2020 NWCA DII National Dual Champion St. Cloud State
NWCA Division II National Duals
January 6th & 7th
Kentucky International Convention Center, Louisville Kentucky
Mat 5 Mat 6 Mat 7 Mat 8
First Match 9:00 AM EST
The field is finally set and the wrestling is about to commence. I, for one, am ready to see how this sprint to the podium will play out with the addition of wrestlers coming out of "retirement." We have already seen the appearance of some of these #SuperSeniors and now we have a chance to see even more of them take the last first step of their career. Two teams seem poised to make the biggest jump in the standings as they add firepower to their lineups.
The University of Nebraska-Kearney has spent the first semester fielding a lineup missing three All-Americans. The team that defeated them at the last NCAA tournament, and the two before that as well, St. Cloud State University is poised to add their returning national champion at heavyweight to an already loaded lineup. They are on a collision course in the national dual semifinals. The winner will face the team that is currently the favorite to win it all, according to my rankings anyways, the University of Central Oklahoma. It has been 15 years since the Broncs held the NCAA championship trophy, and in that time, Kearney and St. Cloud have taken home the hardware eight times. The first step to ending that drought would be beating one of them in the finals of the NWCA National Duals finals.
Right now, the winner of this dual tournament has been Covid-19. From the original entrants, we are down to 11. Just last night, Colorado Mesa University became the last victim as weather and the pandemic teamed up to derail their journey. It is most unfortunate that after the fight to expand the tournament field, we are missing out on some very good teams being able to compete. There will be no Lindenwood or West Liberty. Were you looking forward to seeing Notre Dame College? Sorry. If you were wondering how Gannon University would match up against the teams they are trying to run down in March? You are going to have to wait until then. New coaches Nick Becker of Wisconsin-Parkside and Chayse Jackson Southwest Minnesota State will have to earn an invite in 2023 to make their debuts at the NWCA dual tournament. Even the south fell victim to the blight, Limestone College will miss out. We can talk about quality over quantity though, of the 11 teams, 10 are currently ranked in the top-25. Seven of the wrestlers currently ranked first in their weight classes are on rosters set to compete. There are 16 wrestlers who are ranked in the top three that we could see wrestle over the next two days. This dual tournament is not just deep; it is top-heavy. Besides the top-ranked athletes, you can expect to see seven 2021 national finalists competing. That is half of the athletes who were wrestling on the big stage in St Louis last season on hand for a dual tournament. We can talk about duals mattering; it is pretty clear that at this tournament, they do.
Two years ago, the longest active dual winning streak in Division II nearly came to an end in the finals. The University of Central Oklahoma pushed St. Cloud State to the limit but fell just short of the "upset." St. Cloud State took the dual and the tournament 17-16 and has not looked back. Their push for a national championship was stolen from them in 2020 and in 2021, once again, it was won at heavyweight that saw them finish atop the podium as a team. That time it was the NCAA tournament. This is their chance to put Division II on notice that they are stronger than ever.
#1 The University of Central Oklahoma
#2 St Cloud State University
#4 The University of Nebraska-Kearney
#5 McKendree University
#9 Ashland University
#10 The University of Findlay
#13 The University of Indianapolis
#18 Mercyhurst University
#21 Tiffin University
#25 King University
Central Oklahoma will start their march to the finals against Findlay in a matchup featuring two top-five battles. The University of Findlay will be favored in both of the bouts. Third-ranked Branson Proudlock (141) and top-ranked James Wimer (157) will be trying to stave the shutout. They face off against fifth-ranked Nate Keim and third-ranked Tyler Lucas. Lucas and Wimer missed each other at the Midwest Classic last month when Lucas missed the tournament with an illness that hit UCO hard just days before. Proudlock already has a win over Keim and will look to lock down a high seed at the NCAA tournament. Upper Iowa University and Tiffin University will meet in one of the best potential first-round duals. Tiffin has risen up the tournament rankings while Upper Iowa has fallen as it appears they will be without returning All-American 197 Zac Ryg for an extended period of time. It also means we will not see him take on Tiffin'sTiffin's Nicholas Mason, Mason made a rankings jump after a strong Midwest showing. This dual is full of toss-up matches that will make it very exciting. Newberry College had me all excited when Isiah Royal earned a win earlier this week in his return to the lineup. The 2021 NCAA champion was a surprise addition to the lineup and had me looking forward to certain potential matches. Unfortunately, he is not listed on the roster and neither is ZeBrandon Gant. Football season is over, and I, for one, just want to see the Wolves put out the lineup we know they are capable of fielding. Newberry will face a tough challenge in McKendree University. The Bearcats rocketed up the team rankings after crowning two individual champions at the Midwest Classic. Christian Mejia (125) and Ian Kuehl (Hwt) were both surprise champions