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Roger Moore | NCAA.com | February 28, 2019

Division II wrestling: 10 things to know for Cleveland

With the stage set for the DII NCAA wrestling championship in Cleveland, we put together some need-to-know quick hits on the tournament's top prospects. 

Can anybody take down St. Cloud State?

It appears it is time to add another inevitability to death and taxes: St. Cloud State competing for Division II wrestling championships. Head coach Steve Costanzo’s squad finished the 2018-19 dual campaign at 20-0 to move the win streak to 48 straight, won a National Duals title and outdistanced the field at last weekend’s Super Regional competition by 75 points. SCSU won eight individual titles and qualified nine wrestlers for the NCAA Championships in Cleveland, March 8-9. It starts with 2016 national champion Brent Velasquez at 125 pounds and continues with 2018 NCAA silver medalists James Pleski (25-1 at 149) and Vince Dietz (28-0 at 184). The nine in Cleveland for Costanzo have a combined 17 losses this season against 194 victories. The Huskies edged Notre Dame College by 8 1/2 points last March, the program’s third in the last four years. It will require a very strong tournament from any of the contenders to dethrone the men from Minnesota.

10 in 30

Ten programs have claimed NCAA Division II team titles over the last 30 years, with four of those programs no longer competing in the division. Nebraska-Omaha won six NCAA championships between 2004 and 2011 before dropping wrestling within hours of winning the 2011 team race; UNO won its first DII title in 1991. North Dakota State, now a member of the Big 12 Conference in Division I, won DII trophies in 1998, 2000, and 2001. Portland State was champion in 1989 and 1990.

DII and DIII regionals help shape award standings headed into NCAA championships

Central Oklahoma claimed seven titles from 1992 to 2007; Nebraska-Kearney (2013, 2012, 2008), Pittsburgh-Johnstown (1999, 1996), and San Francisco State (1997) have also hoisted the hardware within the last three decades, but it has been St. Cloud State and Notre Dame College battling it out the last five seasons with SCSU winning in 2018, 2016, and 2015 and the Falcons in 2017 and 2014. The Huskies edged NDC 92 ½ to 84 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last March.

Who are the Contenders?

As is usually the case for the DII Championships, there are some familiar names trying to chase down the Huskies. California Baptist might have made a run in 2019, but Lennie Zalesky’s Lancers are currently transitioning to Division I.

  • Notre Dame College, second in 2018, won titles in 2017 and 2014. Veteran head coach Frank Romano will bring seven wrestlers to Cleveland, but there are plenty of unknowns as five will be first-time NCAA participants. Junior heavyweight Kameron Teacher is a two-time NCAA runner-up, falling to Wheeling Jesuit’s Terrance Fanning in the 2018 NCAA final and at Regional meet last weekend. Tony Vezzetti was third at 184 pounds last March. Jose Rodriguez (15-2 at 141) is a Regional champion.
  • Wheeling Jesuit has little margin for error with just six qualifiers. But those six have the potential for big points. Tyler Warner (25-1 at 133) was seventh at 141 pounds in 2018 and leads a pack that includes Connor Craig (28-1 at 174), Fanning (23-2), rookie 125-pounder Cole Laya (18-2), and Aidan Pasiuk (25-4 at 184). WJU was third behind NDC and Indianapolis at a very competitive Regional last weekend. This season should see the young program’s first top 10 finish.
  • Nebraska-Kearney will have a group of six in Cleveland with four having qualified for the NCAAs previously that includes All-Americans Josh Portillo (125), Matt Malcom (157), Craig Ochs (165), Zach Stodden (174) and Craig Hinrichs (285). The Lopers, NCAA kings in 2013, 2012, and 2008, always seem to wrestle their best in March.
  • McKendree continues to put a good product on the mat. Seventh last season, MU is led by All-Americans Marcus Povlick (125), Isaiah Kemper (157), and Nick Foster (174), along with four other qualifiers.
  • Longtime Pittsburgh-Johnstown head coach Pat Pecora has another good squad. The 1999 and 1996 NCAA champs have returning 141-pound NCAA king Chris Eddins, now at 149, and former 141-pound finalist Joey Alessandro, a transfer from Seton Hill. Devin Austin (165) is also a returning medalist. UPJ finished sixth in 2018 and qualify seven in 2019.
  • Lindenwood qualified seven and is a team to keep an eye on. Carlos Jacquez has had a strong year at 125 pounds, while veterans Danny Swan (141) and Kyle Jolas (165), plus DI transfer Gavin Londoff (149) could cause some problems in Cleveland.

The Returning Champs

Only three champions from last March return, along with another one from way back in 2016. As a freshman in 2016, St. Cloud State’s Brent Velasquez beat out teammate Tim Prescott, the 2015 NCAA champ at 125 pounds, and claimed top honors. Velasquez has finished third and fourth at the last two NCAA meets and enters his final collegiate tournament at 20-3.

Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Chris Eddins was 24-2 as a sophomore and claimed the 141-pound crown. Now at 149 pounds, Eddins won a Regional title last weekend.

