PUEBLO, Colo. (GoThunderWolves.com - March 9, 2012) - Nebraska-Kearney is holding a commanding 15-lead in the team scores after the first day of competition at the 2012 NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships, gunning for their first national championship since 2001.
Of the Lopers' eight qualifiers, a remarkable six are still alive for national championships seven are alive overall, spelling Kearney's 56.5 team points. The figures are the most of any team in the tournament. Only second-place St. Cloud State at 41.0 points approach Nebraska-Kearney, having six wrestlers still alive and three in the quarterfinals.
At 125 pounds, upsets were the order of the day as the nation's top three 125-pounders entering the tournament - Minnesota State-Moorhead's Corey Ulmer, Adams State's Jerry Huff and Seton Hill's Kenny Trumbetta - each were denied a berth in the semifinals, one of which losing to a wrestler which entered the championships unranked.
Augustana's Cody Lensing stuck Trumbetta with a pin at 4:07, scoring one of the biggest upsets of the first day of the National Championships. But Trumbetta lived to wrestle another day, clinching All-American status by winning his consolation match. Huff and Ulmer, however, were drummed out of the tournament altogether after losing their consolation matches.
The 133-pound class was the picture of order, as the nation's top four wrestlers ended up being the semifinalists heading into the second day of competition. Upper Iowa's Trevor Franklin, Augustana's Jason Jeremiason, St. Cloud State's Andy Pokorny and Adams State's Ryan Fillingame each earned semifinal berths.
A slight upset at 133 pounds took place in the form of fifth-ranked Jesse Hillhouse (Jr., Casper, Wyo.) from host CSU-Pueblo, who lost his opening match to Pokorny and was denied an All-American berth when he lost a consolation match to Ashland's Adli Edward's in a gripping 11-8 overtime decision.
Things went according to plan at 141 pounds, as well, as the nation's top four ranked wrestlers each battled to the semifinals. Nebraska-Kearney's Dalton Jensen, University of Mary's Trevor Johnson, Augustana's Chism Fink and Newberry's B.J. Young each will gun for the 141-pound title Saturday.
Number one fell at 149 pounds as Augustana's Nate Herda suffered a slight upset in the quarterfinals to third-ranked Raufeon Stotts, while dark horse John Hagerty from Mercyhurst, who entered the championships unranked, battled his way to the semis.
The nation's top two ranked 157-pounders will square off Saturday as Wisconsin-Parkside's Dillon Bera and Nebraska-Kearney's T.J. Hepburn will fight for the right to claim a national title. The winner will be considered the favorite to defeat the victor of the other semifinal match between West Liberty's Jarrod Shaw and Ouachita Baptist's Bobby Williams.
At 165 pounds, University of Mary's Taylor Nagel is trying to write a Cinderella story after coming in with the second-lowest number of wins at 165 with a 12-5 record, defeating the nation's eight-ranked 165-pounder in Kutztown's Micah Bollinger before besting Central Oklahoma's Christ Watson. Securing an All-American berth, Nagel is the lone unranked wrestler remaining in the running for a championship at 165.
The 174-pound semifinal between Wisconsin-Parkside's Luke Rynish and Findlay's Michael Lybarger will determine the favorite for the 174-pound title. Rynish, at 43-4, is among the winningest wrestlers at any weight in this year's tournament.
At 184 pounds, Nebraska-Kearney's Ross Brukhardt has risen up to qualify for the semifinals, emerging as a dark horse for the national championship. The 18-6 senior defeated nationally-ranked Mitch Schultz from Upper Iowa to find his way into the semis as the top two 184-pounders coming into the tournament, Ouachita Baptist's Dallas Smith and Wisconsin-Parkside's Matt Gille, each got knocked out of the winners' bracket.
Limestone's Dan Scanlan, the top-ranked 197-pounder in the nation, emerged as the favorite to win a national title as only the nation's fourth, sixth and eighth-ranked wrestlers remain. Scanlan is looking to become an undefeated national champion, currently boasting a 23-0 record.
Finally, at heavyweight, another unranked Nebraska-Kearney Loper, 30-6 Kevin Barrett, earned a semifinal berth with wins over two ranked wrestlers, Ashland's Jacob Southwick and Mercyhurst's Fred Hale. But he has a behemoth in top-ranked Matt Meuleners staring him down in a semifinal match that could determine a national champion.
The 2012 NCAA Division II National Championships will conclude Saturday, with the championships' third session kicking off at 10 a.m. Finals are slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at CSU-Pueblo's Massari Arena.