It’s a broken record in Division II to say there are a number of contenders. But, heading toward 201, there are at least seven, maybe eight teams, which could claim top honors in Birmingham, Ala., at the NCAA Division II Championships.
1 – St. Cloud State: No change at the top. The Huskies (1-0) host Concordia College (Minn.) on Dec. 31, then open the new year in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the 2017 NWCA National Duals.
Brett Velasquez, Jarred Oftedahl, Larry Bomstad, Vince Dietz, Uthman Rabiu and Austin Goergen all winners at the Husky Open!— SCSU Wrestling (@SCSUHUSKIES_WR) December 10, 2016
2 – Pittsburgh-Johnstown: The Mountain Cats finished third behind Wisconsin-Parkside and Maryville (Mo.) at the rugged Midwest Classic in Indianapolis last weekend. Penn State transfer Cody Law (157) was champion and 2016 NCAA DII champion Tyler Reinhart (165) lost in the finals. UPJ is a tough tournament team; once head coach Pat Pecora gets everybody on the mat, this group will be even better.
3 – Maryville (Mo.): Every time the Saints suit up they have a chance to win a tournament. At the Midwest Classic, senior 141-pounder Nate Rodriguez beat 2016 NCAA finalist Joey Alessandro for a title with Ethan Sheretz (197) and Donnell Walker (285) each taking second. All-Americans Zeb Wahle (184) and Greg Hegerty (157) finished lower than expectations. Still not at their best, Mike Denney’s group was second in a strong field in Indianapolis.
4 – Nebraska-Kearney: The Lopers swept the Augie Duals Dec. 10 and some roster members return to the mat at the Viking-Warrior Open. UNK (4-2) will be in Fort Wayne for the National Duals where a lot, at least dual-wise, will be figured out about the DII ranks.
5 – Mercyhurst (Pa.): Two champions – Willie Bohince (125) and Francis Mizia (165) – led the Lakers in the Midwest Classic. Mizia, a senior who finished fifth at the 2016 NCAA Championships, hammered UPJ’s Tyler Reinhart, the NCAA champion last March, in last Sunday’s 165-pound final. A third senior, heavyweight Andy Welton, was third. Under head coach Mike Wehler, Mercyhurst is consistently staying in the top 10.
6 – Notre Dame College: The Falcons sent a group to the Cleveland State Open last Saturday. 125-pounder Ivan McClay beat four DI wrestlers on his way to a title, while former DII national champion Garrett Lineberger advanced to the semifinals before defaulting out of the tournament. NDC’s first dual comes at the National Duals, Jan. 5-6.
7 – Wisconsin-Parkside: Shame on prognosticators for having the Rangers outside the top 25. Last December, Gregg Lewis’ team gained attention by finishing second at the Midwest Classic. In 2016 UWP did one better, claiming the team trophy behind champions Nick Becker (174) and Montrail Johnson (184). Three others finished among the top four, including veteran 125-pounder Ronzell Darling. Becker, unbeaten as a sophomore, might be the top wrestler in Division II this season.
T8 – McKendree (Ill.): 2016 national champion Darren Wynn suffered an early loss, but won 6 of 7 matches to take third at 141 pounds. Teammates Ryan Strope (157) and NaQuan Hardy (133) each finished among the top six and the Bearcats were eighth at the tough Midwest Classic. James Kisgen’s squad will be at the National Duals.
T8 – Upper Iowa: The upset bug hit the Peacocks in Indianapolis with Damian Penichet (149), Zak Benitz (157), Ryan Parmely (197), and Maleek Williams (125) combining to go 7-9 over the two days. Heavyweight Logan Hopp led UIU, finishing fourth. The Peacocks will get a chance to rebound at the National Duals in three weeks.
Knocking on the door – Ashland (Ohio), California Baptist, Tiffin (Ohio), Northern State (S.D.), Indianapolis