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|PREVIEW: No. 1 Nebraska-Omaha looking for three-peat in Division II|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
FINDLAY, Ohio - They feature three national champions and an NCAA runner-up among their school-record 10 national qualifiers.
They are ranked No. 1 and have won the last two Division II national wrestling titles.
But hold off, at least for now, on engraving a third straight gold trophy for the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks.
There are a handful of other teams ready to challenge the powerful Mavs for the DII title.
"Omaha's obviously the favorite, no question about that, they have been all year," said coach Jim Makovsky of fifth-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato. "But there are some other teams who will be right there in contention. We think we can contend, and I know Augustana, Nebraska-Kearney, Central Oklahoma and Pitt-Johnstown all could be right in the mix as well."
All coaches are in agreement that Nebraska-Omaha clearly is the team to beat. The Mavericks won the National Duals in January and rolled to the team title in the regional tournament, placing nine wrestlers in the finals and crowning five champs.
The Division II meet is set for Friday and Saturday at Findlay University in Findlay, Ohio. UNO piled up 139.5 points in winning their regional Feb. 26 in Omaha. Third-ranked Augustana was second with 119 and eight qualifiers. Minnesota State-Mankato was third with 118.5 and nine qualifiers.
"The team that stays the most consistent over all four sessions is the team that will win it," Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Denney said. "I really like this bunch we have. This is the best quality we've had, top to bottom, in my 27 years here. This is such a special group of kids. They work hard, they're very coachable and they excel in the classroom. They've done everything we've asked them to do."
Fourth-ranked Central Oklahoma has qualified nine wrestlers while No. 2 Nebraska-Kearney is taking eight wrestlers to Findlay.
Nebraska-Omaha is led by top-ranked senior heavyweight Les Sigman, a three-time national champ who is seeking to become Division II's fourth four-time champ. UNO also boasts national champs in juniors J.D. Naig (174) and Patrick Allibone (157). Naig and Allibone also are ranked No. 1.
"All three of those guys are a coach's dream," Denney said. "They are very humble and very team-oriented. They've been a joy to coach. They are so unselfish."
The Mavericks also feature former NCAA runner-up Mitch Waite (141) along with second-ranked Cody Garcia (125), four-time national qualifier Dan Hilario (133) and two-time qualifier Shane Unger (149).
Waite, who had offseason neck surgery, has come back strong and is ranked second. Waite, second in the nation at 133 three years ago, won the regional this season.
"It's pretty amazing to see Mitch come back after a surgery like that," Denney said. "He struggled a lit bit early, but he's really come on strong after Christmas. He should be right in the thick of it. He's been a warrior for us."
The 133 and 197 divisions appear to be the strongest.
The 133 class has returning national champ Andy Uhl of Findlay along with junior-college national champs Brett Allgood of Nebraska-Kearney and Earl Jones of Central Oklahoma. Allgood is ranked No. 1, Uhl second and Jones fifth.
There are two national champs and a runner-up in the 197 bracket. Nebraska-Kearney senior Jeff Sylvester won nationals two years ago before Shippensburg's Corey Jacoby beat Augustana's Tim Boldt in the finals last year. Boldt is ranked No. 1, Sylvester third and Jacoby fourth. Central Missouri State's Plamen Paskalev is ranked second.
"It should be another great tournament," Makovsky said. "The quality of Division II is as good as it's ever been. The wrestling at this level is very good."
Top-ranked Thad Benton of Pitt-Johnstown is the defending champion at 141. Other top-ranked wrestlers include Trevor Charbonneau of Nebraska-Kearney at 125, Ryan King of Augustana at 149, Zach Schafer of Mercyhurst at 165, and Gregg Nurrenbern of Truman State at 184.
Minnesota State-Mankato is led by second-ranked junior Travis Krinkie, an NCAA runner-up at 174 last season. Also for Mankato, Andy Pickar (165) and John Koons (184) are ranked second and Math Bitz (157) is third. Bitz has lost three one-point matches to Allibone this season.
First round and quarterfinal action is set for Friday with the semifinals set for Saturday morning. The finals are scheduled for Saturday night.
"Our guys know they have to be ready," Denney said. "We've been very consistent all year. Hopefully, we can continue that trend."