PUEBLO, Colo. – The first of many ‘big matches’ hit the stage when the 133-pounders climbed the steps.
St. Cloud State’s Andy Pokorny faced off against Trevor Franklin, Upper Iowa’s 2011 NCAA champion who was unbeaten this season. SCSU and Nebraska-Kearney started the final session tied with 91 points and had three finalists each, meaning every victory on Saturday night was worth gold.
Franklin’s takedown in the closing seconds of the first period gave the Peacock junior a 2-0 lead after three minutes. It provided the difference in a 3-2 win for Franklin, who finished his junior year 31-0 and with a second national title.
The next half hour belonged to Nebraska-Kearney.
The trifecta of Dalton Jensen, Raufeon Stots and T.J. Hepburn took center stage with the Lopers’ destiny in their hands. And they certainly delivered.
|DII CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS|
Photos | All Access | Full Replays
|Session III: Fantastic finish on tap|
|Session II: UNK looks to keep title in state|
|Session I: Several teams in the hunt|
|Feature: Lensing makes triumphant return|
|Feature: ‘Big Four’ push Nebraska-Kearney|
After Jensen and Stots claimed titles – Jensen with a dramatic pin – Hepburn, a three-time All-American, took the mat against West Liberty’s Jarrod Shaw. Barely two minutes into the 157-pound final, Hepburn’s relentless attack finished with a cradle and a fall.
Two cradles, three champions and the team title was headed back to Kearney.
“The last half hour I was having a hard time catching my breath,” said Hepburn (38-3) after his pin. “I’ve been here before, but no matter how many times you are in a situation like this you get excited. When Dalton got that pin my lungs opened up.
“I told my teammates I was going for a pin in the first period. To be the guy to clinch it feels awesome. Just a great way to go out.”
UNK head coach Marc Bauer certainly didn’t mind having Hepburn clinch the Lopers’ second title in five years.
“It’s clichéd to say but this was a team effort,” Bauer said. “We started the day 15.5 [points] ahead. You look at who St. Cloud had on the back side and it wasn’t a big surprise they made a run at us. To be tied going into the finals, then having those three win it for you is storybook. To come down to the leaders of our team, what can you say? Just an unbelievable day of up and down emotions.
“When [Dalton and T.J.] came into our program all they talked about was individual and team titles.”
Jensen, a senior from Missouri Valley, Iowa, brilliantly countered an early Young shot for a 2-0 lead and somehow escaped another Young shot late in the opening stanza. A powerful second period cradle led to official Kenny Ritchie slapping the mat at the 4:18 mark. The Lopers had their first champion with a pair of bonus points to boot.
“I lost that first takedown last year and it kind of snowballed on me,” said Jensen, a runner-up last season who finished 2012 with a 32-4 record. “[Young] is a good scrambler so I knew where I needed to be. To finish with a pin in the finals, it’s something I won’t forget.
“We couldn’t have wrestled better as a team. T.J. and I had that bad taste in our mouths from last year, so we wanted to get rid of that.”
It was Young’s second consecutive runner-up finish. The New Jersey sophomore finished 38-10.
Stots, a junior from Houston, opened strong as usual, scoring a pair of first-period takedowns for a 4-2 lead after three minutes. An uneventful second period and an early third-period escape gave Stots a 5-3 advantage. Stots (19-3) gave a late stalling point, but Maryville (Mo.) freshman Keenan Hagerty was unable to find a third-period takedown in a 5-4 victory for the Loper, putting UNK in prime position for its second title since 2008.
Hepburn made it official.
UNK finished with seven All-Americans and 107 points. St. Cloud State, also second in 2011, totaled six All-Americans and 95 points. Grand Canyon and Findlay tied for third with 58 points. Newberry was fifth.
St. Cloud State won one of its three finals, getting a 9-3 decision by senior Derek Skala (34-3) in the 184-pound bout. Skala, a two-time All-American and four-time NCAA qualifier, beat Findlay sophomore Adam Walters.
“This whole weekend happened so fast it feels like a dream,” Skala said. “I’ve had dreams about this. I was ranked [No. 2] a couple of years ago and didn’t place so I was really looking forward to this year. I looked up this arena on line to imagine what it was going to look like when I got my hand raised.
“The team wrestled fantastic. We had Tad Merritt wrestling with a broken finger and come back to take third. We didn’t accomplish our goal but the guys really wrestled hard today. It gave me some momentum going into the finals.”
Grand Canyon crowned a pair of champions — senior Victor Carazo at 174 and junior Kyle McCrite at 125.
Carazo (31-1) capped a fantastic career which included three All-America finishes with an 8-3 decision of Luke Rynish of Wisconsin-Parkside, a three-time finalist and whose 148 career wins rank first on the UW-Parkside all-time list. He was also a four-time All-American. Carazo’s 99 career wins are tops for the GCU program.
It had nothing to do with the team race but the 197-pound final nearly saw Massari Arena burst at the seams when Adams State senior Luke McPeek, a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, rallied to beat 2009 champion Dan Scanlan. Scanlan (24-1) led 10-4 at one point but McPeek stormed back in Marine fashion to tie it, and then won 14-12 in overtime to finish one of the best matches in Division II Championship history.
“You gotta believe,” McPeek (28-4) said. “God makes everything possible. He believes in me and I believe in Him.
“I just kept going after [Scanlan]. I knew he was a national champion, so I wasn’t going to take him lightly. I could tell he was getting tired so I wanted to keep coming after him. I feel like I’ve always been a fun wrestler to watch. I give up some points, but the crowd gets behind me in matches because I keep working.”
McPeek, a three-time All-American, was rewarded with the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award. The senior won three down-to-the-wire matches en route to his title.
Both 125-pound finalists were making their first appearance at the DII Championships, Augustana (S.D.) senior Cody Lensing, a three-year back-up, and McCrite, a transfer from Northern Idaho Community College.
McCrite drew first blood with a powerful double leg late in the first period, then led 6-2 after a pair of second period double legs. A third takedown and 1:56 or riding time provided the final outcome, a 9-3 decision for McCrite (42-6).
Lensing, who finished 21-6, was awarded the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award following the 125-pound final. The biochemistry major maintains a 3.96 grade-point average.
North Carolina-Pembroke’s Mike Williams won the title at 165 pounds, beating Findlay’s Mason True in the final. Williams capped a 33-1 junior season and a third All-American finish. He is also the first DII champion in school history.
The tournament concluded with Northern State’s Matt Mueleners besting St. Cloud State’s Jake Kahnke in overtime. It was Mueleners’ second title in as many years and a rematch of the 2011 final at 285 pounds. Both are juniors.
Not quite The Who
It wasn’t quite a mad rush for seats when the doors opened at Massari Arena for the finals on Saturday night, but the small 3,600-seat facility filled up in a hurry. Only half the arena was used for fans during the first three sessions – about 1,800 capacity – but both sides were used for the finals, giving the raised stage with one mat in the center an old-time boxing feel. UNK and St. Cloud State fans obviously waited in line early for the prime seats. A half hour before the 10 title bouts, the atmosphere was already electric.
Colorado State-Pueblo should be commended for taking on the DII Championships on short notice. The 2012 event was originally scheduled for Cedar Rapids in Iowa, then possibly Omaha, Neb., but a flood and a dropped program forced a change of plans.