The 2015 version of the NWCA National Duals included plenty of close calls and down-to-the-wire theatrics. Maryville (Mo.) trailed St. Cloud State, 13-6, halfway through a semifinal dual before winning four straight – including two one-point decisions – to edge the Huskies and advance to the finals for the first time in the young program’s history. Notre Dame College (Ohio), national champions in 2014, rolled Upper Iowa in the other half of the bracket to move into the championship.

The difference in the final? One bonus-point victory by Ryan Beltz, who beat Garrett Linton, 12-4, at 197 pounds to give Maryville a 16-15 dual win and first National Duals trophy. The Saints went 1-2 at the 2014 National Duals, just coach Mike Denney and the program’s second year of existence.

The 2016 NWCA National Duals return to Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, this weekend. And, again, the field is stacked with seven of DII’s top 10 teams led by No. 1 Maryville, St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Kearney, Mercyhurst, Notre Dame College, and Pittsburgh-Johnstown. All are capable of hoisting the trophy on Saturday evening. Dual championships are not NCAA championships, but all involved know this weekend is a chance to see the best of DII in a preview of what’s to come over the next two months.

“We will find out a lot of things (at the National Duals),” said Denney, whose squad has six individuals ranked inside the top eight. “It’s always a tough tournament and this year should be no different.”

St. Cloud State, the 2015 NCAA champion, brings another strong dual team. Coach Steve Costanzo has three wrestlers ranked No. 1 – Tim Prescott (125), Clint Poster (165), and Austin Goergen (285).

Notre Dame College welcomed back three-time NCAA champion Joey Davis over the weekend in New York. Now at 184 pounds, Davis joins Jonatan Rivera (157) at the top of the rankings and makes the Falcons an immediate threat to run the table this weekend.

Like NDU, Nebraska-Kearney added a significant part to its lineup with two-time NCAA champion Romero Cotton back on the mat at 197 pounds. Another two-time champion, 133-pounder Daniel DeShazer, gives coach Marc Bauer plenty of firepower.

Mercyhurst has bounced back from an early-season loss to California Baptist with solid performances, including a 36-2 thrashing of No. 9 Lake Erie College (Ohio) last Saturday. Dylan D’Urso might be one of the few to challenge Maryville’s Nate Rodriguez at 141 pounds, and Francis and August Mizia are strong in the middle of the Laker lineup.

The final challenger is Pittsburgh-Johnstown, who has the pinning Travis McKillop at 184 pounds and a solid dual squad from top to bottom.

Central Missouri, Findlay (Ohio), Indianapolis, McKendree (Ill.), Minnesota State-Mankato, Newberry (S.C.), Tiffin (Ohio), Upper Iowa, and Wheeling Jesuit (W.V.) round out the field which hits the mats on Friday. Division III, NAIA, NJCAA, and women’s divisions will also be contested over the two days inside Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

Climbing the ladder

Wisconsin-Parkside made a big move up the rankings, going from No. 17 to No. 6 in the latest Division II Coaches Association Poll released on Jan. 1. The rise comes in the wake of a strong showing at the Midwest Classic two weekends ago in Indianapolis where 174-pounder Nick Becker, who beat Maryville’s Zeb Wahle in the finals, led the Rangers to a runner-up finish behind No. 1 Maryville. UW-Parkside finished a program-best fifth at the 2010 DII Championships, but were a distant 32nd in 2015 with only 10 points

Coach Gregg Lewis and staff used last year’s poor showing as motivation for this year.

“Our team has high expectations and we have some amazing kids with a great coaching staff,” Lewis said. “There is a ton of positive buzz in the program right now. We had a great team performance at the Midwest Classic and that gives us a good gauge to know where we are at and gives us confidence and motivation moving ahead.

“We were an unknown in the early season rankings and it probably motivated a few guys.”

Becker, a sophomore from Hartford, Wisconsin, is 20-0 and ranked No. 1 heading into this weekend’s Lindenwood Duals. Senior Nick Fishback, the Rangers’ lone All-American in 2015, is rated fifth at 165 pounds, with junior Frank Yatonni (fifth at 149), seniors Montrail Johnson (eighth at 184) and Josh Anthony (eighth at 197) giving Lewis a veteran group. NCAA qualifier Ronzel Darling is a dangerous 125-pounder.

