Championships and wrestling go hand-in-hand in the state of Oklahoma. At the Division I level, Oklahoma State owns 34 NCAA Championships with the University of Oklahoma claiming seven. Located in between Norman and Stillwater is Edmond and the University of Central Oklahoma where championships have also been commonplace. Eight times, UCO won NAIA team titles before joining the Division II ranks where the Bronchos own seven championships, the last coming in 2007. UCO, under legendary head coach David James, won four-straight DII titles from 1992-95 and from 1990 through 2011 only three times did James’ teams not finish inside the top 10 at the national tournament.

Are the Bronchos back?

But in 2015, UCO was 18th followed by a 35th place showing last March. James, who coached UCO from the 1982-83 season through 2015-16, did not return for the 2016-17 campaign. Enter Todd Stiedley, a national champion for UCO in 1987 who brought another tradition-rich program at Ponca City High School back from the dead to win seven Oklahoma state titles.

Stiedley calls UCO his “dream job.”

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With last Monday’s win over Colorado-State Pueblo, UCO improved to 15-0 for the first time in school history. This season’s dual victories include McKendree (Illinois) and Nebraska-Kearney last Friday; the Lopers came to Edmond ranked No. 2, but left in the short end of a 22-16 decision. UCO led 10-0 after three bouts and Greg Wilson’s pin at 197 pounds secured the win.

“It’s a big win for us,” said Stiedley, whose squad beat Newman (Kansas), UNK, Adams State (Colorado), and CSU-Pueblo since last Thursday. “I’m so proud of the guys. They wrestled hard and prepared well all week. We take our hats off to Kearney. The last 15 years they’ve been as good as anybody and we respect them. We know at the end of the year they are going to be a contender.

UCO's Dakota Head (left, in blue) helped the Bronchos improve to 15-0 for the first time in school history.
Central Oklahoma Athletics
UCO's Dakota Head (left, in blue) helped the Bronchos improve to 15-0 for the first time in school history.
“Rankings are great, they can motivate guys. Probably what motivated us more was Kearney being ranked second. We don’t worry about rankings because as soon as the match is over we worry about trying to get better for the next match.”

A few Bronchos have been a bit under the radar. Redshirt-freshman Miguel Barreras, a native of New Mexico, is 30-5 with 25 bonus-point victories at 174 pounds. His week included wins over UNK’s Calvin Ochs and CSU-Pueblo’s Kyle Bateman, both ranked inside the top 10. Heavyweight Caleb Cotter is 22-3 and ranked second, while 197-pound junior Greg Wilson has won 12-straight matches.

UCO puts a 22-match win streak on the line Friday at Lindenwood (Missouri).

Seven seniors

Seven seniors sit at the top of the rankings. All seven hope to end their careers at the top of the medal stand after getting close in previous visits to the NCAA Championships.

Mercyhurst's Willie Bohince earned his 120th career win this year, the most wins in the program's history.
Mercyhurst Athletics
Mercyhurst's Willie Bohince earned his 120th career win this year, the most wins in the program's history.
Mercyhurst’s Willie Bohince and Francis Mizia both enter this weekend ranked No. 1 at 125 and 165 pounds, respectively. Bohince, from Level Green, Pennsylvania, became his school’s all-time wins leader last week with win No. 120; he picked up 121 with a technical fall Wednesday night in the Lakers’ 41-4 rout of West Liberty. Bohince, a three-time All-American, was second in 2016. Mizia, a native of Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, entered this season with 84 victories and two All-American seasons under his belt. His senior campaign includes a dominating win over 2016 NCAA champion Tyler Reinhart of Pittsburgh-Johnstown at the Midwest Classic in December.

“I’m highly motivated to get back and win,” Mizia told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this month. “I’ve been motivated since last year when I didn’t win the national championship and (Reinhart) did.”

Ashland’s Michael Labry, from Twinsville, Ohio, is 24-1 at 133 pounds heading into Saturday’s matches with Kutztown (Pennsylvania) and Lake Erie College (Ohio). Prior to last season’s redshirt, Labry finished second, third, and fourth in three trips to the NCAA meet, going 42-2, 35-5, and 35-4 in consecutive seasons.

Maryville 141-pounder Nate Rodriguez beat 2016 NCAA champion Darren Wynn (McKendree) in the Saints’ 19-18 victory last week. Rodriguez, a transfer from Ouachita Baptist (Arkansas) was 20-0 as a junior before an injury ended his season. He was 52-12 in two seasons at OBU with two All-American finishes.

Findlay’s Nick Goebel, from Bloomdale, Ohio, was 40-5 as a junior and third at nationals. He was 35-10 and fourth as a sophomore. The top-ranked 149-pounder has five technical fall wins in eight matches since joining the Oiler lineup.

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California Baptist’s Jacob Waste, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, is 19-3 with all three losses coming to Division I opponents; 15 of his victories are of the bonus-point variety. Waste, a 197-pounder who transferred to CBU from DI Buffalo, saw teammate Joe Fagiano win a national title at 285 pounds last March.

St. Cloud State heavyweight Austin Goergen is 17-0 this season after going 36-3, 33-2, and 35-8 his first three DII campaigns. The three-time All-American from Caledonia, Minnesota, has 61 career pins

Quick Hits

  • Western State (Colorado) senior 125-pounder Ronald Wardleigh leads Division II with 10 pins after last weekend’s action. He tied for the DII lead last season with 15 during an All-American season. In hot pursuit is Gannon (Pennsylvania) sophomore Carmine Giotti, who leads his team with 17 victories; his 9 pins ranked second behind Wardleigh.
  • Since the Midwest Classic in mid-December, Wisconsin-Parkside has faced Upper Iowa, Nebraska-Kearney, St. Cloud State, Colorado State-Pueblo, Findlay, Indianapolis, Maryville, and McKendree, as good a schedule as anyone in DII. The Rangers beat Marvyille, 27-12, last Saturday and McKendree Tuesday and face Indianapolis and Bellarmine this Saturday in Louisville. Against the Bearcats, senior Josh Anthony’s 1-0 decision started a four-match run for UWP in the 21-15 victory.
  • Fort Hays State (Kansas) won the Kansas Cup for the fourth year in a row last Sunday. Senior 197-pounder Jon Inman (18-0) was one of four individual champions for the Tigers, who beat Kansas rival Newman, 26-15, in Wichita on Wednesday night.
  • Shippensburg (Pennsylvania) won its fifth dual in six tries with a 27-12 win over Millersville (Pa.) on Tuesday. The Raiders (10-10) have wrestled a Division-leading 20 duals and compete at Seton Hill (Pennsylvania) this Saturday.
  • Kutztown (Pennsylvania) won its 10th straight dual last weekend and travels to Ohio to face Lake Erie College and Ashland this Saturday. Junior 165-pounder T.C. Warner, who wrestled at Old Dominion and Bloomsburg before enrolling at Kutztown, is 8-0 this season.