KEARNEY, Neb. – Nobody said winning championships was easy.

Nebraska-Omaha, in search of a third consecutive Division II title, took a number of body blows during the first day of wrestling at the 2011 Division II Wrestling Championships inside the UNK Health and Sports Center.

Augustana (S.D.) College was virtually flawless on Friday, winning 14 of 15 bouts and pushing six into the semifinals. And St. Cloud State, the only team to beat UNO in a dual this season, was hanging around.

Saturday morning’s semifinals proved disastrous for the Vikings, however, as the South Dakotans went 1-5 and quickly found themselves looking up at UNO and St. Cloud State. After the semis and a round of consolations, it was the Mavericks holding a nine-point lead ahead of St. Cloud State. By the time the medal rounds started, the team standings showed Nebraska-Omaha leading St. Cloud by three points (86.5 to 83.5). Augustana (S.D.) was 10 points back of the Mavericks.

In other words, every single point mattered.

“This tournament is two days and four rounds,” said UNO coach Mike Denney. “We’ve got another round tonight and if St. Cloud wins both we have to win at least one.”

St. Cloud has two in tonight’s finals. UNO has three. Winners receive four points plus any bonus, so nothing is set in stone as of yet.

A pin by Augustana (S.D.) 133 pounder Jason Jeremiason in his third-place bout brought the Vikings to within seven points. St. Cloud’s Gabe Suarez beat Augustana’s Jay Sherer for third at 141, cutting the deficit to two points.

The Mavericks got a break when Adams State’s Kenny Jordan defaulted to Esai Dominguez in the seventh-place match at 149 pounds. Just like that the lead was back to five points.

A tough third period by Jacob Horn gave the Husky junior 149 pounder fifth place and showed UNO with 89.5 and St. Cloud with 85.5. Augustana was nine back at that point.

UNO’s George Ivanov won his fifth consecutive match after losing in the first round to take third at 157. Ten minutes later, St. Cloud State’s Tad Merritt kept the Huskies within four points with a tough 3-1 decision of UNK’s Joey Wilson for third at 165.

By the time the first session of Day 2 was done, Nebraska-Omaha held a 90.5-86.5 advantage ahead of St. Cloud. Augustana (S.D.) is mathematically eliminated and St. Cloud State, coached by 1996 UNO graduate Steve Costanzo, will need the Mavs to have an 0-for tonight and win both of its final matches to have a chance.

In other words, the Mavericks can taste the 2011 DII trophy with three finalists tonight.

“What’s tough is being ranked No. 1 all year and being consistent,” Denney said. “We haven’t dipped all year, had any real bad performances. We just haven’t been as sharp as we’ve been but we’ve hung in there. Sometimes it hasn’t been as pretty, but we are battling.

“You have to hand it to St. Cloud for coming back and to Augustana for the round they put together (Friday).”

125 pounder Alex Meger got the Vikings off to a good start on Saturday, somehow rallying with a pair of third-period takedowns to force overtime against Shippensburg’s Chris Kochinsky. In the final five seconds of overtime Meger found another takedown at the edge to win 6-4.

The rest of the morning didn’t work out so well.

Grand Canyon’s Todd Wilcox beat Augustana’s Jason Jeremiason 4-1 at 133 pounds.

Sherer, champion at 141 in 2010, lasted just 17 seconds against Nebraska-Kearney’s Dalton Jensen.

“Something I do out of a front headlock. Some people call it a dump and it works for me because I have long arms” said Jensen, a former starter at Division I Iowa State. “Sherer is kind of lanky so I was looking for it.

“I expected to be in the finals, not because I was in Division I, but because of the attitude I’ve had of not accepting losses anymore.”

Augustana’s Nate Herda, who beat UNO’s Esai Dominguez on Friday, lost a two-overtime marathon to Nebraska-Kearney’s T.J. Hepburn at 149 pounds.