Upper Iowa and Western State (Colo.) also made big jumps, the Peacocks of UIU moving from unranked to No. 11 and WSU moving up to No. 17 from the “receiving votes” designation. UIU knocked off DIII’s fourth-ranked Wisconsin-La Crosse on Saturday and will take a 5-0 dual mark into this weekend’s NWCA National Duals.

Family affair

No. 4 Mercyhurst (Pa.) outscored Millersville and Lake Erie College, 79-2, on Saturday. Lake Erie, ranked ninth, won just one match – 197 pounds – and was docked a team point after the 285-pound match. The 165- and 174-pound matches in the Mercyhurst-Lake Erie dual wasn’t quite the Hatfields and McCoys, but it was the Mizias and the Vandermeers. Francis Mizia beat Matt Vandermeer, 1-0, in a battle of nationally-ranked 165-pounders, with August Mizia beating Nick Vandermeer, 9-1, at 174 pounds.

Welcome back

Three-time NCAA champion Joey Davis made his 2015-16 debut for Notre Dame College (Ohio), wrestling a total of 9:16 in two technical fall victories against UNC-Pembroke and LIU-Post in Brookline, New York, Sunday. The Compton, California, product did not lose a match through his first three seasons, going 104-0. The senior will go for a fourth NCAA this March at 184 pounds after winning in 2015 at 174 pounds.

Hanging with the big boys

California Baptist heavyweight Joe Fagiano finished a strong 2015 by taking eighth at the prestigious Midlands Championships last week. The graduate student, who also had a good showing at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in early December, won four of seven matches and finished eighth. Among his wins was a 3-1 overtime victory over Oregon State’s Amarveer Dhesi, the second seed and fifth-rated DI heavyweight at the time. CBU is coached by Lennie Zalesky, brother of Oregon State head coach Jim Zalesky.

“I wanted to give Coach (Lennie Zalesky) the bragging rights at the Christmas table,” Fagiano said. “It was a good match. There were a lot of good scrambles involved and I knew that one takedown would be the difference.”

Fagiano’s teammate, 184-pounder Jacob Waste, won a pair of matches before being eliminated.

The Lancers, ranked eighth in the latest DII Coaches Poll, continue with its DI theme, wrestling at Stanford this Saturday. Another West Coast group, San Francisco State, faces Stanford and California-Bakersfield this Sunday.

Quick Hits

● No. 16 Indianapolis edged No. 19 Ashland, 20-15, Saturday, in a back-and-forth contest. AU’s Jordan Murphy’s pin at 174 pounds tied the dual at 12-12, but a Taylor DeLong 18-2 technical fall at 184 pounds put the Greyhounds back in front, 17-12. Joe Brandt’s decision at 197 brought AU to within 17-15, before Dylan Faulkenberg earned a 7-3 win to give UI a 5-point win.

● Millersville 125-pounder Austin Camacci had a pair of wins over DI opponents and finished second at the Dave Lehman/F&M Open last Wednesday. Shorter’s Wally Figaro won four of five matches at 174 pounds and was third.

● There was some drama in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon as Division III’s third-ranked Augsburg won a 25-21 thriller over DII’s No. 15 Augustana (S.D). Trailing 21-19, Augsburg got a third-period pin from 2015 DIII national champion Donny Longendyke over DII’s fifth-rated Michael Lowman. The Vikings’ Aero Amo had one of two pins for the visitors on Sunday and had a 44-second pin in the final bout to complete a 26-12 Viking victory over DIII No. 19 Concordia-Moorhead on Saturday.

● Some of Colorado’s best go head-to-head on Thursday when Adams State faces No. 20 Colorado-Mesa and No. 17 Western State meets Colorado State-Pueblo.

● Outside the top 25, Central Oklahoma faces Western State, Colorado-Mesa, and Simon Fraser at the Tracy Borah Duals in Gunnison, Colo., on Saturday. The Bronchos test Nebraska-Kearney on Jan. 11 in Kearney and host No. 1 Maryville on Jan. 22.