PUEBLO, Colo. – Nebraska-Kearney unveiled its version of Murderer’s Row this weekend at the Division II Wrestling Championships inside Massari Arena on the campus of Colorado State-Pueblo.
Dalton Jensen and T.J. Hepburn provided UNK head coach Marc Bauer with plenty of firepower heading into the 2011-12 campaign, after each advanced to the 2011 DII final.
The addition of Raufeon Stots, a transfer from Labette Community College, added another bullet to the gun.
The trio each won semifinal bouts on Saturday morning to advance to tonight’s championship bouts.
“T.J. and Raufeon go at it all the time; it’s pretty fun to watch,” said Bauer, whose Lopers are locked in a fight for team title honors with St. Cloud State. “They are both just lightening quick and so athletic.
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“Dalton controls every situation. He’s good on his feet but he really has the ability to wrestle from both positions on the mat, too. He brings a much more controlled style than those other two. They’ve certainly helped each other get better.”
Jensen (31-4) got by Augustana (S.D.) senior Chism Fink 7-4 in his semifinal. Stots (17-3) beat Central Oklahoma’s Ky Corley 6-1 in the 149-pound semifinals.
“It makes us a tough tournament team, having three guys right there in a row,” said Jensen, who meets Newberry’s B.J. Young in the final tonight. “We definitely work out together every day, pushing each other. It makes all of us better.
“Me and T.J. [Hepburn], we were in the finals last year, so we were expected to be the leaders of this team. Raufeon is such a great athlete and we knew he was going to be good. We aren’t surprised he made the finals.”
Hepburn (37-3) was a runner-up at 149 a year ago. He beat another runner-up from last season, Dillon Bera of Wisconsin-Parkside, in his semifinal bout. Unable to finish a pair of shots in regulation, Hepburn, a three-time All-American, found pay dirt with an overtime shot for a 4-2 victory.
Stots faces Maryville (Mo.) freshman Keenan Hagerty for the 149-pound title with Hepburn taking on West Liberty senior Jarrod Shaw at 157.
A fourth Loper, senior 165-pounder Joey Wilson, just missed earning a spot in the final, dropping a 2-1 semifinal to UNC-Pembroke’s Mike Williams.
“They call us the ‘Big Four’ around Kearney,” said Hepburn, a three-time All-American. “Wrestling Dalton and Joey really helps because they have different styles. Jensen has really helped me finish my shots because he is such a good scrambler. I don’t like to scramble but he’s helped me get better.
“Having guys to work out with like that, it shows at this tournament.”
“It’s amazing having those guys to work out with,” Stots said. “We go at it pretty good everyday. I don’t know if I would be as good if I didn’t have those guys.”
Two other UNK semifinalists also dropped matches: Ross Brunkhardt falling to St. Cloud State’s Derek Skala and 285-pounder Kevin Barrett losing to 2011 champion Matthew Meuleners of Northern State.
The Lopers will finish with a tournament-high seven All-Americans. The team titlist is yet to be determined. However, if three of the “Big Four” gets their hands raised this evening, the DII team trophy will most likely be headed to Kearney, Neb., for the second time since 2008.
“It’s going to be fun,” Hepburn said. “I would rather have a close team race like this than a blowout. It’s going to make the matches even bigger.”