to me, but they put the rest of Division II on notice that come March, James Kisgen's squad is going to chase a trophy. They will have too much firepower for the Wolves and will set up a quarterfinals showdown with the winner of Tiffin and Upper Iowa. Ashland University is one of the teams that could be a surprise semifinalist. They match up well against a Nebraska-Kearney squad that will be trying to knock the rust off a few athletes in the quarterfinals. The Eagles will need to take care of business in round one against Fort Hays State, but the depth of their lineup will almost certainly be too much for the Tigers. We should get to see seventh-ranked Martin Verhaeghe (Fort Hays State) take on eighth-ranked Aidan Pasiuk (Ashland) at 184, though. The University of Indianapolis has a very good wrestling team, but it is very hard to win duals when you are already down 12 points. That is the hole the Greyhounds will have to dig out of against UNC-Pembroke. We will see some weight class shuffles for them, though, that could have them fill those gaps; they have two wrestlers listed at 133 and 174. That would still leave them with a forfeit at 125, but it is much easier making up six instead of 12 points. Keep an eye on Breydan Bailey, he is listed as one of the two wrestlers at 133 pounds, and last season he was the starter at 141. The Braves have lineup questions of their own, they do not have a 174 listed and they are missing their 16th-ranked 149, Jake Piccirilli. This could be a nail-biter with the depleted Greyhounds relying on reserves and the Braves trying to juggle their own starting 10. Indianapolis has to be wary of the upset, but they should have enough firepower to get past. They need to be careful though, the Braves will be favored at the final two weights. Reigning champion St. Cloud State is going to be heavily favored against King to start off their title defense. When I say "heavily," I mean that St. Cloud State could shut them out. No Christian Small for King at 141 removes their best shot at taking a weight against the St Cloud starters. With 17 wrestlers making the trip from Minnesota for the Huskies, expect to see a few back-ups in this dual. Unfortunately, their backups are nearly as capable as the starters and would have a good shot at placing at this tournament on their own.
The good news for Mercyhurst University is that they will be well-rested going into their afternoon showdown with Central Oklahoma. The bad news is, their afternoon showdown is against top-ranked and top-seeded Central Oklahoma. Mercyhurst will be able to send out ranked wrestlers at 133, 141, 174, 184, and heavyweight. The bad news once again is that at three of those weights, the Broncs will be heavily favored. Eric Bartos (133) will face Tanner Cole, Alexis Soriano (141) has Nate Keim, and Luke McGonigal (184) will take on the best wrestler in Division II, Heath Gray. Dillon Walker (174) and Jacob Robb will enter their matches favored, and Walker will have a match against whichever 165 is bumped up to face him. Jacob Robb will also be the Laker'sLaker's best shot at earning bonus points, but I am afraid it will be too little too late. Honestly, when you look at the top teams at this tournament; Central Oklahoma, St. Cloud State, and Nebraska-Kearney all stand out because they are bringing such complete squads. McKendree has a solid lineup featuring quite a few wrestlers listed at 174. That means we will see some shuffling as they look to fill in for missing 184 All-American Corey Peterson and the lack of a 197 on the travel roster. That should not pose too much of a problem though, they are going to match up very well with an Upper Iowa team that will be coming off a battle in the first round. The Peacocks will need big wins at 149 and 157 to stay in this dual and they have to avoid the upset at 133, where 15th-ranked Ryan Ripplinger will be trying to move up the rankings against #11 Kaden Anderlik. In the end, the Bearcats just have too many wrestlers expected to win and I expect they will move on to face their Super Regional IV neighbor Central Oklahoma. The dual to watch in the quarterfinals will be Ashland taking on the third-seed Nebraska-Kearney. Why could Ashland pull the upset? They will have a first-round match and their wrestlers will have the chance to get the jitters out of the way. Nebraska-Kearney could send out six wrestlers currently ranked in the top-16. They will be favored at 125, 174, and 197. At 141, we have a toss-up as #7 Nick James (Kearney) will take on #8 Luke Wymer (Ashland). And there is another toss-up at 184 as #6 Austin Eldredge (Kearney) will face #8 Aidan Pasiuk (Ashland). The recipe for an Eagles win is to win the matches they are supposed to and then win the two toss-ups. That puts them in a 5-5 dual against a team that could have Wesley Dawkins (133) and Jacob Wasser (157) wrestling their first matches of the 2022 season. What a place to knock off the rust! What is the University of Indianapolis'Indianapolis' reward for what should be a hard-fought win over UNC-Pembroke in the first round? A date with the returning champion St. Cloud State Huskies, of course. The Greyhounds will only be favored at 149 and 174 pounds when #8 Logan Bailey (149) wrestles Jake Barzowski and #5 Andrew Sams (174) takes on #6 Dom Murphy. Indianapolis has too many holes and not enough bonus point opportunities. Mark this prediction down, 2019 All-American Jake Barzowski finds a way to win a close match against Logan Bailey at 149. I really like Bailey, but Barzowski is just one of those guys who make people wrestle his type of match and then find a way to win.
