The uber-competitive 2016-17 Division II wrestling season hit third gear last weekend with four regional qualifiers. And, as has been the case all year, there were a few surprises. Two teams, however, may have shown that March 10-11 in Birmingham, Alabama, could be a two-team slugfest.
St. Cloud State, winners of the last two Division II NCAA Championships, outdistanced second place McKendree (Ill.) by 26 points and qualified nine wrestlers for the national meet. Only Notre Dame College (Ohio), who routed the field by 38.5 points in their region, qualified more than seven. The Falcons, winners of the 2014 DII trophy, will take eight to Birmingham.
Indianapolis and California Baptist also claimed regional titles, but the Greyhounds qualified only four for Birmingham; the Lancers will take seven. CBU, under head coach Lennie Zalesky, won a region that included DII powers Nebraska-Kearney and Central Oklahoma. Nolan Kistler (174), Nick Fiegener (184) and Jacob Waste (197) all won regional titles in Golden, Colo.
“I definitely think we are in the running to win it, so that’s the goal,” said Kistler, who had three technical falls and a 10-3 decision in the finals. “This is the best we have ever wrestled, looking up and down the lineup. Coach (Zalesky) has us peaking at the right time. We had our losses at the beginning of the year and now we are wrestling our best when it matters most.”
Waste (26-3) is a two-time All-American, while Fiegener (31-2) is just a sophomore.
“I am just really proud of these guys to come out and fight as hard as they can,” said Waste, who started his career in Division I. “Everyone fought so hard and it’s a big step going into nationals.
“We qualified five guys last year and took sixth as a team. Now we have seven going, so our possibilities are endless.”The possibilities are also endless for head coach Frank Romano’s Notre Dame squad, a team that included just two seniors in a 155-point barrage in Erie, Pennsylvania. It marked the Falcons’ fourth Region title in five seasons of competing in DII.
“We wrestled very well this weekend and we only had two seniors with us, the rest were underclassmen,” Romano said. “We feel really good about that.”
Among those underclassmen is Illinois product Isaiah White, a freshman 165-pounder who beat Mercyhurst (Pa.) veteran Francis Mizia, 13-3, in the finals to win perhaps the toughest bracket of the 10 in Erie. It was Mizia’s second loss in 37 starts this season. NCAA champion Tyler Reinhart of Pittsburgh-Johnstown beat Kutztown’s (Pa.) T.C. Warner in the bronze medal bout in a weight class that is sure to entertain in two weeks. NDC’s other champions included Ivan McClay (125), Juwan Edmond (149), and Garrett Lineberger (197), an NCAA champion two seasons ago. Kameron Teacher (285), Justan Rivera (174), and Cobey Fehr (141) each lost in the finals, while David Bavery (133) also qualified for the national tournament by taking third.
Despite three-time All-American Austin Goergen (27-1) suffering his first loss in 2016-17, SCSU showed it will be the team to beat in Birmingham. Brent Velasquez, NCAA champion at 125 pounds last March, is one of four Huskies making their second trip to an NCAA tournament; Goergen and senior 165-pounder Gabe Fogarty are making their fourth NCAA appearance, while 174-pounder Clayton Jennissen is wrestling at nationals for a third time. Experience counts and will be required if SCSU is to claim a third consecutive title.
“We have an experienced group,” Husky head coach Steve Costanzo said. “To win championships in Division II it takes a complete team effort.”
The NCAA released all 10 brackets for the Division II Championships on Monday. And from the opening whistle those in attendance will be entertained. What follows is just a taste of what’s to come.
125 – Mercyhurst’s Willie Bohince (35-2) is a three-time All-American. He faces Wisconsin-Parkside’s Ronzell Darling (31-4), also an All-American, in the first round at 125 pounds. St. Cloud State’s Brent Velasquez (21-2) was under the radar last March; he won the 125-pound title.
133 –Ashland’s Michael Labry (31-1) is a two-time NCAA finalist. The other side of the bracket includes Minnesota State-Moorhead’s Blake Bosch (26-1). The best first-round match? Gannon’s Carmine Ciotti (20-2) and SCSU’s Mike Rhone (19-6) or perhaps NDC’s David Bavery (13-12) against McKendree’s Naquan Hardy (27-15).
141 – This bracket is stacked with national champion Darren Wynn of McKendree (33-7) and his finals opponent last March, Seton Hill’s Joey Alessandro (14-5), possibly meeting in the quarterfinals. Maryville’s Nate Rodriguez (28-2) may finally be healthy enough for a deep run, while NDC’s Cobey Fehr (9-4) and UIU’s Nick Crume (24-3) are also very tough.
149 – Findlay’s Nick Goebel (19-0) is one of those rare unbeatens in DII. He is the favorite in Birmingham.
157 – Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Cody Law (26-0) started at Penn State and has rolled through his first season in DII. UNK’s Destin McCauley (31-6), also of the DI ilk, won the 149-pound title a year ago. The two could be on a collision course.
