10 storylines to watch in Cedar Rapids at the 2018 DII Wrestling Championships
The DII wrestling championships sit just three days away, which means it's time to gear up and start your prep. Here are 10 storylines to keep an eye on:
A rising rivalry
St. Cloud State and Notre Dame College (Ohio) are the favorites heading into the tournament. The Huskies and head coach Steve Costanzo won Division II titles in 2015 and 2016 and finished second behind the Falcons last March. NDC and head coach Frank Romano were kings last March by 36.5 points and won the program’s first title in 2014. SCSU qualified all 10 wrestlers for the 2018 NCAA DII Championships this Friday and Saturday, while the Falcons qualified seven.
“There’s no doubt St. Cloud State is not going anywhere,” said Romano after his squad’s victory in Birmingham, Ala., this time last year. “And I think we are going to continue to have good teams, too. It’s going to make for some good national tournaments.”
NDC started a wrestling program in 2006, winning back-to-back NAIA titles in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, their first year in DII, the Falcons finished third at the NCAA Championships.
Did you know?
Schools from California, with 17, have won more NCAA DII wrestling titles than in any other state since the NCAA began a DII tournament in 1963. Cal Poly, now in DI, won seven straight from 1968 to 1974 under hall of fame coach Vaughan Hitchcock, while Bakersfield and Joe Seay won five straight from 1979 to 1983. However, the last team title won by a California school came in 1997 when San Francisco State and head coach Lars Jensen edged Nebraska-Omaha. Championships by state are: California (17), Nebraska (10), Oklahoma (7), North Dakota (4), Minnesota (3), Oregon (3), Illinois (3), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (2), Colorado (2), and Iowa (1).
Cal Poly and Bakersfield, with eight NCAA titles each, are tops in DII, with Central Oklahoma and Nebraska-Omaha each claiming seven. UNO’s wrestling program was dropped after its 2011 championship.
Since arriving at Wisconsin-Parkside after starting his collegiate career at Division I Central Michigan, Nick Becker has not lost a match.
The Ranger 174-pounder has won two NCAA titles and brings an 85-match win streak to Cedar Rapids. At last weekend’s Super Regional, Becker, a native of Hartford, Wisconsin, won twice by technical fall and twice by pin; in 20 matches this season, he has seven pins, seven technical falls, and three major decisions.
Just keep Wynning
McKendree senior 141-pounder Darren Wynn takes a 26-0 mark into his final collegiate tournament. The Champaign, Illinois product was 36-8 and NCAA runner-up last March after going 37-10 and winning the 2016 NCAA title at 141 pounds. He was seventh and 45-14 as a redshirt-freshman.
New kid on the block
Central Oklahoma 125-pounder Eli Hale will take a 20-0 mark into the weekend. The Oklahoma State transfer has wins over 2017 NCAA champion Ivan McClay of Notre Dame College and 2016 NCAA champion Brett Velasquez of St. Cloud State this season.
And we have a regional champion!! Eli Hale captures the 125-pound West Regional title with a 16-4 major decision. Hale outscored his four regional opponents a combined 60-8! pic.twitter.com/gNBWLNaUI4— UCO Bronchos (@ucoathletics) February 24, 2018
Hale had a pin and three major decisions at last weekend’s West Regional, beating Nebraska-Kearney’s Josh Portillo 16-4 in the finals.
Who’s under the radar?
A year ago, Limestone’s DeAndre’ Johnson shocked everyone by winning the 157-pound title. The well-traveled senior shocked unbeaten Cody Law of Pittsburgh-Johnstown in the quarterfinals in an action-packed 12-10 overtime match. A round later, Johnson took out McKendree’s talented Ryan Strope. On the big stage during Saturday night’s championship finals it was defending national champion Destin McCauley of Nebraska-Kearney who fell to Johnson 14-5.
Is there an under-the-radar man in the 2018 field? Perhaps Ouachita Baptist 165-pounder Tyler Mann? The four-time Arkansas state champion started his career at Oklahoma State in 2014-15 before returning to his state of Arkansas and OBU. At a DII Regional in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Mann (23-7) took out three-time All-American JaCobi Jones of Colorado State-Pueblo in a first round match, then proceeded to win three more matches and earn a regional title.
Looking for another title
Along with Becker and Wynn, there are two others who will attempt to win another individual championship. Ivan McClay of Notre Dame College and Brett Velasquez of St. Cloud State both compete at 125 pounds, McClay (27-6), a senior, winning a title in 2017 and Velasquez (26-2), a junior, winning a championship as a freshman in 2016. McClay and Hale are on the same side of the bracket and could meet in the semifinals, while Velasquez, third in 2017, in the bottom half of the bracket.
Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Tyler Reinhardt, a champion in 2016 at 165 pounds and All-American last March, suffered a career-ending knee injury in early January.
North of the border
Simon Fraser, located in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, has not crowned an individual champion since joining the DII ranks in 2013. Arjan Bhullar won back-to-back NAIA championships at heavyweight in 2009 and 2010, but no Clan wrestler has claimed top honors since the program transitioned to DII. Senior 197-pounder Christian Smith is 36-3 this season and among the favorites after taking third and winning 40-plus matches in 2016-17.
One more rung on the ladder
Three wrestlers will look to climb one more rung on the championship ladder this weekend – NDC heavyweight Kameron Teacher, California Baptist 184-pounder Nick Fiegener, and Indianapolis’ Nick Crume. Teacher, a sophomore, is 25-2 this season after falling in the final last March to Tiffin’s Garrett Grey. Fiegener (17-5) lost by technical fall to NDC’s Garrett Lineberger in the 184-pound finale, while Crume (20-3), third a year ago, fell in the 2016 final at 133 pounds.
Front and center
The always-evolving rules of collegiate wrestling added a few more twists for the 2017-18 campaign. A new “Danger Zone” rule has changed the dynamic of a few scrambles, while warnings for fleeing the mat and edge-of-the-mat wrestling continues to look for consistency from officials.
Rule 4.2.3 created a neutral danger zone takedown.
Annually, difficult decisions are made by officials that determine winners and losers of matches. The goal, most would agree, is for the officials to remain consistent on all calls across the board. But when it comes to wrestling, remaining consistent with all the twisting and turning, rolling and hard-to-figure out scramble situations, interpretations are not always as easy as it might seem.