SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – When coaches say “you can win this” to a wrestler down 12-0 it might just be about staying positive.
Three points from losing by technical fall during a 141-pound quarterfinal bout on Friday night, St. Cloud State senior Matt Nelson heard the men in his corner, including head coach Steve Costanzo, say, ‘you can win this.’ Nelson did just that, mounting a massive charge that concluded with a takedown and 4-point turn in the final 10 seconds to beat Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Sam Hanau, 19-15.
“You just have to keep wrestling for seven minutes. That is what we teach our kids,” said Costanzo, whose squad battled through a tough second session of the 2016 NCAA Division II Championships inside the Denny Sanford Premier Center. “We brain-wash these kids throughout the year to believe that regardless of what that score is, whether you are up by 12 or down by 12, you have to keep wrestling.
“Guys can get on rolls and score a lot of points. If you are down by six, the 4-point near-fall can get you back into the match in a hurry.”
“Down 12-0 to start the match … I was on my way out,” said Nelson, a native of Big Lake, Minnestoa. “The coaches kept telling me going into the third that I could do this, it is still in sight. With the four back points you can do things like this.
“Hearing that crowd roar when I got that first takedown got me going. And there at the end, it was an awesome feeling.”
During last season’s run to a national title, the Huskies got a big lift by the pinning Larry Bomstad, a freshman who finished seventh at 149 pounds. Nelson’s thriller electrified the crowd and could provide a similar spark. The quarterfinal round proved fruitful for SCSU as Brent Velasquez, an 8-4 winner at 125 pounds; Jay Hildreth, who won his 32nd match of the season at 157 pounds; and All-American heavyweight Austin Goergen (34-1), who scored a fall, each joined Nelson in the semifinals. A late charge by All-American Clint Poster came up short against UPJ’s Tyler Reinhart, who withstood two late stalling calls to win 9-8 in a 165-pound quarterfinal. It was Poster’s second loss in 38 matches this season.
By the time the carnage was through, St. Cloud State held a 52.5-50.5 lead over second place Notre Dame College. Nebraska-Kearney (43.5), Pittsburgh-Johnstown (42.5), and California Baptist (37) round out the top five with a massive day of wrestling set for Saturday.
NDC and UNK also pushed four into the semifinals in a tournament that has 23 different schools with a semifinal participant. Any questions as to the parity in Division II can be answered by looking at the semifinals Only eight teams have more than one wrestler still in the championship bracket. California Baptist, Mercyhurst, and Pittsburgh-Johnstown pushed three into Saturday morning’s final four.
The round was disastrous for Maryville, ranked No. 1 in the last Division II Coaches Poll. The Saints advanced just one to the final four, heavyweight Donnell Walker, who beat Colorado State-Pueblo’s Jacob Mitchell thanks to a 6-pointer in the second period.
Top-ranked 141-pounder Nate Rodriguez entered the weekend with a 24-1 mark. But the two-time All-American was no match for Seton Hill’s Joseph Alessandro in the first round, then fell in a close bout to Nebraska-Kearney’s Keith Surber to finish his tournament. MU’s luck continued to sour when 157-pounder Greg Hegerty was disqualified after Kutztown’s Matt Martoccio was injured late. Officials ruled Martoccio was injured due to an illegal move. John Hagerty (149) and Zeb Wahle (174) each lost overtime matches in the quarters. Wahle, a finalist last March, lost another overtime bout in the wrestlebacks and was eliminated.
NDC took two tough losses in a matter of moments Friday night, 133-pounder David Bavery falling to Indianapolis’ Nick Crume, and Region champ Cobey Fehr, who entered the weekend at 18-1, falling in overtime to Ouachita Baptist’s Blake Clevinger at 141 pounds. Jacob Goodwin (125), Isaac Dulgarian (149), Joey Davis (184), and Garrett Lineberger (197) still have a shot at the top of the medal stand. Jon Rivera, a national champion in 2014, fell to Upper Iowa’s Jordan Rinken at 157 pounds.
“We are hanging in there,” said NDC co-head coach Frank Romano. “A pretty good day for us, a lot of ups and downs. There is still a lot of wrestling left. This is not easy on a coach. (Saturday) everybody is important. The guys going for third, fifth, seventh, tomorrow … those are very important points. Every point in this thing is big from here on out.”
Nebraska-Kearney, back-to-back champions in 2012 and 2013, pushed two-time champions Daniel DeShazer (133) and Romero Cotton (197), All-American Destin McCauley (149), and 174-pounder Calvin Ochs through. Ochs knocked off Mercyhurst’s August Mizia, while Cotton (22-2) had a first-period pin.
Despite the tough loss at 141 pounds and Evan Link’s setback at 125 pounds, Pittsburgh-Johnstown hung around with Nick Roberts (133), Reinhart (165), and now four-time All-American Travis McKillop (184) all staying in the championship bracket.
CBU’s undersized, Lennie Zalesky-coached Joe Fagiano beat Southwest Minnesota State’s Cole Wilson at 285 pounds and 157-pounder Brady Bersano hammered Shippensburg’s Adam Martz and Minnesota State-Mankato’s Matt Mincey in two matches on the first day.
UW-P’s Ronzel Darling (28-3) beat Link, while Nick Fishback (33-4) and Nick Becker (40-0) each stayed in the championship bracket.
“Division II is as deep as it’s been,” Costanzo said. “In this kind of tournament, it is so important to bounce back after a loss; the guys on the backside, they are so important to how this tournament is going to play out.”
Just plain tough
The 149-pound bracket saw four gut-wrenching, grind-it-out quarterfinal bouts. All four winners go into Saturday bruised and battered. Notre Dame rookie edged Central Oklahoma’s Spencer Rutherford, 10-6; SCSU’s Jay Hildreth got by Colorado Mesa’s Drew Schumann, 2-1, in an overtime tiebreaker; Nebraska-Kearney All-American Destin McCauley scored a big third-period takedown to beat McKendree’s super-athletic Mech Spraggins, 5-3; and Findlay’s Nik Goebel improved to 38-4 with a tough, 3-1, overtime victory over Maryville veteran John Hagerty.