Ashland’s Bret Romanzak was 39-3 as a sophomore and won the 165-pound NCAA title. He brings a 30-5 mark into the 2019 national meet.

Wheeling Jesuit’s Terrance Fanning was 31-6 a year ago, winning the program’s first NCAA gold. He is 23-2 entering his final collegiate meet.

Welcome to the DII Party

Bellarmine University, located in Louisville, Kentucky, will be represented at an NCAA Championship for the first time when 125-pounder Brandon Lucas and 149-pounder Gage Branson hit the mats in Cleveland. Branson, from Cincinnati, is 31-6, while Lucas, from Mt. Orab, Ohio, has 22 wins. The Knights’ mat program opened for business in 2016-17 and went 4-22 over its first two campaigns. Head coach Spencer Adams led BU to a 9-5 dual mark in 2018-19.

Penn State, Oklahoma State end dual season undefeated, hold top two spots in NWCA poll

Queens College in North Carolina also qualified its first wrestler for a national tournament, pushing Melvin Rubio through at 125 pounds. The Royals were 1-17 in dual meets this season.

“It means a lot for us to get our first national qualifier,” said Queens head wrestling coach Rob Rate. “It solidifies that the new program on the block can compete and this is a place kids can come and achieve their goals.”

Pueblo’s JUCO Boys

Colorado-State Pueblo qualified four for Cleveland. All arrived in Pueblo after a stint at the junior college level. D’Andre Brumfield leads the pack. He is a two-time NJCAA All-American from Dallas, finishing fourth and sixth for Iowa Western the last two seasons. Brumfield, a 133-pounder, is 23-4 this season and won a Regional title last weekend.

Isaiah Diggs, from Washington, was an All-American for Clackamas Community College. He was third at 157 pounds last weekend to qualify, while Tarrence Williams, a 184-pounder, also a transfer from Clackamas, was second at the Nebraska Regional. Josiah Seaton, a 125-pounder, transferred in from Colby Community College in Kansas.

A Good Shot at No. 1

Ft. Hays State has not had a national champion since joining DII in 1994. Seven times a Tiger has earned runner-up honors, the last 197-pounder Jon Inman in 2017. In 2000, Trevell Smittick and Keith Blaske each finished second. FHSU has a good shot to break that trend in the form of 141-pound junior Brandon Ball, a native of Great Bend, Kan. He was 38-8 and sixth at the 2017 NCAA meet and 35-7 and as an NCAA qualifier last season. Ball takes a 24-2 mark into the 2019 meet.

Here are the NCAA Division II wrestling programs with the most national championships

One More Rung

Five wrestlers in the 2019 field have finished second previously at an NCAA Championship. They are: St. Cloud State’s James Pleski (149) and Vince Dietz (184), Notre Dame College’s Kameron Teacher (285), Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Joey Alessandro (141), and Upper Iowa’s Maleek Williams (125).

Pleski lost an overtime match to California Baptist’s Dax Gordon in the 2018 NCAA final, while Dietz dropped a 3-1 match to Newman’s Noel Torres at 184 pounds. UIU’s Williams ran into Oklahoma State transfer Eli Hal in the 125-pound final. Teacher lost in the 2017 heavyweight final and again last March to Wheeling Jesuit’s Terrance Fanning. Alessandro fell in the 2016 NCAA final to McKendree’s Darren Wynn.

A Cat-heavy HOF Class

The Class of 2019 for the Jim Koch Division II Hall of Fame includes three former UPJ wrestlers, Shad Benton, Lee Schickel, and Shane Valko. Joining that trio is Findlay’s Antonio Guerra and Andy Uhl, plus Findlay head coach Shawn Nelson. Benton was 101-9 for his career, including a 46-2 senior campaign, while Schnickel, an NCAA champion at 133 pounds, was a major part of the Mountain Cats’ 1996 team title. Valko pinned 48 opponents and was the NWCA DII Wrestler of the Year for 2009-10. Guerra was a two-time national champion for the Roughnecks; Uhl was a four-time All-American. Nelson is currently in his 22nd year of coaching at Findlay.

By The Numbers

0 – Number of returning NCAA qualifiers at 133 pounds. Seton Hill’s Adam Diltz finished sixth at 125 pounds in 2017; he is in the 133-pound bracket this season.

1 – Number of times since 2014 the team champion has reached 100 points. NDC scored 103 ½ in 2017.

3 – Number of times the state of Ohio has hosted a DII Championship: Ashland (1970), Findlay (2006), and Cleveland (2014).

4 – Number of times Western State senior 174-pounder Brandon Supernaw has qualified for the NCAA Championship. The Colorado Springs native was 35-5 and third a year ago. He is 16-0 and has 108 career victories entering the NCAA meet this season.

6 – Number of All-Americans returning at 125 pounds. All qualified for Cleveland.

40 – Individual championships for Central Oklahoma to rank No. 1 among DII programs. Minnesota State-Mankato and Nebraska-Kearney, each with 21, rank No. 2 among those still competing in DII. Nebraska-Omaha (34), Bakersfield (30), North Dakota State (30), Portland State (24), and Northern Iowa (22) no longer compete in DII circles.

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