Another heartbreaker came at 165 where Gavin Nelson gave up a late takedown to Findlay’s Michael Lybarger to lose 6-5.

Senior Ty Copsey, now a four-time All-American, finished off the tough round with a 5-3 overtime loss to Western State’s Donovan McMahill in a rematch of last year’s final.

UNO, in search of a third consecutive title, stayed the course after a rough Friday, pushing 141 pounder Mario Morgan, 174 pounder Ryan Pankoke and 184 pounder Aaron Denson into the finals.

After two high-wire acts on Friday, Morgan had a controlled 5-3 win against Indianapolis’ Matt Irwin. Pankoke edged Grand Canyon’s Victor Carazo 3-2 while Denson beat Minnesota State-Mankato’s Aaron Nordgren 4-2.

St. Cloud State pushed 157 pounder Jon Sundgren and heavyweight Jake Kahnke into the finals, joining Western State, Nebraska-Kearney and Wisconsin-Parkside which each have two wrestlers going for gold tonight. Fourteen schools will be represented on the big stage.

The lone freshman is Newberry’s William Young (34-8), who has rolled to the 133 pound final with a 9-2 win against Upper Iowa’s Kyle Pedretti, an All-American last season. Young was a two-time New Jersey state champion before heading to South Carolina.

National title matchups (Saturday, March 12)
125-Trevor Franklin (26-2, Upper Iowa) vs. Alex Meger (24-9, Augustana College)
133-Todd Wilcox (35-3, Grand Canyon) vs William Young (34-8, Newberry)
141-Mario Morgan (29-4, Nebraska-Omaha) vs Dalton Jensen (28-4, Nebraska-Kearney)
149-Nick Walpole (41-3, Indianapolis) vs TJ Hepburn (36-3, Nebraska-Kearney)
157-Jon Sundgren (15-3, St. Cloud State) vs Dillon Bera (26-7, Wisconsin-Parkside)
165-Michael Lybarger (38-4, Findlay) vs Zach McKendree (34-10, Gannon)
174-Luke Rynish (24-3, Wisconsin-Parkside) vs Ryan Pankoke (40-2, Nebraska-Omaha)
184-Charlie Pipher (19-1, Western State) vs Aaron Denson (33-6, Nebraska-Omaha)
197-Mitch Knapp (28-3, West Liberty) vs Donovan McMahill (31-0, Western State)
285-Matthew Meuleners (28-4, Northern State) vs Jake Kahnke (29-1, St. Cloud State)

Knocking off No. 1
The 184 pound champion in 2010, Bryant Blanton entered this weekend with a 35-2 record and rolled into the semifinals with a pin and 7-1 decision on Friday. But the Newberry senior ran into Western State’s Charlie Pipher, a senior who finished fifth a year ago.

“I don’t think anybody in the West Regional penciled in (Blanton) as the favorite,” said Pipher, who will take a 19-1 record into tonight’s final. “I had never wrestled him. I remember when the brackets came out and coach talked about us not being the guys you wanted to wrestle.

“I put a lot of eggs in that basket to wear him down. You have to make those guys wrestle for seven minutes.”

Pipher joins teammate Donovan McMahill, who won an overtime battle with Augustana’s Ty Copsey, in tonight’s final round. McMahill (31-0) was a champion in 2010 and finalist in 2008.

“Don has made me so much better,” Pipher said. “He’s just gotten so much better since his freshman year when he was in the finals. We have a pretty close group of guys (heavyweight Charlie Alexander lost in the semifinals in overtime) and it’s a small community so we’ve always had great support.”

After a fifth place finish a year ago, Pipher wants a gold medal.

“I’ve been waiting for this. I haven’t been able to get it done the last couple of years and I’m looking forward to going out and just wrestling hard, wrestling my match tonight.”

State of the Union
Twenty-six states are represented among the 80 All-Americans at the 2011 Championships. Iowa leads the pack with 12 followed by Minnesota (9), California (8) and Pennsylvania (7). Five native Nebraskans will finish in the final eight.

