After winning a second consecutive Division II Championship last March – by 59 points – veteran coach Mike Denney’s troops returned three finalists and five All-Americans for the 2010-11 campaign.
This dual season produced some dramatic moments – even a 19-18 loss on Jan. 21 to St. Cloud State – but a 30-point win at the Super Region II certainly showed the Mavericks are serious about winning a third consecutive Division II championship this weekend at Kearney, Neb.
The only team to qualify all 10 wrestlers, UNO will send an intimidating bunch to the mat.
Senior Mario Morgan (26-4) lost in the 141-pound finals in 2010. Junior Esai Dominguez (36-3) lost in the 149-pound finals last season. Sophomore George Ivanov (30-3) lost in the 157-pound finals as a freshman. Senior 174-pounder Ryan Pankoke (37-2) was third at 165 in 2010.
Senior Aaron Denson (30-6) lost in the finals in 2009 at 165 pounds.
Morgan, Dominguez, Ivanov and Pankoke are all ranked No. 1 heading to Kearney.
“We’ve got our Murderer’s Row with those three (Morgan, Dominguez and Ivanov) but we’ve also got some bookends,” said Denney entering the postseason.
Augustana (S.D.) was a distant second in 2010. Seven qualified this season led by defending 141-pound champion Jay Sherer (20-5) and unbeaten 197-pounder Ty Copsey (20-0), a runner-up last season. Nate Herda (22-8 at 149), Marcus Edgington (22-6 at 157) and Gavin Nelson (28-6 at 165) were All-Americans in 2010.
Newberry was eighth in 2010. Led by returning 184-pound champion Bryant Blanton (35-2) the Wolves bring a veteran group to Kearney. John McDonald, who started his career at D-I Lehigh, is 27-2 at 125 pounds. Three others bring at least 30 wins into the tournament. Heavyweight Jake Elkins is a solid 25-6.
St. Cloud State finished seventh in 2010. Junior Tad Merritt was fifth at 165 last season and brings a 35-3 record into the 2011 tournament. Heavyweight Jake Kahnke (26-1), just a sophomore, was fourth in 2010, while Shamus O’Grady (28-7) and Gabe Suarez (25-8) were top-8 finishers last season.
David James’ Central Oklahoma squad, uncharacteristically outside the top 10 last season, qualified eight, none of which were All-Americans a year ago. Seven of the eight are eight are either freshmen or sophomores. Freshman 157-pounder Cory Dauphin is 26-5 with 133-pounder Trison Graham (34-14) and 184-pounder Tanner Keck (31-13) each bringing 30 victories.
James has been coach at UCO since 1982 and led the Bronchos to team titles in 2002, ’03 and ’07. UCO also won four in a row from 1992-95.
Another veteran coach, Pat Pecora, will coach his Pitt-Johnstown team for a 35th time at the DII Championships. The Mountain Cats won titles in 1996 and ’99 and bring seven to the 2011 tournament. Senior heavyweight Chris Dempsey (25-7) was eighth last season. Sophomore 133-pounder Ryan Link is 26-2.
Upper Iowa tied for third with Nebraska-Kearney at the 2010 Championships. UI’s Kyle Pedretti (27-9) was third at 133 a year ago but the Peacocks will have to replace the points of 2010 champion Travis Eggers and finalist Tyler Mumbolo.
The host Lopers, champions in 2008, qualified seven led by 2010 third place finisher TJ Hepburn, who is 33-3 this season. Iowa State transfer Dalton Jensen (25-4) will factor into the 141-pound race. Junior 165-pounder Joey Wilson brings a 34-8 mark into the tournament.
The West’s top contender is Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Still in its infancy as a program – the Antelopes opened for business in 2007-08 – GCU qualified seven led by All-Americans Victor Carazco (30-3 at 174) and Ryan Becerra (26-11 at 197). Todd Wilcox, 133-pounder, brings a 32-3 standard with heavyweight Eli Arizmendez winning 20 of his 22 bouts so far this season.
Another from out west, Western State of Colorado, could improve on a 10th place finish a year ago. Defending 197-pound champion Donovan McMahill brings a 28-0 mark to Kearney. Charlie Pipher (16-1 at 184) and Charlie Alexander (14-1 at 285) were also All-Americans last March. WSU won DII titles in 1963 and ’64.
By the Numbers
66 – Margin between champion Nebraska-Omaha and second-place Newberry at the 2009 DII Championships.
59 – Margin between champion Nebraska-Omaha and second-place Augustana at the 2010 DII Championships.
40 – Number of programs represented at the DII Wrestling Championships.
37 – Number of states represented in the tournament field.
26 – Wrestlers in the tournament with at least 30 wins.
21 – Number of freshmen qualifiers.
18 – Number of wrestlers in the field from the state of Pennsylvania.
11 – Number of states with one wrestler in the tournament. They are: Alaska, Alabama, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.
8 – Number of schools with one qualifier.
7 – Number of consecutive team titles Cal Poly, now Division I, won between 1968-74.
7 – Number of 2010 finalists in this season’s field.
6 – Number of wrestlers in the field from the state of Nebraska.
5 – Number of team titles Nebraska-Omaha has won since 2004.
4 – Number of consecutive titles Central Oklahoma won from 1992-95.
3 – Number of wrestlers in the field with an under .500 winning percentage. They are: Adams State’s Gerald Huff, who is 8-12 at 125; Mesa State’s Tyler Nelson, who is 15-17 at 133; and San Francisco State’s Gene Choi, who is 17-18 at 174.
3 – Number of defending champions in the field. They are Augustana 141-pounder Jay Sherer, Newberry’s Bryant Blanton and Western State’s Donovan McMahill.
2 – Number of unbeaten wrestlers in the field. McMahill (28-0) and Ty Copsey of Augustana (20-0) are both in the same half of the 197-pound bracket. They met in the 2010 finals. McMahill was also in the 2008 DII finals
2 – There are two graduate students in the tournament, both suiting up for Ashland (Ohio). 165-pounder Brandon Kelly is a native of Ft. Meyer, Fla., who transferred to Ashland from Newberry. 141-pounder Kyle Kanaga is originally from Greensboro, N.C.
1 – Number of schools with 10 qualifiers (Nebraska-Omaha).
½ – Margin of victory between champion Nebraska-Kearney and second place Minnesota State-Mankato at the 2008 DII Championships.