Semifinals (Friday, 11 AM - Mat 5 & 7)
#1 The University of Central Oklahoma vs. #5 McKendree University
This dual will start with a preview of the Super Regional IV finals at 125 when top-ranked Christian Mejia (McKendree) takes on fourth-ranked Paxton Rosen (Central Oklahoma). These two did not meet at the Midwest Classic after Rosen was upset by Dawson Collins (Mesa) in the semifinals. Mejia went on to defeat Collins in the finals and move himself to the top of the lightweight rankings. McKendree will have three very good shots to put up points after having a chance to build an early lead. They can hope for seventh-ranked Corey Peterson (165) to avoid an upset against 16th-ranked Anthony DesVignes. At 174, Josh Jones puts his #10 ranking on the line against whoever the Broncs send out there with a shot at earning bonus. And if the dual somehow comes down to the big men, they send out Ian Kuehl, their second-ranked heavyweight who is coming off a #BeastMode run at the Midwest Classic. The Bearcats will probably be doomed from 141 through 157 as the Broncs send out top-five ranked wrestlers at each weight. If they are still in the fight come 184, returning national champion Heath Gray could crush their hopes with six points or his partner in crime Dalton Abney could do the same at 197. Abney has looked the part of the top-ranked 197 in the country this season and a McKendree lineup without Ryan Vasbinder leaves him licking his chops. Central Oklahoma is on a mission to take back all the championship trophies from the Huskies and that run starts tomorrow.
#2 St. Cloud State University vs. #3 The University of Nebraska-Kearney
The returns of Wesley Dawkins (Kearney), Jacob Wasser (Kearney), and Kam Teacher (St. Cloud State) mean this dual features two teams that will absolutely be fighting for an NCAA championship come March. Three All-Americans have arrived to bolster their respective lineups and when you realize all three are #SuperSeniors, it gets even crazier. These three are all back for one more shot, one more run at the podium. For Dawkins and Wasser, that means another shot at knocking off the Huskies. For Teacher, it is a chance to put the doubters to rest as he can get his shot at 2019 national champion Andrew Dunn (Kutztown) and show that his own championship in 2021 does not deserve an asterisk after Kutztown sat out the season. Just to show how absolutely crazy this dual is, I can honestly envision a scenario where five wrestlers currently ranked in the top-five lose to a wrestler ranked either lower than them or simply not currently in the rankings. At 125 pounds, freshman Paxton Creese (St Cloud) puts his #5 ranking on the line against a four-time national qualifier and three-time All-American #11 Josh Portillo. Unranked Wesley Dawkins (Kearney) has somehow never faced #2 Garrett Vos despite their multiple trips to nationals. Dawkins has finished 4th and 2nd while Vos is coming off his own runner-up finish and previously finished 6th. This is a battle of styles, with Dawkins having the big-move ability and Vos being one of the best position wrestlers in the country. The Huskies could score their own big upset at 149 when Jake Barzowski can go from unranked to an All-American threat just by doing what he does, win matches. He takes on top-ranked Sam Turner, who has only seen limited action this year. Turner has been a wrestler known for wrestling close matches, which is precisely what Barzowski likes to do, that could be a recipe for disaster. Second-ranked Colby Njos (St. Cloud) defeated Jacob Wasser 4-3 at the national tournament last season. Could Wasser find a way to score that last takedown this go around and jump right back into the All-American conversation after missing the first semester? Normally, Kearney is feeling great with the dual in doubt going into heavyweight. They have third-ranked and returning All-American Lee Herrington to anchor their lineup. On any other day, they would have to feel great. On Friday, it could be deja vu all over again though for the Lopers as they could see their championship dream die a the hands of St Cloud State big man Kam Teacher. The 2021 national championship came down to Kearney versus Kam Teacher and the Huskies big man won his own title and clinched the team race for St Cloud State. He enters this dual tournament unranked after sitting out semester one, so technically this would be an upset. Listen, be in your seat and ready to watch some crazy action on Friday.