All-Americans by state – Minnesota (9), California (8), Pennsylvania (7), Nebraska (5), Colorado (4), Wisconsin (4), New Jersey (3), Indiana (3), Illinois (3), Ohio (3), Arizona (3), Kansas (3), Oklahoma (2), and 1 each for Delaware, New York, Connecticut, South Carolina, Oregon, North Dakota, Nevada, Washington, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and Alabama.

In front of the home folks
Nebraska-Omaha’s Esai Dominguez (Omaha), Ryan Pankoke (Beaver Crossing), Aaron Denson (Omaha) and Tayler Escamilla (Fremont) along with Augustana (S.D.) College’s Jay Sherer (Columbus) are the five native Nebraskans to finish top eight this weekend.

Entering the tournament the five were a combined 158-23 this season.

Been a decade
Senior heavyweight Patrick Carey became Colorado State-Pueblo’s first All-American since 2001 after finishing this weekend in eighth. The native of Phoenix, the lone qualifier for the Thunderwolves, lost in the first round but came back to win a pair of matches 

2011 Division II Championships medal matches

3rd place
125-McDonald (Newberry) pin Kochinsky (Shippensburg), 1:16
133-Jeremiason (Augustana) pin Link (Pitt-Johnstown), 4:45
141-Suarez (St. Cloud State) dec. Sherer (Augustana), 3-2
149-Herda (Augustana) dec. Means (Fort Hays State), 6-4
157-Ivanov (Nebraska-Omaha) dec. Shields (Mercyhurst), 5-3
165-Merritt (St. Cloud State) dec. Wilson (Nebraska-Kearney), 4-1
174-Carazo (Grand Canyon) dec. O’Grady (St. Cloud State), 7-6
184-Blanton (Newberry) dec. Nordgren (MSU-Mankato), 6-5
197-Broghammer (Upper Iowa) dec. Copsey (Augustana), by medical forfeit
285-Alexander (Western State) dec. Southwick (Ashland), 2-0

5th place
125-Weakley (UNC-Pembroke) dec. Forstner (MSU-Mankato), 8-5
133-Cruz (Western State) dec. Pedretti (Upper Iowa), 11-9
141-Bagheri (San Francisco State) dec. Irwin (Indianapolis), 6-0
149-Horn (St. Cloud State) dec. Paukovits (Kutztown), 7-5
157-Bristol (Grand Canyon) dec. Dauphin (Central Oklahoma), 9-2
165-Williams (UNC-Pembroke) dec. Nelson (Augustana), 6-5
174-Mueller (Upper Iowa) dec. Henderson (Central Oklahoma), 2-1
184-Brunkhardt (Nebraska-Kearney) dec. Schultz (Upper Iowa), 6-0
197-Arizmendez (Grand Canyon) dec. McPeek (Adams State), 12-6
285-Dempsey (Pitt-Johnstown) dec. Escamilla (Nebraska-Omaha), 3-1

7th place
125-Ulmer (MSU-Moorhead) dec. Matos (Gannon), 7-6 TB1
133-Graham (Central Oklahoma) dec. Zimmerman (Wisconsin-Parkside), 3-1
141-Savala (Chadron State) dec. Bachman (Pitt-Johnstown), 8-5
149-Dominguez (Nebraska-Omaha) dec. Jordan (Adams State), by medical forfeit
157-Edgington (Augustana) dec. Nolan (San Francisco State), 7-3
165-Kelly (Ashland) dec. Gille (UW-Parkside), 13-9
174-Becker (MSU-Mankato) maj. dec. Choi (San Francisco State), 8-0
184-Becerra (Grand Canyon) dec. Bradley (Limestone), 6-5
197-Stevenson (Findlay) dec. Baker (Nebraska-Omaha), 3-1
285-Elkins (Newberry) dec. Carey (CSU-Pueblo), 7-2