Entering the final Division II wrestling tournament of the 2015-16 season the scenario is much the same as it was back in November. That scenario includes as many as seven teams that could hoist the trophy on March 12 after two days of wrestling inside Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Determining a winner will not be easy, something fans love but coaches do not necessarily enjoy. What follows is the final DII Power Rankings before wrestling commences on March 11.
1 ― Maryville (Mo.): Welcome back to the top spot after an injury-filled January and February. The Saints dropped two dual meets at the National Duals, fell to Central Oklahoma, and finished the regular season with a loss to Notre Dame College. However, MU looked healthy at the Super Region III meet, qualifying all 10 wrestlers for Sioux Falls and out-distancing St. Cloud State by six points. Nate Rodriguez (24-1 at 141), Zeb Wahle (16-3 at 174), and John Hagerty (17-4 at 149) are all title threats. Head coach Mike Denney’s squad can win the program’s first title with a balanced lineup.
2 ― Pittsburgh-Johnstown: Not since the late 1990s have the Mountain Cats won a national title, but Pat Pecora has his best team in a long time. UPJ dropped just one dual meet and edged previous No. 1 Notre Dame College at the Super Region I gathering. Like Maryville, UPJ has plenty of All-American potential with senior Travis McKillop (31-1 at 184), Evan Link (26-6 at 125), Nick Roberts (14-1 at 133), Tyler Reinhart (24-6 at 165), John Blankenship (24-12 at 174), and DJ Sims (29-7 at 285). Last March, the Mountain Cats scored just 10.5 points and finished 31st. Expect a much better showing in Sioux Falls.
3 ― Notre Dame College: Despite finishing second to UPJ in Super Region I the Falcons should still be considered one of the favorites with nine qualifiers. Any team with NCAA champions Joey Davis (16-0 at 184), Jon Rivera (18-3 at 157), and Garrett Lineberger (23-3 at 197) will be tough to beat. Throw in 141-pounder Cobey Fehr (18-1) and talented rookie Isaac Dulgarian (23-2 at 149) and you have the potential for a runaway winner in two weeks. After winning the program’s first DII title in 2014, the Falcons dropped to sixth in 2015.
4 ― St. Cloud State: How deep is the field in DII? The 2015 champions could easily be No. 1 or No. 5 in this group. Head coach Steve Costanzo’s squad has done nothing but win all season, dropping just one dual meet and finishing second to Maryville in Super Region III. The Huskies have plenty of star power with Clint Poster (35-1 at 165), Jay Hildreth (30-4 at 149) and Austin Goergen (32-1 at 285), plus four other qualifiers all capable of top-eight showings. How deep is SCSU? Brent Velasquez is 21-2 and a Super Region champion at 125 pounds a year after Tim Prescott won the DII title at the same weight class.
5 ― Nebraska-Kearney: Like SCSU, UNK, the bridesmaids the last two NCAA meets after winning back-to-back NCAA titles, could finish anywhere from first to sixth. The Lopers have a balanced group led by national champions Daniel DeShazer (33-5 at 133) and Romero Cotton (20-2 at 197) and All-Americans Destin McCauley (18-5 at 149), Keith Surber (22-3 at 141), and Devin Aguirre (16-2 at 165). UNK always wrestles well when it counts, shown by its performance at the Super Region IV qualifier … the 2016 national tournament should be no different.
6 ― Wisconsin-Parkside: The Rangers, 32nd at the 2015 NCAA meet, should be considered a darkhorse in Sioux Falls. Nick Becker (38-0 at 174), Nick Fishback (31-4 at 165), Ronzell Darling (26-3 at 125) and Montrail Johnson (30-4 at 184) should all be considered title threats. With six qualifiers there is very little margin for error. The good news? SCSU won the 2015 title with six in St. Louis.
7 ― Mercyhurst (Pa.): The Lakers have no wiggle room with only five qualifiers. However, all five MU entries are capable of finishing inside the top eight with Willie Bohince (24-2 at 125), Jeremy Landowski (19-3 at 149), Francis Mizia (23-3 at 165), August Mizia (28-2 at 174), and Andy Welton (24-6 at 285) all potential finalists. MU was fourth at the 2015 NCAA Championships; finishing inside the top five in 2016 will take a massive effort and a little help from the field.
8 ― Newberry (S.C.): The Wolves always seem to be knocking on the door, finishing 21st last March. 2015 NCAA finalist Huston Evans (30-6 at 184) leads a group of seven NCAA qualifiers who could factor into the team race. Jordan Simpson (21-6 at 133) and Mike Kennedy (18-12 at 285) lost in the regional finals and Cody Brundage has 31 wins at 197 pounds entering the national meet.
Best of the rest
California Baptist: The Lancers knocked off Mercyhurst early in the season and qualified five led by Super Region IV champions Brady Bersano (19-5 at 157) and All-American Jacob Waste (12-2 at 184). Heavyweight Joe Fagiano (25-5) is a title threat in a deep heavyweight bracket.
Ashland: Veterans Joe Brandt (24-2 at 197) and Brent Fickel (11-9 at 149), both All-Americans lead six qualifiers for the Eagles.
Tiffin: Heavyweight Garrett Grey is 40-2 and among the favorites in his bracket. Micheal Screptock (28-12 at 149) and Jake Cramer (17-5 at 197) have also finished inside the top eight at national tournaments.
Colorado Mesa: Daniel Salazar (30-4 at 141) leads five qualifiers for Mesa.
Upper Iowa: The Peacocks qualified six, five of them finishing fourth in Super Region III.