SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Collegiate wrestling has its one-of-a-kinds.
Cael Sanderson won four Division I championships and never lost a match during his four seasons of varsity competition at Iowa State.
At the Division III level, Augsburg’s Marcus Levesseur never lost a match in four seasons; he was a four-time national champion.
Kyle Dake won four NCAA titles at four different weight classes while at Cornell.
On Saturday night inside the Denny Sanford Premier Center, Joey Davis added his name to the list of legends. The senior 184-pounder for Notre Dame College won a strategic 3-1 bout with Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Travis McKillop. After a scoreless five minutes, McKillop opened the third period with an escape, but the Compton, California, product quickly scored off a low-level attack and rode out the rest of the match for his date with history.
It completed a 130-0 career and gave him his fourth NCAA title. Four other Division II wrestlers have won four championships. None, however, did so without losing a match.
“I was stressed out this whole process. I’m really at a loss for words,” Davis said. “I worked tremendously hard. The coaches worked me so hard, but it has all been worth it.
“It was a tough process (going from California to Ohio). I know a lot of guys get homesick, but for me I was trying to get the hell out of Compton. I have family in Cleveland that I hadn’t met. My brother lives in Dayton (Ohio), just two hours away in the Air Force. It was kind of meant to be, going to (Notre Dame).”
Davis never intended to go undefeated for four years and win four national titles.
“I never thought about something like this, about going undefeated in college,” Davis said. “To be able to have my names mentioned with some of the greats, it’s an amazing accomplishment for me. I have some options, but for me it’s about graduating first.”
McKillop finishes as a four-time All-American and with a 34-2 senior campaign.
Davis’s win highlighted a night that saw St. Cloud State win its second consecutive team title, outdistancing second place Notre Dame College by eight points, 90-82. Nebraska-Kearney ended third, 4.5 points behind the Falcons. Pittsburgh-Johnstown was fourth, crowing two champions, with Maryville rounding out the top five. California Baptist was sixth and Wisconsin-Parkside, after finishing well outside the top 20 in 2015, was seventh.
St. Cloud State redshirt-freshman 125-pounder Brent Velasquez used a second-period reversal and a decisive third-period takedown to beat Mercyhurst’s Willie Bohince, 4-0, to open the evening. The victory for Velasquez (25-2), who won a late-season wrestle-off against 2015 NCAA champ Tim Prescott, a senior for SCSU in 2015-16, gave the Huskies at least a share of the 2016 team title. The win meant Notre Dame College, 12 points back with two finalists, needed two pins to forge a tie.
Prescott was in Velasquez’s corner for the finals.
“I wouldn’t be here without Tim Prescott and all the 125 and 133 pounders in our room,” said Velasquez, a native of Bennington, Neb. “It is a surreal feeling. I felt bad for Tim, I couldn’t really celebrate in the moment. But he has really supported me this week and without him the last couple of years I wouldn’t be here. Everybody in our room works so hard, our depth is why we are where we are every year.”
Nebraska-Kearney’s Destin McCauley has won a lot of wrestling matches. But Saturday night might have topped them all. Down 4-3 in the final 10 seconds, the junior went double-overhook and tripped Notre Dame freshman Isaac Dulgarian to his back for six and a dramatic 9-4 win in the 149-pound final. His victory also wrapped up the team title for St. Cloud State.
“I knew there was a short time and I was hoping to open him up. (Dulgarian) was really backing out, so I felt like I had to go upper body,” said McCauley (22-6) a five-time Minnesota high school state champion. “It’s exciting, especially since coming in third last year.
“This is up there with all my wins. I don’t know if I have ever been down like that and done something like that to win a match. Getting one of those under my belt, it feels amazing.”
An emotional UNK head coach was as happy as anybody.
“Destin has been through so much, the highs and lows,” said boss, mentor, friend and Loper head coach Marc Bauer. “He has fought through a lot of adversity the last couple of years and now he is back where he was at; it’s all about confidence and believing in himself and having others believe in him.
“To end that way, that’s awesome for him. Coming up with a big throw at the end. It’s something we are going to remember for a long time.”
McCauley’s teammate, senior Romero Cotton, ended his career with a third national title, beating Northern State’s Joe Gomez, 3-1, at 197 pounds. The two-sport athlete for UNK – Cotton (24-2) played football for the Lopers for four seasons – had perhaps the best post-match interview and may have been the happiest of the 10 champions.
Pittsburgh-Johnstown sophomore Tyler Reinhart had a dramatic finish similar to McCauley, although Reinhart’s win was in the opening three minutes. Reinhart (28-6) went 0-2 at the 2015 NCAAs, but on Saturday night, after nearly finishing off Wisconsin-Parkside’s Nick Fishback with a cradle, saw the official slap the mat during a scramble to give the Mountain Cats their second title of the night.
“Doesn’t even feel real,” Reinhart said. “I told my teammates I was going to get a fall in the finals and to do it, it’s tough to describe.”
Fishback finishes his senior campaign 34-5 and with a second All-America medal.
A riding time point was the difference for UPJ’s Nick Roberts, who beat Indianapolis’ Nick Crume, 4-3, for the 133-pound title. Crume (23-7) scored a takedown in the final seconds, but Roberts (18-1), a junior transfer from Ohio State who qualified for the DI Championships in 2014, had built over a minute of riding time. Roberts beat Nebraska-Kearney’s Daniel DeShazer, winner of the last two NCAA titles at 133 pounds, in the semifinals earlier in the day.
After watching his teammate’s season end, Wisconsin-Parkside sophomore Nick Becker completed a 42-0 campaign with a solid 9-3 win over North Carolina-Pembroke’s Blaze Shade. Becker, who started his career at DI Central Michigan, used a big second period takedown and near-fall to pull away. Brad Becker was a national champion in 2006 and Craig Becker an NCAA king in 2010, both suiting up for the Rangers. Shade finished a solid junior season at 40-5.
McKendree’s Darren Wynn was a little too quick for Seton Hill redshirt-freshman Joseph Alessandro in the 141-pound final, scoring two first-period takedowns to go with a reversal and a 4-point near-fall to lead 10-4 after three minutes. The sophomore, who finishes 37-10, won 12-8 and becomes the first national champion for the Bearcats since joining DII.
Lindenwood’s Terrel Wilbourn finished a 25-0 senior season with a 6-4 victory over California Baptist senior Brady Bersano in the 157-pound finale. Wilbourn lost in the 2015 NCAA final and became the Missouri program’s first DII national champion.
Minnesota State-Mankato senior Malcolm Allen, a native of New Rochelle, New York outweighed California Baptist’s Joe Fagiano by some 60 pounds, a throwback to the old days of the unlimited weight class where a few 300-pounders roamed the mats. Fagiano, at around 225 pounds, tossed Allen to his back for a 6-2 lead in the second period and went on to win 6-3 to give the Lancers and head coach Lennie Zalesky a first NCAA title in DII.
“You have to use a lot more strategy, you cannot get stuck underneath the bigger guys,” said Fagiano, a Chicago native who finishes 29-5.“You can’t make any stupid mistakes. When you are giving up 60 pounds sometimes you can’t take as many risks, and you have to be ready to capitalize on the few opportunities you get.”
Fagiano’s one opportunity resulted in six points and a national title.
The 2017 NCAA Division II Championships are set for Birmingham, Alabama.