March 14, 2010

By John Fey

Special to

OMAHA, Neb. - Talk about lack of suspense.

The NCAA Division II Wrestling Championship was decided around 11 a.m. (CST) on Saturday at Nebraska-Omaha's Sapp Fieldhouse. It was that one-sided as the host school won its second straight national title nine hours before the Saturday-evening championship round began.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha so dominated Friday's first two rounds that it needed just a couple of wins in the first Saturday session to lock up a seventh championship - six coming as an NCAA Division II competitor and five in the last seven years. UNO won an NAIA national championship in 1969.

Nebraska-Omaha finished with 131 points to runner-up Augustana (S.D.) College's 72. It's believed to be the highest NCAA Division II Wrestling Championship score.

You'd think the Mavericks and their coach, Mike Denney, would be euphoric after such a feat. Not necessarily.

The Mavericks advanced five into the championship round but lost the first four, including the 133-pound bout, where senior Cody Garcia was shooting for his third individual title and an unbeaten season.

Only 285-pounder Elijah Madison kept the evening from being a total washout for Nebraska-Omaha. The No. 2-ranked redshirt freshman used enough riding time to defeat top-rated Brady Wilson of Minnesota State at Moorhead, 1-0.

Madison's win kept the Mavericks from being the first team in school history to win a national crown without an individual titlist.

Denney took the high road on the lowbrow evening.

"The thing is, as a coach you take a look at the total performances," he said. "We got all we could out of the guys. We had tremendous effort."

Computer glitches Friday night and early Saturday caused confusion over team scoring. But the question wasn't which team was ahead, it was by how much. Even those keeping unofficial scoring knew an hour after Saturday's morning session began that Nebraska-Omaha had the title wrapped.

Denney said even though his wrestlers were aware, there wasn't a letdown in the final round.

"We never look at team scores," he said. "We just perform and hope to get the best out of them. We look at the whole thing."

The Mavericks' surprising showing in the final round dampened some enthusiasm from those among the 2,174 Saturday night backing the home team.

That didn't mean there was a total lack of suspense during the final 2½ hours. Case in point: second-ranked Garcia's match against No. 1 Shane Valko of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.

Garcia took a 2-0 lead on a takedown with three seconds left in the opening period. Valko slipped away for a one-point escape with 1:20 left in the second to cut the lead in half, then scored a takedown and near fall to basically put the match away.

Garcia pulled off an escape with 17 seconds left in the second, but that ended scoring and wiped out Garcia's hopes for an unbeaten season.

"I exposed myself a little bit and he took advantage of it," Garcia said. "That's wrestling."

Garcia appeared to have injured an ankle in his 6-3 semifinal win over Corey Bowers of Gannon University (Erie, Penn.) in the semifinals, but he wouldn't use that as an excuse for the loss.

"I just never got going," he said after finishing 47-1. "I wasn't confident in my conditioning, and I kind of held back a little bit."

In other matches drawing roars from the crowd:

- Augustana (S.D.) College 141-pounder Jay Sherer took a 3-1 overtime win over Nebraska-Omaha's Mario Morgan.

- Craig Becker of Wisconsin-Parkside nipped Nebraska-Omaha's Esai Dominguez 4-3 at 149 pounds.

- Ashland College (Cleveland, Ohio) 157-pounder Jonathan Jackson defeated Nebraska-Omaha's George Ivanov 3-1.

- In the 174 final, Kamarudeen Usman of Nebraska-Kearney got by Wisconsin-Parkside's Luke Rynish, 5-4.

- An overtime thriller came at 184, where Bryant Blanton of Newman College (Wichita, Kan.) held off Shane Mallory of East Stroudsburg (Penn.), 2-1.

A bit of a surprise final came at 197 pounds. Donovan McMahill of Western State (Gunnison, Colo.) defeated Augustana's Tyler Copsey in the final. McMahill upset Keeno Griffin of Newberry College (Newberry, S.C.), and Copsey upended Nebraska-Omaha's Jacob Marrs in the semifinals.

And, Nebraska-Omaha's Madison kept the Sapp Fieldhouse stragglers entertained with his 1-0 win over Wilson in the tournament's final match. He and his coach embraced after the match.

"There was a lot of pressure on me to win it," Madison said. "We had five guys in the final. We wanted five champs."