsburg is the defending champion and has combined with Wartburg to claim every team title since 1994. Division III stages nine conference qualifiers on Feb. 26-27 to reach the NCAA meet.
Five of the top 10 125 pounders will be in the bracket at the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships. Defending DIII champion Clayton Rush of Coe, who is 27-1 this season, leads the pack. His only loss came on Nov. 19 to 2010 Division I champion Matt McDonough of Iowa. Wartburg’s Mark Kist (26-5), Buena Vista’s Austin Mogg (18-6), Luther’s Daniel Mendoza (16-10) and Dubuque’s Andre Taylor (14-5) will also be in the field. Taylor, a senior, started his career at Division I Oklahoma State before transferring.
The IIAC will send 33 wrestlers to the DIII Championships. No. 1 Wartburg enters the postseason with nine individuals ranked among the top 10 at their respective weights and will most likely have seven No. 1 seeds at the IIAC tournament in Indianola, Iowa.
The Great Lakes Regional in Sheboygan, Wis., features five of Division III’s top 25 squads. Third-ranked Augsburg, whose five dual losses are the most since 1987, will be challenged by No. 6 Concordia-Moorhead and No. 7 St. John’s (Minn.) for top honors. The Auggies have won every Great Lakes Regional since 2003 and have won a conference title every year since 1987.
Fourth-ranked Ithaca College has won two of the last three Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference titles and will be heavily favored in 2011. SUNY Cortland, ranked 20th this season, won the 2010 title with SUNY Brockport, ranked 28th, finishing second. The Bombers of Ithaca are led by top-ranked 165 pounder Derek Brenon (20-1) along with Blaine Woszczak (29-2 at 149) and Jeremy Stierly (16-1 at 141), both ranked second.
Need to Know
• Division III Ursinus beat McDaniel, New York University and SUNY Oswego last weekend, pushing longtime head coach Bill Racich’s wins total to 451. Racich, who became head coach at Ursinus in 1980, has led the Bears to a 451-110-7 record. The win total is good for 14th all-time and fifth among active coaches.
• Oklahoma head coach Jack Spates will work matside in a dual for the final time on Sunday when the eighth-ranked Sooners (13-1) host No. 3 Oklahoma State (13-2-1). Spates, whose 322 victories are tied for 19th all-time in Division I with Bob Bubb, is a 1975 graduate of Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania. The New York native was a 1974 NCAA runner-up and also coached at Cornell from 1988-93. Spates is 3-32-3 against Oklahoma State although the Bedlam Series is tied 2-2-1 during the last five meetings.
• The Hodge Trophy, wrestling’s version of the Heisman, is given out to the top Division I wrestler each year. The race is wide open in 2010-11. Some early contenders include: Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver, who is 21-0 with 18 bonus-point wins at 133 pounds; Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs, 27-0 with 25 bonus-point victories at 165 pounds; Michigan’s Kellen Russell, who is 29-0 at 141 pounds; Iowa State’s Jon Reader, who is 30-0 with 23 bonus-point wins at 174 pounds; Penn State rookie David Taylor, who is 30-0 with a phenomenal 29 bonus-point wins; and Arizona State 125-pounder Anthony Robles, who is 28-0 with 26 bonus-point wins, 15 of them technical falls. Under the radar is Boise State 157 pounder Adam Hall (23-0), Oklahoma State 197-pounder Clayton Foster (19-0) and Lehigh heavyweight Zach Rey (25-0).
• Division II Pittsburgh-Johnstown (15-2) finished its dual season on Wednesday with a 31-12 victory against Shippensburg. Mountain Cat head coach Pat Pecora now has 489 career victories, third among active coaches and seventh all-time.
• No. 2 Iowa (14-0-1) is at No. 5 Minnesota (15-3-1) on Sunday. The Hawkeyes take a 76-match unbeaten streak into Williams Arena where the Gophers tied No. 3 Penn State 18-18 last Sunday. Iowa has won five consecutive in the series. Oklahoma State holds the all-time consecutive unbeaten duals record, posting 84 consecutive duals from February of 1959 to February of 1966 without a loss.
• Up-and-down Lehigh, ranked 10th in this week’s NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll, beat No. 8 Rutgers 23-9 on Thursday. The Mountain Hawks (14-6) lost consecutive duals to Michigan, Kent State and Navy before upending No. 1 Cornell on Jan. 20. Since losing to Virginia Tech on Jan. 28 Lehigh has won four consecutive meets including Thursday night. Rutgers has lost just twice in 22 starts, the other coming to Penn State way back in November.