PUEBLO, Colo. – One was a national champion a year ago. Another is now a three-time All-American trying to finish his career in style. A third lost in the NCAA final in 2011. The fourth of a tough final four is a former Division I competitor.

A solid cast for the semifinals at 174 pounds at the Division II Wrestling Championship, which hit the mats Saturday morning.

The champion is Michael Lybarger, a senior for Findlay who won a title at 165 pounds last March. He improved to 29-7 on Friday with a pair of wins. He faces Wisconsin-Parkside’s Luke Rynish, who improved to 44-4 with a pair of wins, the second a down-to-the-wire match with Western State’s Elliot Copeland in the quarterfinals.

The other side has Travis Sheehy, a junior transfer from UNC-Greensboro who now suits up for Newberry. He will face Grand Canyon senior Victor Carazo, who moved to 28-1 after his victory against St. Cloud State’s Shamus O’Grady in the quarters. Carazo beat O’Grady for third at the 2011 Championships.

“There’s some really good competition at the weight,” Lybarger said after his quarterfinal win. “I’ve had some injuries this year, some sickness on and off but none of that matters now. It’s one match at a time at this point.

“[Winning last year] proves that I can do it, so I’m going into [Saturday] confident I can do it again. I’ll try and relax tonight, not really think about it; try to keep the same routine I had last year.”

“There were a lot of returning All-Americans [at 174],” said Carazo, who has 117 career wins for GCU. “And there’s a national champion in there, too. You have to be ready to wrestle hard every match.

“I want to go out and score early, that’s what I need to do. Everybody is really confident that I can do it and the fact that it’s my senior year I really want to win that championship.”

Session Two: Brackets/Standings
Field still wide open after session one
Handful of teams could challenge

Both Carazo and Rynish lost to Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Pankoke in the 2011 Championships, Rynish falling in the final.

Nebraska-Kearney took firm control of the team race, pushing six into the semifinals. The Lopers, champions in 2008, held a 22.5-point lead after a 6-1 quarterfinal round topped off by freshman heavyweight Kevin Barrett’s win against Ashland’s Jacob Southwick.

By the time the evening session ended, UNK had a 15.5-point advantage ahead of second place St. Cloud State. Wisconsin-Parkside, Grand Canyon and Central Oklahoma round out the top five with two sessions left to wrestle.

Twenty schools have at least one semifinalist. Six schools – St. Cloud State, Augustana (S.D.), Grand Canyon, Findlay, Central Oklahoma and Wisconsin-Parkside – have three in the semifinals.

“I really told the guys to dig in after the first round,” UNK head coach Marc Bauer said. “Teams can really separate themselves [on Friday night] and we really came out and wrestled well. The coaching is done at this point; these guys know what they have to do.

“We knew coming here we had a good team, I just told them to go out and wrestle the way they were capable.”

The Lopers’ Raufeon Stots, a transfer from Labette Community College, knocked off Augustana’s Nate Herda 8-5 in the 149-pound quarterfinals. Herda, a two-time All-American, entered the match at 23-2.

“I wrestled [Herda] at the National Duals,” Stots said. “The match was almost the same. It’s important for me to come out strong, to score early, and that is what I was able to do.”

The Lopers won another big match at 165 where senior Joey Wilson edged St. Cloud State’s Tad Merritt 5-3 to move to the semifinals.

2011 NCAA finalists Dalton Jensen (141) and TJ Hepburn (157) advanced to the semis as expected. Senior Jacob Brunkhardt won a pair of tough matches at 184 pounds to advance.


Waiting their turn
Augustana (S.D.) got the quarterfinal round started with a bang as Cody Lensing pinned Seton Hill’s Kenny Trumbetta in the second period. Trumbetta entered the weekend with a 33-1 record. Lensing, a senior, finally got his shot this year after playing a back-up role behind a pair of All-Americans. Likewise for teammate Chism Fink, who won a pair of tough decisions on Friday at 141 pounds, including a 3-1 decision of Tywan Claxton of King (Tenn.) in the quarters.

“They’ve worked hard all year,” Augustana (S.D.) coach Jason Reitmeier said. “They have put in the time and deserve this. [Cody] got us off to a good start. It’s going to be hard for us to do much [in the team race] the rest of the way."

Augustana had a big first day in 2011 only to see Nebraska-Omaha rally to win a third consecutive team trophy.

First No. 1
Ouachita Baptist earned its first All-American in program history when Bobby Williams won an overtime bout at 157 pounds in the quarterfinals. Williams, a native of Tuttle, Okla., won his first-round match 7-6.

“Coach [Kevin] Ward really believes in us,” Williams said. “I owe everything to Coach Ward.”

Ward, who wrestled collegiately at Oklahoma State, took over the new program before the 2010-11 season.

“It’s a credit to the kids for buying in to what our expectations are coming out here,” Ward said. “[Williams] was capable of that a year ago. He really changed his way of thinking over the summer and came back with the attitude of becoming an All-American. It’s big for our program.”

Back for more
Nine wrestlers who were either champions or finalists in 2011 advanced to the semifinals.

Upper Iowa’s Trevor Franklin improved to 27-0 with a pin in his 133-pound quarterfinal. Franklin, a junior, won the 125-pound title in 2011.

Newberry’s BJ Young, a runner-up in 2011 at 133, won a wild 10-5 decision against Ouachita Baptist’s Josh Myers in the 141-pound quarters.

Nebraska-Kearney’s Dalton Jensen, a finalist at 141 last season, had his hands full with UNC-Pembroke’s Daniel Ownbey, a freshman who started his career at Division I UNC-Greensboro. In the end, Jensen, who started his career at Iowa State, won 7-4 to move to 29-4 for the season. Jensen and Young are on opposite sides of the bracket.

Wisconsin-Parkside junior 157-pounder Dillon Bera, a finalist in 2011, moved to 19-0 with a tough win against Central Oklahoma’s Cory Dauphin in the quarters.

UNK’s TJ Hepburn, a senior two-time All-American and finalist at 149 last season, moved to 35-3 after his quarterfinal victory.

St. Cloud State’s Jake Kahnke won a pair of tough matches, edging Newberry’s Jake Elkins 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Kahnke (36-2) lost in the final to Northern State’s Matthew Mueleners last season. Mueleners (31-2) advanced to the semifinals with a pair of victories on Friday, the second one a second-period pin.

In 2008, Daniel Scanlon was a national champion. The Limestone senior 197-pounder improved to 22-0 with two wins on Friday.

Lybarger and Rynish round out the nine.