KEARNEY, Neb. – Don’t let the bowtie fool you. On a wrestling mat, Donovan McMahill is anything but soft.
To relax on Friday night, Ty Copsey planned on watching the movie “Elf” starring Will Ferrell.
It’s the calm before the storm of an anticipated Saturday morning battle at the Division II Wrestling Championships at 197 pounds. The two seniors, both two-time All-Americans and who met in the 2010 finals, will hook up in the semifinals this time around.
McMahill, wrestling for Western State (Colo.), hammered two opponents during Friday’s first day of competition inside Nebraska-Kearney’s Health and Sports Center. The first session saw McMahill beat St. Cloud State’s Lucas Munkelwitz 15-5. In Friday night’s quarterfinals, Nebraska-Omaha’s Matt Baker was the victim 9-3.
“Just going to relax, go out with the family to take my mind off things,” McMahill said. “I wrestled hard (on Friday). I didn’t want to have any kind of letdown.
“I’ve had to beat tough guys all along, so it’s another tough one (Saturday morning).”
When Saturday rolls around, McMahill, now 30-0, will face perhaps his biggest challenge on the rough road to a second DII title. Standing in the way is Copsey, who is 22-0 after two victories on Friday with the second coming against Newberry’s John Reed. Copsey was part of a 14-1 first day for Augustana (S.D.).
“Winning is contagious,” said Copsey, an Iowa state champion as a high school senior. “The next round is a big one, obviously. It’s going to be a barn-burner, a very tough match.
“I’m not going to look at a bracket or do anything to think about the tournament. I’m going to find a movie and relax.”
“We surround ourselves with good people,” said McMahill, who is one of three Western State semifinalists. “We’ll find something to do tonight, go out with the family, nothing really serious. In the morning we’ll get up and start the process of getting amped back up again.
“It’s a finals-type match but you have to beat them all anyway to be the champion, so the fact that it’s the semifinals shouldn’t matter that much. I just know I have to be ready. I know (Copsey) will be.”
McMahill won two state titles for Weld High School near Lochbuie, Colo., before heading to Gunnison. He has won 49 consecutive matches and his 135 career wins are a school record. In 2008, as a freshman, he lost in the DII final.
A year later things didn’t go so well as a DNP (did not place) sat next to his name at the conclusion of the 2009 championships. He responded, however, winning his first championship last March.
With two wins on Saturday, McMahill would become Western State’s second two-time national champion, joining Al Rozman who won titles in 1964 and ’65.
As for the bowtie?
“We were in Las Vegas and saw them,” he said. “We thought it would be funny to wear them for our mug shots (for the WSU website). We like to have some fun.”
Speaking of fun
Augustana (S.D.) College opened the quarterfinals with five consecutive wins, including Nate Herda’s down-to-the wire, one-point victory against Nebraska-Omaha’s Esai Dominguez, a finalist in 2010, at 149 pounds. One of Dominguez’s three losses in 39 matches entering the tournament was to Herda at the National Duals.
“We’ve been working on getting to the leg and battling from there. That’s a big win for me,” said Herda, who was fourth as a freshman last season. “Our coaches really get us ready to go. We took our bumps at the beginning of the year but you have to have faith. They said we would be wrestling our best here and we are. Nobody can keep up with our gas tanks.
“It was dogfight because we’ve seen each other so many times. Some people counted us out but we came out of a tough regional.”
Herda gets Nebraska-Kearney’s T.J. Hepburn (35-3) in the semifinals.
The Vikings, second by 59 points to UNO in 2010, held a 6-point lead on the Mavericks after the quarterfinals. The Vikings pushed six into the semifinals.
“It’s only going to get tougher,” said Viking head coach Jason Reitmeyer, who is in his eighth season. “We aren’t big scorers, we are grinders. (Herda) had wrestled Dominguez earlier this year so we knew what type of match to expect. We were able to pull that one out like a lot of tough matches (on Friday).
“It would be nice to have (Copsey and McMahill) in the finals but that’s the way the brackets are drawn out. There are tough matches all over the place in this tournament.”
By the time the second session ended, however, the powerful Mavericks had overtaken the Vikings, 57.5-54.5, the exact same lead they started with earlier in the day.
Mike Denney’s troops advanced four to the semifinals and put together a strong evening consolation session with three winning bouts.
Newberry, Grand Canyon, Nebraska-Kearney, St. Cloud State and Western State each pushed three to the semifinals. St. Cloud (47), Newberry (41) and Grand Canyon (38.5) rounded out the top 5 in the team scoring.
Saturday’s first session is set for 11 a.m. (ET) with the finals on the big stage at 8 p.m. In order to earn All-America status, wrestlers must finish in the top 8 at their respective weight classes. After Friday, only eight remain in each weight. Nineteen schools have at least one semifinalist.
Match of the tournament … in the quarterfinals?
San Francisco State’s Naveed Bagheri, an All-American in 2009 at 133 pounds, and Nebraska-Omaha’s Mario Morgan, a two-time All-American and national finalist in 2010, met in an epic quarterfinal bout on Friday night.
Bagheri fought off three massive attacks from Morgan in the first period. He countered the fourth with a lateral drop in the final 10 seconds for a 2-1 lead after a wild three minutes. Morgan tied it and a Bagheri escape made it 3-2 early in the third.
Moments after Bagheri was hit for stalling, Morgan sent Bagheri flying with a lateral drop and scored a fall at 6:26. The always vocal UNO contingent erupted and the arena was still buzzing an hour later.
Earlier in the day, Morgan trailed 4-2 before rallying to beat Shippensburg’s Simon Rice 9-4.
“I got caught with something you don’t see all the time, something guys from out East use,” said Morgan, who takes a 28-4 record into Saturday morning’s semifinals. “I didn’t wrestle that first match my best but (Rice) wrestled tough.
“(Bagheri) and I have been ranked (Nos.) 1 and 2 all year. It would have been nice for that to maybe be the finals, but we can’t control that. You have to beat them all, so that doesn’t really matter. I just knew (in the third period) that I had to let if fly because I’ve only got a couple of matches left in my career. (Bagheri) hit a little half shot and I was able to catch him with that quick under-hook. All those summers of freestyle and Greco … I just reacted, did what I had to do to win the match.”
Morgan has won 26 consecutive matches heading into Saturday.
Long way, short time
Grand Canyon University in Arizona went 0-24-1 in duals in its first season of competition in 2007-08. In 2011, GCU has three in the semifinals and sat in fifth place after the first day.
Ty Wilcox (34-3) meets Augustana’s Jason Jeremiason in the 133 pound semifinals; Victor Carazo (32-3) faces UNO’s Ryan Pankoke at 174; and Teddy Bristol (19-10) will meet Dillon Bera of Wisconsin-Parkside at 157.
No follow up
After upsetting UNO’s George Ivanov in the first round at 157 pounds, Upper Iowa’s Winston Robbins suffered a 5-2 quarterfinal loss to Bristol on Friday night.
Fourteen officials worked the six mats two at a time on Friday. Five of those officials in Kearney this week will have a short break before heading to Philadelphia for the Division I Championships next weekend. Pat Fitzgerald, Mike Hagerty, Matt Zeitz, Kenny Ritchie and Ben Miller are scheduled to work next week.
Asked whether he ever gets tired of officiating wrestling in February and March, Zeitz, like many others, knows this is the best time of year, wrestling’s own version of March Madness.
“I think my wife gets tired of wrestling this time of year,” Zeitz joked.