Finals (Friday, 3 PM - Mat 5)
#1 The University of Central Oklahoma vs. #2 St. Cloud State University
125: #4 Paxton Rosen vs #5 Paxton Creese
133: #1 Tanner Cole vs. #2 Garrett Vos
141: #2 Nate Keim vs #1 Joe Bianchini
149: #5 Brik Filippo vs Jake Barzowski
157: #3 Tyler Lucas vs. #2 Colby Njos
165: #16 Anthony DesVignes vs. #14 Devin Donovan
174: Hunter Jump vs. #6 Dom Murphy
184: #1 Heath Gray vs. #5 William Pitzner
197: #1 Dalton Abney vs. #2 Noah Ryan
Hwt: Christian Arriola vs. Kam Teacher
What do you call a dual that features three different matches between the top-two ranked wrestlers at their weights? How about one that six different battles between two wrestlers ranked in the top five? We can raise the bar and say that there are five different national finalists in these lineups. How about 13 athletes who have earned All-American honors before? At the NWCA Multi-Divisional National Duals, we call this a Friday afternoon. This is a dream matchup that pits the champion against the challenger. This is absolutely a five-five dual on paper with toss-ups at nearly all the weights. I look at St. Cloud State as being the big favorite at two weights, 174 and heavyweight. Central Oklahoma is going to have to send out someone at 174 who will need to stay off their back against a very, very, very good Dom Murphy. Murphy is coming off a first-period pin of #7 Job Ayala (Parkside) and has looked the part of an All-American all season. And we all know about Kam Teacher at heavyweight. Despite the matchups looking close at 184 and 197, I would say that Heath Gray and Dalton Abney are comfortable favorites at those weights. I think this dual is going to be all about the momentum swings; if a team is able to win back-to-back matches, they will swing that pendulum hard in their direction. If someone can find a way to win three in a row, I think that is the difference. But can either team manage that? The best chance could be right off the back for St. Cloud State. Paxton Creese (St Cloud) already has a big upset this season and it is the reason he is ranked 5th in the country right now. A win over Paxton Rosen would catapult him into the national title debate. At 133, Tanner Cole (Central Oklahoma) is coming off a big Midwest Classic tournament and is undefeated in Division II. That all sounds great, but he is taking on second-ranked Garrett Vos, a returning national finalist who has done nothing but win since entering the Huskies lineup. Vos is one of the three wrestlers in Division II to beat two-time returning national champion Tyler Warner (West Liberty). If the Huskies win at 125 and 133, Joe Bianchini could put the dual out of reach quickly as the top-ranked wrestler takes on fifth-ranked Nate Keim. Bianchini has lost just two matches since the 2020 season, and one of them was in the national finals to Isiah Royal (Newberry). Keim is very good, but he is not Royal. Brik Filippo (Central Oklahoma) needs to be on upset alert against Jake Barzowksi. And then we jump to another top-three fight between #2 Colby Njos (St Cloud State) and #3 Tyler Lucas (Central Oklahoma). If a team can head into the halfway point up four matches to one, this dual is over. And the scary thing is, both of these teams are capable of doing that.
Coming out of "intermission" there is another toss-up as #14 Devin Donovan (St Cloud State) will take on #16 Anthony Desvignes (Central Oklahoma). You can argue that Desvignes has the best win out of their records while they both have taken losses to athletes ranked in the top-six. We go from toss-up to St Cloud being a big favorite as they send out #6 Dom Murphy at 174. I am not sure who will get the call, but if I am the Broncs, I try to win one of two between these weights and that means that Desvignes has to stay at 165. You just have to hope that Murphy is not able to steamroll Hunter Jump and put six up on the board for the Huskies. The Broncs have a chance to either climb back in or put the dual away as they send out the ""Bash Brothers"" at 184 and 197. Top-ranked Heath Gray and Dalton Abney are a big part of the reason that Central Oklahoma is the #1 ranked tournament team right now. They are not just good; they have been dominant. Heath Gray has been doing it for a couple of years now and Dalton Abney was great last season against everyone not named Ryan Vasbinder. St. Cloud State has an Ace in the hole, though. Kam Teacher is a three-time All-American and returning national champion who has already delivered one championship trophy to St Cloud State. The #SuperSenior has not lost since March of 2019. He has not been a prolific pinner, only earning nine over his last three seasons, but he has scored bonus in better than 40% of his wins in his career. If the dual is in reach when he heads out there, it will be up to whichever Bronc big man that gets the nod to keep the match and the dual safely in hand. It is so hard to bet against a team like the Huskies. They have been so close to losing over their current championships streaks that you have to start wondering if anyone can really beat them. But all good things must have an end so that we can look back and appreciate them for what they were. Unfortunately for Central Oklahoma, I am afraid they will need to wait until March to dethrone the St. Cloud State Huskies.
St. Cloud State University, 2022 NWCA Division II National Duals Champions