There are no at-large picks or special invitations to those who performed well during the regular season. It is a cut-and-dry process. Finish inside the top four in your weight class or watch the 2016 NCAA Division II Championships in Sioux Falls, S.D., from the couch or the stands at Denny Sanford Premier Center.
The four regional sites ― Erie, Pa.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Gunnison, Colo. ― will host two-day tournaments Feb. 26-28 to determine the 16-man brackets for the NCAA meet March 11-12. There is no margin for error. Top four or the season is over. The goal, for the contenders in the team race, is to qualify as many individuals as possible.
So, is one regional tougher than another?
Top-ranked Notre Dame College (Ohio) beat a depleted Maryville (Mo.) squad, 27-16, at the Lombardi Duals on Sunday to finish a perfect dual season. NDC heads to Erie, Pa., for Super Region I where they will battle Pittsburgh-Johnstown and Mercyhurst. UPJ has just one dual loss, a 30-7 setback to No. 2 St. Cloud State at the National Duals in early January. The Mountain Cats (15-1) beat Mercyhurst, 26-12, over the weekend. The loss of All-American 141-pounder Dylan D’Urso to injury will hurt the Laker cause in a region where over half of the projected qualifiers come from either NDC, UPJ, or Mercyhurst. The top two 184-pounders, NDC’s Joey Davis and UPJ’s Travis McKillop, could provide a preview of the NCAA finals.
Region II is set for Indianapolis with a very balanced field led by sixth-ranked Wisconsin-Parkside. The Rangers, off the mat since Feb. 6, will battle the Ohio foursome of Ashland, Tiffin, Lake Erie College, and Findlay, plus Newberry and host Indianapolis.
Defending NCAA champion St. Cloud State joins preseason No. 1 Maryville in Sioux Falls. The Huskies (15-1) hammered Upper Iowa, 35-3, last Thursday for a 43rd-straight Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference dual victory. SCSU finishes with Augustana this Friday. Maryville, more than any other in DII perhaps, will enjoy this weekend off to heal wounds.
Lindenwood, Upper Iowa, Minnesota State-Mankato, McKendree, and host Augustana each have the potential to qualify a number of individuals.
Nebraska-Kearney had six champions and outdistanced second place Central Oklahoma by 49.5 points on Sunday to win MIAA Championships. The Lopers, peaking at the right time, are clearly the favorite in Gunnison, Colo., and the Region IV qualifier. California Baptist will try and continue its solid season with Colorado Mesa, Colorado State-Pueblo, Western State, and a streaking Central Oklahoma, the leading challengers.
Moving on up
Newberry College (S.C.) beat North Carolina-Pembroke, 26-13, last Thursday to improve to 16-2 with a King College visiting Wednesday night. Since losing to St. Cloud State and Upper Iowa at the National Duals, the Wolves have won nine straight and jumped to No. 14 in the last Division II Coaches Association rankings.
Newberry has been led by Trung Duong (27-8 at 125), Jordan Simpson (17-5 at 133), Huston Evans (30-5 at 184), and Cody Brundage (24-10 at 197). Evans, a junior who started his career at Virginia Tech, is among those trying to chase down NDC’s unbeaten Joey Davis. Last March, Evans lost to Nebraska-Kearney’s Romero Cotton in the 197-pound NCAA title bout.
Central Oklahoma also closed the regular season fast and was rewarded by moving up to No. 18. The Bronchos (12-5) were 5-5 after a loss to San Francisco State, but head coach David James’s group knocked off Maryville on Jan. 22 and closed with seven straight victories. UCO heads to Gunnison and Region IV under the radar.
Speaking of Mr. Davis
123-0. Three national titles. Final two collegiate tournaments.
For Notre Dame College’s Joey Davis, a senior from Compton, Calif., an incredible career is winding down. If Davis qualifies for Sioux Falls and wins his fourth NCAA title he would join Central Oklahoma’s Cole Province (2001-04), Portland State’s Dan Russell (1988-91), Nebraska-Omaha’s Les Sigman (2003-06), and Southern Illinois Edwardsville’s Tim Wright (1984-87) as DII’s only four-timers.
Who stands in his way?
UPJ senior Travis McKillop, a redshirt in 2014-15, is a three-time All-American and advanced to the NCAA final two seasons ago. He is 29-1 with 18 pins this season. Newberry junior Huston Evans is 30-5 with 15 pins. The Virginia Tech transfer lost in the 197-pound final last March. Another DI transfer, California Baptist junior Jacob Waste, was 30-5 and finished fifth at the 2015 NCAA Championships. The Apple Valley, Minn., product has not lost to a DII opponent this season.
Fort Hays State junior Jon Inman (29-1) and Augustana (S.D.) sophomore Aero Amo (28-3) could also stand in the way of Davis and history.
• Pittsburgh-Johnstown edged Pennsylvania rival Mercyhurst thanks in part to Tyler Reinhardt (165) and John Blankenship (174), who bested second-ranked Francis Mizia and third-ranked August Mizia in back-to-back bouts of the Mountain Cats’ 24-12 win on Saturday.
• Anderson (S.C.) beat King Universtiy (Tenn.), 26-22, last Saturday to finish its dual campaign at 2-20. The dual included four forfeits, three by King. Belmont Abbey and UNC-Pembroke joined Anderson with a DII-high 22 duals this season.
• Notre Dame is clearly the top DII team in Ohio. After that, it is anybody’s guess. Lake Erie College, ranked 12th last week, lost to Tiffin, 20-15, last Wednesday less than a week after Tiffin fell to Findlay, 24-17. Two days after beating LEC, Tiffin dropped a 21-8 match to Ashland, who lost to Findlay and LEC earlier in their schedule. LEC owns wins over Findlay and Ashland. Not including DII’s only unbeaten, NDC, the four Ohio schools are 32-33 combined in duals in 2015-16.
• No. 11 Colorado Mesa outscored Colorado State-Pueblo and Chadron State, 70-16, over the weekend to complete a solid 9-2 dual campaign. The Mavericks’ losses are to DI Air Force Academy and California Baptist.
• Coker College (S.C.) closed out a 14-3 dual season with a 38-9 victory over Anderson (S.C.) last Wednesday.