165 – Mercyhurst senior Francis Mizia (35-2) looked like the favorite before NDC freshman Isaiah White showed up last weekend. White (20-2), Mizia, UPJ’s Tyler Reinhart (21-4), SCSU’s Gabe Fogarty (22-8), Kutztown’s T.C. Warner (15-3) … the list is long here in perhaps the best weight class of the 10. Reinhart won this weight class in 2016.
174 – Nick Becker of Wisconsin-Parkside has yet to lose a DII match.
184 – NDC’s Garrett Lineberger (18-2) is a national champion. Augustana’s Aero Amo (35-7), California Baptist’s Nick Fiegener (31-2), and Maryville’s Zeb Wahle (25-3) will be tough outs as well.
197 – California Baptist’s Jacob Waste (26-3) enters as the favorite, but Shippensburg’s Evan Ramos (24-2), Northern State’s Joe Gomez (24-6), Ashland’s Luke Cramer (25-3), Ft. Hays State’s Jon Inman (25-3), and UCO’s Greg Wilson (33-6) should be watched closely. Wilson and Ramos open against each other in the first round.
285 – Another loaded bracket with Mercyhurst’s Andy Welton (34-4), Tiffin’s Garrett Gray (35-2), St. Cloud State’s Austin Goergen (27-1), UCO’s Caleb Cotter (30-3), and Maryville’s Donnell Walker (23-5), who gave Goergen, a three-time All-American, his first loss last weekend.
Tough news for UPJ, wrestling
Pittsburgh-Johnstown qualified five for the NCAA Championships but received bad news late Saturday night. Nick Roberts was a Division I NCAA qualifier while at Ohio State and won a DII title last March at 133 pounds suiting up for the Mountain Cats. Roberts was found dead in his apartment late Saturday night. Members of the UPJ community gathered on Sunday to mourn and celebrate Roberts’ life of 23 years.
“I know it hurts, but he would want us to celebrate his life,” said UPJ heavyweight DJ Sims. “Don’t be down on yourselves. Just pray – pray for his family, pray for the strength of the team. I’ll pray for you guys, and just keep doing what you’re doing.
“If you feel that you can make an impact in Nick’s name, thinking about Nick, make that impact,” Sims said. “If you guys want to win a national title this year, make that impact, make it in Nick’s name. If you want to get a degree, make it in Nick’s name. If you want to do special things, make it in Nick’s name. You know what? He’d do it for you, he’d do it for himself and he’d do it to make UPJ proud of him.”
More from Indianapolis
Wisconsin-Parkside, among the top five since mid-December, finished a distant seventh in Indianapolis. UW-P should still get plenty of points from junior 174-pounder Nick Becker (21-0), now 62-0 for the Rangers, and veteran 125-pounder Ronzell Darling (31-4). Ashland had three champions, including 133-pound senior Michael Labry (31-1) and senior 197-pounder Jake Cramer (25-3), who took out UW-P’s James Lehman and Limestone’s Matt Rudy on his way to the top of the podium. The Eagles qualified a Region-high seven wrestlers. Findlay had a pair of champions – Nic Goebel (149) and Joey White (157) – and qualified six. Tiffin heavyweight Garrett Grey (36-2) pinned his way to a Region championship.
By the numbers
Only one wrestler, Colorado-Mesa 133-pounder Juaquin Olivas (7-8) enters the NCAA Tournament with a sub-.500 record. Gannon 184-pounder Nick Costa is 7-7. Ft. Hays State heavyweight Christian Lance has a tournament-high 43 victories.
9 – St. Cloud State
8 – Notre Dame College (Ohio)
7 – Ashland (Ohio), California Baptist
6 – Findlay (Ohio), Nebraska-Kearney, Maryville (Mo.), McKendree (Ill.)
5 – Lake Erie College (Ohio), Tiffin (Ohio), Seton Hill (Pa.), Mercyhurst (Pa.), Gannon (Pa.), Pittsburgh-Johnstown, Central Oklahoma, Augustana (S.D.)
4 – Indianapolis, Kutztown (Pa.), Western State (Colo.), Colorado State-Pueblo, Colorado-Mesa, Ft. Hays State (Kan.), Upper Iowa, Minnesota State-Mankato
3 – Wisconsin-Parkside, Newberry (S.C.), Wheeling Jesuit (W.V.), Northern State (S.D.)
2 – North Carolina-Pembroke, Limestone (S.C.), King (Tenn.), East Stroudsburg (Pa.), Adams State (Colo.)
1 – Shorter (Ga.), LIU-Post (N.Y.), Ohio Valley (W.V.), Shippensburg (Pa.), Newman (Kan.), Colorado School of Mines, Chadron State (Neb.), San Francisco State, Minnesota State-Moorhead, Lindenwood (Mo.), Central Missouri State.