The NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships are set for Birmingham, Alabama, on March 10-11. St. Cloud State seeks a third straight team title, while Notre Dame College (Ohio) will try to repeat its 2014 performance. The list of challengers is long, but with limited qualifiers comes little margin for error. Upsets can and do happen and this tournament might be determined by who finishes third, fifth or even seventh as opposed to those who wrestle on the big stage of Saturday night’s final round.
1 – St. Cloud State: The reigning kings of Division II head to Birmingham with a tournament-high nine qualifiers. Head coach Steve Costanzo has won championships with almost half that amount of entrees. Senior heavyweight Austin Goergen (27-1) and 2016 NCAA champion 125-pounder Brent Velasquez (21-2) lead a team that will tough to oust from their throne.
2 – Notre Dame (Ohio): The Falcons were unimpressive during the regular season but were firing on all cylinders during a dominating Super Region performance last weekend. NDC and veteran head coach Frank Romano head to Birmingham with a tournament-ready squad filled with underclassmen.
3 – California Baptist: Under the radar and in a different time zone from most wrestling elites, the Lancers and head coach Lennie Zalesky have potential national champions in senior 197-pounder Jacob Waste (26-3), sophomore 184-pounder Nicholas Fiegener (31-2), plus 174-pounder Nolan Kistler (22-9), who rolled through Super Region IV.
4 – Nebraska-Kearney: There is little margin for error for the Lopers, who have six wrestlers qualified for Birmingham. But first-year head coach Dalton Jensen does have national champion Destin McCauley (31-6) to lead a program that always seems to be in contention at the national tournament. Expect the same from UNK in two weekends.
5 – McKendree: There is too much talent on this team for them not to contend. Darren Wynn (33-7) was a national champion at 141 pounds last March, while 157-pounder Ryan Strope (38-7) has some big wins in 2016-17. Sophomore Brock Wingbermuehle (16-2), a transfer from Division I Oklahoma, is part of a monster 165-pound bracket and capable of a top eight finish. The Bearcats will need something from all six qualifiers to contend.
6 – Maryville: Among the top of the rankings all season, the Saints qualified six. There is plenty of experience with two-time All-American Nate Rodriguez (28-2) at 141 pounds, former NCAA finalist Zeb Wahle (25-3) at 184 pounds and heavyweight Donnell Walker (23-5), who knocked off SCSU’s Austin Goergen at the Super Region tournament.
7 – Ashland: Always knocking on the door, Ashland takes seven to the national tournament. Michael Labry is 31-1 at 133 pounds and favored to win his first title, while 197-pounder Luke Cramer is 25-3. The Eagles will need to find a few surprises to challenge for top honors, but in what is expected to be a wild two days, anything could happen.
8 – Pittsburgh-Johnstown: Wrestling with former teammate Nick Roberts on their minds — Roberts, a national champion for UPJ, passed away last Saturday — the Mountain Cats will be in the hunt. National champion Tyler Reinhart (21-4) goes at 165 pounds and is joined by unbeaten Cody Law (26-0) at 157 pounds and a dangerous Chris Eddins (27-9), a Super Region champion at 141 pounds.
9 – Findlay: Like Ashland, Findlay, another Ohio program, always seems to be hovering around the top 10. Nic Goebel (19-0) leads the 149-pound bracket, while Joey White (14-3), Alonzo Turner (31-10), and Bradley Metz (27-6) are also very capable. The Oilers qualified six.
10 – Mercyhurst: With All-Americans Willie Bohince and Francis Mizia, both 35-2 at 125 and 165 pounds, respectively, plus senior heavyweight Andrew Welton (34-4), the Lakers have a trio of potential champions. The other two qualifiers will also have to finish high for the Erie, Pennsylvania, school to challenge.
The next 10
Central Oklahoma, Lake Erie College, Tiffin, CSU-Pueblo, Indianapolis, Seton Hill, Gannon, Augustana (S.D.), Wisconsin-Parkside, Kutztown.