March 13, 2010

By John Fey
Special to

OMAHA, Neb. - Keeno Griffin is just one victory away from being right where he expected to be.

The Newberry (S.C.) College 197-pounder opened defense of his national wrestling title Friday with two wins and is now 31-1 going into Saturday's semifinal round.

But both wins during the first two rounds of the NCAA Division II National Wrestling Championships at Sapp Fieldhouse didn't come easy.

Griffin edged Kyle Sand of Augustana (S.D.) College 3-2 in his opening match before staving off Matthew Meuleners of Northern State University (Aberdeen, S.D.) by a 5-3 score.

Now the only wrestler standing in Griffin's way into Saturday's 197-pound final is Donovan McMahill of Western State College (Gunnison, Colo.). The two square off in Saturday morning's semifinals.

If Griffin was sweating a bit extra after his two narrow wins, he didn't show it. Moments after beating Meuleners in the quarterfinals, he said confidence wasn't lacking heading into his second bout of the tournament.

"I felt like I had him (Meuleners) the whole time," Griffin said.

The senior from Jacksonville, Fla., knows who could await him in the title match -- Nebraska-Omaha's Jacob Marrs. If it happens, it'll be a rematch of last year's finalists. Griffin beat Marrs 3-2 in the 2009 title bout.

"I try not to think about it," Griffin said of possibly facing Marrs again. "I try not to get ahead of myself. When I get to that point, I will deal with it."

Griffin and Marrs wrestling on adjacent mats Friday night, but neither wrestler was aware of it. That doesn't mean Marrs isn't cognizant of what's at stake.

"Win," he said, "and I'm in the final."

Griffin said he knows he's a marked man as the defending champion but appears fine with that.

"There's a lot of pressure (to repeat)," he said. "You get everybody's best match. You've got to bring your 'A' game.

"I've just got to get prepared mentally and do what I do. I've got to come in confident."