Five years ago, freshman Keenan Hagerty was part of a Maryville University (Mo.) wrestling team that was competing in its first-ever NCAA Division II national championship.

Maryville had just left Division III. Guiding the Saints in this new territory was Mike Denney, who led Nebraska-Omaha to six Division II national wrestling titles in eight years, from the 2003-04 to 2010-11.

After the 2010-11 season, Nebraska-Omaha moved to Division I and dropped its wrestling program.

“We feel like we have a great responsibility to Maryville because they took us in when we were homeless,” Denney said.

Hagerty was one of three wrestlers who was headed to Nebraska-Omaha for the 2011-12 school year and decided to follow Denney to Maryville.

All Hagerty did in that first season as a freshman was go 33-7 and finish national runner-up in his weight class.

“He was the only freshman in the finals,” Denney said. “That was great for Maryville, just the first year in Division II to have an All-American, a finalist. We were pleased to do that for him and get Maryville some recognition.”

In that season, Maryville finished 21st at the national tournament. The Saints have continued to rise. They have finished third nationally in the last two seasons and are poised for another top three finish this year.

Hagerty, who redshirted 2013-14, is part of a Maryville team that qualified all 10 of its wrestlers for the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championship, which will be held March 11-12 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“We have five, fifth-year seniors,” Denney said. “Their first year at Maryville, we never won a dual. We never finished better than seventh in a tournament.”

In five short years, Maryville is now one of the powers in Division II wrestling. At the Super Region III on Feb. 27-28, all 10 of Maryville’s wrestlers finished in the top three, led by junior Nate Rodriguez, who finished first at 141 pounds and junior Zeb Wahle, who took first at 171 pounds. Hagerty just missed a regional title, losing 5-4 in the finals of 149 pounds.

“To take 10 guys is big for us,” Denney said. “This is the first time all 10 of our wrestlers are in the top three. It is a great accomplishment for our guys.

“But this national tournament is probably as balanced as I have ever seen it. There are six teams in the thick of this thing. St. Cloud had six qualifiers last year and won it. That is a great accomplishment.”

St. Cloud State, which finished just six points behind Maryville in Super Region III, obviously wants to repeat as national champions. Other teams to watch, said Denney are Notre Dame College (Ohio), Johnstown (Pa.), Nebraska-Kearney and Mercyhurst (Pa.).

In Roger Moore’s most recent power rankings for NCAA.com, he ranked Maryville first followed by Johnstown, Notre College and St. Cloud State.

Experience should help Maryville.

“We have guys who qualified for 25 national tournaments,” Denney said. “I think that can work for you. They have been there and done that. They know what it is all about. They know the mindset they need to be in to be at their best. The key is to get in that mindset.”

Denney sees this national tournament for the fifth-year seniors as a celebration for all the hard work they have put in to build a strong foundation for a young program.

“You are there,” he said about the seniors. “You get to compete in it and be part of a great national tournament. We are thankful we are able to represent Maryville. We feel a real responsibility. We want to do well for Maryville.”

Division II National Indoor Track Meet

The three men’s team to watch in the upcoming NCAA Division II National Indoor Track Field Championships March 11-12 in Pittsburg, Kan., are defending national champions Adams State, Grand Valley State and Tiffin (Ohio).

Two athletes to watch for Adams State are sophomore Samuel Bilderbeck in the Heptathlon and Sydney Gidabuday in the distance events.

On the women’s side, the top three teams to watch are Hillsdale, Grand Valley State and Pittsburg State. Pittsburg State wants to duplicate what its conference rival Central Missouri did last year. Central Missouri won its first national indoor track title. This year Central Missouri comes into the national meet ranked 12th.

Two distance runners two watch for Hillsdale are seniors Emily Oren and Kristina Galat. Last year Galat was national runner up in the 3000 meter and 5000 meter runs.

Kentucky Wesleyan men’s basketball team returns to Division II tournament

After missing the NCAA Division II tournament the last three years, Kentucky Wesleyan earned a spot on Saturday by beating Trevecca Nazarene 78-69 in the championship game of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference on Saturday.

The brackets for the NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament will be announced Sunday evening (March 6).

Making the Division II Tournament brings the type of excitement that Kentucky Wesleyan junior Ken-Jay Bosley expressed after Saturday’s victory.

“This is one of the best feelings ever,” said Bosley on Kentucky Wesleyan’s website. “I'm still letting it sink in a little bit. We expected to do this, but it's so emotional because we came up short two years ago and last year. Oh my gosh, it means so much to me. It really does.”

Kentucky Wesleyan Happy Osborne was happy for a lot of people associated with Panthers basketball

“I’m happy for the players that worked so hard,” Osborne said. “I think the big difference for our team has been the leadership of C.J. Blackwell and Devin Langford, just those two guys growing up. I’m happy for all of them, they've all worked hard.

“I’m happy for our fans. Our fans deserve it. They’re some of the most loyal people in the world.”