Division II wrestling championships: 10 things to watch in Sioux Falls
1 ― Notre Dame College’s Joey Davis seeks perfection
A senior from Compton, California, Joey Davis has not lost a collegiate match. He opened his career with a title at 165 pounds and the last two seasons he has been the top dog at 174 pounds. Davis takes a 16-0 mark this season and a 127-0 overall mark into this weekend’s competition. Central Oklahoma’s Cole Province (2001-04), Nebraska-Omaha’s Les Sigman (2003-06), and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville’s Tim Wright each won four DII titles. Davis looks to join that group and to become the only one to do it without a career loss.
2 ― A team race for the ages?
As many as six teams could be battling it out for top honors. Division II has had some close team races the last decade. St. Cloud State held off Nebraska-Kearney last March by eight points. UNK edged St. Cloud, 108-105, in 2013. Might we be in store for a 2008-type finish? That season, UNK outscored Minnesota State-Mankato, 108.5 to 108. Count Notre Dame College, Maryville (Mo.), Pittsburgh-Johnstown, UNK, and St. Cloud State among the top contenders.
3 ― Two Lopers
UNK’s senior duo of Daniel DeShazer and Romero Cotton have been fabulous at their six combined NCAA meets. DeShazer, a 133-pounder from Wichita, Kansas, started his career at the University of Oklahoma. His three appearances at the DII Championships have resulted in two titles and a runner-up finish. He takes a 33-5 mark into his final collegiate event. Cotton, a native of Hutchinson, Kansas, also started at the Division I level and has also spent time on the football field for Kearney. After falling in the 197-pound NCAA final as a redshirt freshman, Cotton won back-to-back titles. He is 20-2 this season.
4 ― Mike Denney’s new home
The Nebraska-Omaha dynasty ended suddenly, the same night the program won its third-straight NCAA DII championship in 2011. It mark head coach Mike Denney’s seventh NCAA crown since 1991. A few motivated individuals in Missouri wanted to start a wrestling program at Maryville University and wanted Denney to lead the new program. Third a year ago and a preseason No. 1 this season, the Saints have become a DII power very quickly. Might 2016 mark the beginning of another dynasty?
5 ― Best of the rest
Three programs, Mercyhurst (Pa.), California Baptist, and Wisconsin-Parkside, are not household names in Division II circles. Mercyhurst made a run a year ago, finishing fourth and 26.5 points behind the champions. All five qualifiers, including the Mizia brothers, could help the Lakers make a run. CBU, under former Iowa Hawkeye stud Lennie Zalesky, is a rising program. Wisconsin-Parkside has the two Nicks, Fishback and Becker, and will finish much higher than 2015’s 32nd.
6 ― The pinners
The NCAA will announce winners for Most Dominant, Falls, and Technical Falls at the conclusion of wrestling this Saturday night. Central Oklahoma 141-pounder Josh Ailey leads the falls category with 14 heading into the weekend. UPJ’s McKillop, Tiffin heavyweight Garrett Grey, and Western State’s Ronald Wardleigh, a 125-pounder, each have 13. McKillop, who is 31-1, has a comfortable lead in the most dominant category.
7 ― The 197-pound bracket
UNK’s Romero Cotton has won back-to-back NCAA titles. He lost in Super Region IV to Colorado School of Mines’ Paul Wilson (24-2). Notre Dame College’s Garrett Lineberger (23-3) was a national champion at 184 pounds two seasons ago. Ashland’s Joe Brandt (24-2) is a three-time All-American who redshirted last season. Northern State’s Joe Gomez (27-3) was eighth in 2015, losing the seventh-place bout to Maryville’s Ryan Beltz (29-3). Tiffin’s Jake Cramer (17-5) was fourth in 2015. Shippensburg’s Evan Ramos is 23-2. In other words, there are very few gimmies in this field.
8 ― Old dog, new tricks?
Pittsburgh-Johnstown head coach Pat Pecora started coaching the Mountain Cats in 1976. He has been the school’s director of athletics since 2008. In 1996 and 1999, UPJ won the DII championship and 11 times the program has finished inside the top five. Last season’s team was 31st at the NCAA meet. This weekend expect Pecora and crew to finish much higher. In fact, led by three-time All-American Travis McKillop, expect the Mountain Cats, with nine qualifiers, to be right in the thick of things until the end.
9 ― Perfection
The list of unbeatens is a short one. NDC’s Davis is 16-0, with Lindenwood 157-pounder Terrel Wilbourn (21-0), UW-P 174-pounder Nick Becker (38-0), and Augustana 184-pounder Aero Amo (21-0) the only other DII entries without a defeat during the 2015-16 campaign. In case you were wondering, Amo, a native of Rapid City, S.D., is on the opposite side of the bracket from Davis.
10 ― All heart
Upper Iowa redshirt-freshman Maleek Williams hails from Miami, Florida, and has certainly been under the 125-pound radar. At the Super Region II qualifier, Williams whipped Lindewood’s talented Danny Swan in the semifinals, then lost a wild overtime match to St. Cloud State’s Brent Velasquez. All this after suffering a stroke on Nov. 1 and undergoing open-heart surgery on Nov. 10 to repair a hole in his heart. He was cleared to wrestle in mid-December and returned to the Peacock lineup on Jan. 30. There is adversity. And then there is what Mr. Williams gone through to make it to Sioux Falls.