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|Close battle expected for the team title in NCAA Division II|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
It's only fitting the NCAA Division II Championships will be held in the state of Nebraska this season.
That's because three-time defending national champion Nebraska-Omaha and 2006 national runner-up Nebraska-Kearney could be headed for a classic showdown when the NCAA finals are held March 9-10 in Kearney, Neb.
Nebraska-Omaha lost five All-Americans off last year's team, including four-time national champion heavyweight Les Sigman, national champion Patrick Allibone and national runner-ups Mitch Waite and Shane Unger.
But the Mavericks still have plenty of firepower in their lineup.
UNO is led by two-time national champion J.D. Naig (174) and national champion Cody Garcia (125). Third-place finisher Ross Taplin (165) also returns as do national qualifiers Nate Oviatt (184) and Nick Edmonds (197).
"It's going to be a battle," Mavericks coach Mike Denney said. "UNK, Central Oklahoma and Mankato all should be right in the thick of it."
Central Oklahoma is ranked No. 1 in the preseason, followed by Nebraska-Kearney, Minnesota State-Mankato and Nebraska-Omaha.
Nebraska-Omaha also has brought in former Iowa Hawkeye starter Todd Meneely (149), who has two years of eligibility left. The Mavericks feature another top prospect at 197 in freshman Jacob Marrs.
Nebraska-Kearney is hoping to win the school's first NCAA tournament title. Coach Marc Bauer's club returns four All-Americans among its seven returning national qualifiers.
Nebraska-Kearney is led by junior national champion Brett Allgood (133) and NCAA runner-up Tervel Dlagnev (heavyweight). All-Americans Trevor Charbonneau (125) and Jeff Rutledge (141) both placed fifth last season.
"We've never taken all 10 guys to nationals, and we've got a shot at taking all 10 this year," Bauer said. "It's awesome to have this opportunity. We knew we were going to have a quality team when we got the bid to host this a few years ago. Then we had a tremendous recruiting class and picked up a few more guys to put us in the position we are in."
Dlagnev served as a workout partner for World Team member Tolly Thompson during the U.S. freestyle training camps this summer.
"Tervel is 10 times tougher than he was last year," Bauer said.
The Lopers also have national qualifiers in Matt True (149), Paul Sutton (174) and Dan Hospodka (174). Hospodka qualified two years ago. UNK also brought in transfer Matt Farrell (184), a starter for Nebraska early last season. Freshman Kelsey Empting (197), a two-time Oklahoma state champion, also should make an immediate impact.
"Kelsey has the tools to be a national champion this year," Bauer said.
Central Oklahoma also is loaded with veterans. The Bronchos return All-Americans Shane Caruthers (125), Earl Jones (133), Kyle Evans (141), Shea Timothy (149) and Chris Finn (heavyweight). Evans was second and Jones third while Caruthers, Timothy and Finn each placed sixth.
"We're pretty optimistic," Central Oklahoma coach David James said. "We have a lot of experience and quite a few guys who have placed in the national tournament."
Josh Leadingfox, fifth nationally at heavyweight in 2005, also is back. He broke his thumb late last season. Jared Henning, an All-American in 2005, will open as the starter at 133.
"Earl needs to take care of some academic needs to be eligible second semester," James said.
Minnesota State coach Jim Makovsky also has a team with the potential to win the gold trophy this year.
The Mavericks return All-Americans Nick Smith (125), Jeff Pfaffinger (133), Jason Rhoten (149), Andy Pickar (165) and Travis Krinkie (184). Rhoten and Krinkie have both placed second at the NCAA tournament. Rhoten missed last season while recovering from a broken leg. Krinkie bumps up a class after competing at 174.
"We have the nucleus to make a run at a national championship," Makovsky said. "The keys will be improvement from our returning wrestlers and rapid development from our young wrestlers. We're really motivated because we feel like we underachieved last year at nationals."
Findlay returns a pair of national champions in Andy Uhl (133) and Antonio Guerra (149). Uhl won the title in 2005 and was second last year.
Perennial power Pitt-Johnstown should be strong again with NCAA runner-up Mike Corcetti (184) returning along with All-Americans Brandon Reasy (133) and Albert Miles (165).
Indianapolis is another team to keep an eye on as it returns NCAA runner-up Michael Jackson (174) along with All-Americans Shane Perkey (133), Charlie Pingleton (149) and Jose Navarro (heavyweight).
Mercyhurst returns six national qualifiers, including two All-Americans. NCAA runner-up Zach Schafer will move up to 174 after placing second at 165 last year. J.J. Zanetta is back after placing seventh at 141.
"We're pretty excited about this team," Mercyhurst coach Tony Cipollone said. "We have a good mix of young and old."
Returning champion Brad Becker of Wisconsin-Parkside is back at 157 as is gold medalist Nathan Baker of Minnesota State-Moorhead at 165.