The Division II wrestling landscape has been dominated by a handful of programs over the last decade. Since 2001, only five programs have hoisted the DII trophy in March – Central Oklahoma, Nebraska-Omaha, Nebraska-Kearney, Notre Dame College and St. Cloud State, winner of the last two titles. SCSU entered last weekend on an 18-dual winning streak, but Indianapolis shocked the Huskies at the Ranger Duals in Kenosha, Wis., a week after SCSU survived and won a wild NWCA National Duals tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind.
UIndy also beat Wisconsin-Parkside last weekend, not long after the Rangers won the always-tough Midwest Classic in Indianapolis. The UW-P gave SCSU its toughest test of the season in the semifinals in Fort Wayne before the Greyhounds (8-5) knocked off No. 1 last weekend. UIndy lost duals to Notre Dame College (Iowa) and Mercyhurst (Pa.) at the National Duals, while NDC and Maryville (Mo.) each went 1-2 in a National Duals bracket in which they were seeded 2 and 3, respectively. The Falcons were National Duals champions in 2016.
Nebraska-Kearney is 12-4 entering Wednesday’s dual at Newman (Kan.) and has a big road test at unbeaten Central Oklahoma on Friday. Following a sixth place showing at the National Duals, the Lopers beat Lindenwood (Mo.) last Thursday before going 4-0 on home mats over the weekend.
“We had kind of a talk after Thursday,” said UNK first-year coach Dalton Jensen. “I know we had a dominating performance on Thursday against Lindenwood, but we just left a lot of points out there — a lot of guys waiting and not taking what’s theirs, not taking their set-ups, their ties and their attacks and we talked about that the last couple days and (Saturday) they really stepped up and went out there and dominated and had a great performance.”
McKendree (Ill.) could improve on its seventh place NCAA showing in 2015. Colorado-Mesa, Upper Iowa, a rising Wheeling Jesuit program? Pennsylvanians Mercyhurst and Pittsburgh-Johnstown have too many quality individuals to overlook. After two weeks in January, it’s obvious raising the DII trophy in March is going to require all hands on deck.
“We talked about it last year, we talked about it this year with the guys we had coming back,” said UW-P head coach Gregg Lewis. “Even after we took third at the National Duals, but it’s an individual tournament at the end of the year, so we have to get performances out of kids to get it, make it happen. And we have to do it really well at Regionals to get guys to nationals and guys to place at nationals. We are pretty optimistic about our opportunity.”
Moving on up
California Baptist made the move from NAIA to Division II before the 2013-14 season. The Lancers will remain eligible for all DII postseason championships through the 2017-18 season before applying for DI status in June of 2018. There is a four-year transition period, putting CBU eligible, if accepted, for DI status in 2022-23 as a part of the Western Athletic Conference.
Head coach Lennie Zalesky’s wrestling program will seek affiliation with a Division I wrestling conference since the WAC does not include wrestling. WAC member Bakersfield wrestles in the Pac 12 Conference, while another WAC program, Utah Valley, competes in wrestling in the Big 12.
CBU was sixth at the 2016 NCAA championships with Joe Fagiano winning a title at 285 pounds.
“From the moment I joined the program, I knew it was the right move,” said Fagiano after winning his NCAA title last March. “Everything is in place for this program to continue to grow, to have good wrestling for a long time.”
CBU currently has the top-ranked 197-pounder in the country, Jake Waste, a senior and two-time All-American.
Nebraska-Kearney entered the season already with a strong squad, including 2016 NCAA champion Destin McCauley. Two new faces, 133-pounder Bryce Shoemaker and freshman 141-pounder Jacob Wasser, give UNK a few more quality entries.
Shoemaker, a junior from Baldwin City, Kan., is 18-3 entering a Wednesday dual, while Wasser, from Kintnersville, Pa., made his varsity debut last weekend and beat Colorado Mesa veteran Daniel Salazar and California Baptist’s Peter Cunningham. Wasser is 22-3 overall.
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“We took (Wasser) and pulled his redshirt and wrestled him in three matches and he won all three matches; one was a win over a returning regional champ from Mesa,” UNK head coach Dalton Jensen said. “He’s kinda been bugging me all year that he didn’t want to redshirt. He was ready to compete. He’s got everything we’re looking for and I’m excited to see how he does down the home stretch.”
Shoemaker was an NAIA national champion for Baker College (Kan.) as a freshman.
“He’s been stepping up to a high level and proven he’s ready to go win a national title,” said Jensen of Shoemaker. “He’s already won a national title at the NAIA level, now he’s seeing if he can do it here.”
● Central Oklahoma (12-0) moved its winning streak to 19 with a three victories at the Midwest Duals in Kearney, Neb., last Saturday. The Bronchos got a pin from backup heavyweight Evan McGee to edge Chadron State (Neb.), 21-18, and a 23-second pin from 197-pounder Greg Wilson to secure a 25-18 victory over Western State (Colo.) UCO hosts UNK this Friday.
● Mercyhurst’s Andy Welton, an All-American two seasons ago, picked up his 100th career victory in dramatic fashion last Saturday. With Seton Hill (Pa.) leading 21-16 and only the 285-pound bout remaining, Welton, a native of Erie, Pa., scored a first-period fall to give the Lakers a 22-21 win.
● Tiffin (Ohio) senior heavyweight Garrett Grey entered this season needing six wins to pass Jake Cramer for the school’s all-time wins leader. After winning 42 as a junior and 35 as a sophomore, Grey, a native of Martin, Ohio, now has 114 career victories including five tournament titles this season.