KEARNEY, Neb. – At the 2010 Division II Wrestling Championships, T.J. Hepburn lost in the first round. It was certainly a match to forget as the sophomore got pinned while winning.
The native of East Hampton, Conn., battled back to win five consecutive matches to take third place but it wasn’t what the 149 pounder had planned.
“A lot of people might say bad memories but I don’t look at it that way,” Hepburn said. “I came back to finish third … didn’t give up because I lost in the first round. It just wasn’t my year to win it.”
On Friday, he made sure it didn’t happen again, especially in front of the home fans.
Hepburn, a junior for Nebraska-Kearney, host of the 2011 DII Championships, beat Central Oklahoma’s Austin Standage 7-2 to advance to the quarterfinals where he will face Gannon’s Ethan Swope.
Entering the weekend, Hepburn was 33-3 with all three of his losses to Division I opponents – Oklahoma State’s Stephen Swan twice at the Kaufman-Brand Open in November and Oklahoma State’s Matt White at the Fort Hays Open in December.
All three setbacks also came at 157 pounds. Since moving to 149 in January, Hepburn is 21-0 including Friday’s early session victory.
“I’ve been thinking about this tournament for awhile,” Hepburn said. “But I’ve been sick all week, which isn’t the best timing. I needed to get a burn and I definitely got it from (Standage). Most guys I lock up with (a far-side fireman’s carry), I usually pin. But (Standage) fought it off twice in the first period.
“It was a tough match to start the weekend, which is exactly what I wanted.”
Hepburn used the far-side fireman’s for two points in the first period and an explosive double-leg for a 4-1 lead in the second before pulling away in the final two minutes.
A three-time high school state champion for Ledyard High School, who pinned 120 opponents during a 200-4 prep career, Hepburn was honored in 2007 with the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award for Connecticut. In 2008 he was a silver medalist at the JUCO National Championships while competing for Colby Community College in Kansas.
“Having the home crowd is great support. And my family came down so I really want to win it for them,” Hepburn said.
Top-ranked Nebraska-Omaha, winners of the last two DII team titles, pushed eight wrestlers into the quarterfinals after an 8-2 first round. The Mavericks lead the pack with Western State, Augustana (S.D.), St. Cloud State and Newberry rounding out the top five.
Augustana (S.D.) started the weekend 7-0, pushing seven into the quarters with Upper Iowa and St. Cloud each advancing six. Newberry, Western State, Grand Canyon and Nebraska-Kearney each have five in the championship bracket.
The unexpected, as usual
• Nebraska-Omaha received a break two hours before the tournament started when Grand Canyon 125 pounder Madison Gambrell forfeited his first-round match due to injury. Gambrell’s opponent was scheduled to be UNO’s Josh Keszler. Tournament scoring gives two points for pins and medical forfeits, plus a point for advancement in the championship bracket, meaning the Mavericks had a 3-0 lead on the field before competition actually started.
• The first upset of the weekend didn’t take long. Upper Iowa’s Trevor Franklin beat UNC-Pembroke’s Russell Weakley 5-2 in the 125 pound bracket. Weakley entered the postseason ranked No. 1 and with just one loss but had to win a challenge match at the regional just to qualify for Kearney.
• A weight later, Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Ryan Link, who entered 26-2, lost to Western State’s Jesse Cruz 4-0.
• The trifecta, and probably the biggest shocker, occurred when Nebraska-Omaha’s George Ivanov, 30-3 this season and a national runner-up a year ago, lost to Upper Iowa’s Winston Robbins (25-16) in the first round at 157 pounds. Robbins picked up a cheap tilt in the final five seconds to win 11-9.
• A young Central Oklahoma squad got off to a 1-7 start, getting only Kelly Henderson’s victory at 174 pounds in the opening session. Veteran Broncho coach David James brought seven underclassmen to Kearney where, four years ago, UCO won the team title.
The toughest bracket this weekend?
• Maybe 141 pounds. One of the first-round matchups included a pair of former All-Americans, Gabe Suarez of St. Cloud State and Naveed Bagheri of San Francisco State. Another opener featured Minnesota State-Moorhead’s Brady Schneeberger and former Division I starter Dalton Jensen, now suiting up for Nebraska-Kearney.
• The best match saw Mario Morgan of Nebraska-Omaha rally from a 4-2 hole to beat Shippensburg’s Simon Rice. Bagheri had no troubles with Suarez, winning 12-4. Defending champion Jay Sherer of Augustana (S.D.) beat Grand Canyon freshman Kyle Wilson 8-5.
• Friday night’s quarterfinals feature Morgan (27-4) against Bagheri (26-8), the top two individuals at 141 all season. Jensen, a 5-2 winner against Schneeberger in the first round, meets Gannon’s Andrew Milanak, a sixth-place finisher in 2010.
In the 197-pound finals of the 2010 Championships, Western State’s Donovan McMahill beat Augustana (S.D.) College’s Ty Copsey. McMahill, who scored a takedown in 2 seconds in his opening bout and went on to a 15-5 win, improved to 29-0. Copsey (21-0) beat Minnesota State-Mankato’s Shane Miller 10-1 in his opener. The two seniors are in the same half of the bracket, and with victories on Friday evening, should meet in Saturday morning’s semifinals.
The original 165 pound bracket included Grand Canyon junior Mike Fucci. The error was corrected in an undated bracket with Colorado School of Mines’ Jordan Larson, who faced St. Cloud State’s Tad Merritt in the first round.
The NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association inducted four into the Division II Hall of Fame on March 11. The 15th class of induction included Shane Carwin (Western State), Frank Kuchera (Nebraska-Kearney), Jeff Sylvester (Nebraska-Kearney) and Bob Hollingshead (Western State).