Reviewing 2010 NCAA Division II Nationals

Updated: October 15, 2010

2010 – Division II National Championships

UNO was near perfect in Omaha – by Tim Tushla

OMAHA, Neb. — The word “never” is rarely used by coaches.  It flies in the face of all the positive thinking and intense preparation that oozes from the wrestling room. But when a championship coach uses that word to describe his championship team, one has to sit up and take notice.

At the University of Nebraska-Omaha, “never” seems to mean “ever” when it comes to the school’s Division II history.

“Never had five in the finals, never had all ten through the first round, never scored that many points in the first round before with four falls and two major decisions,” listed UNO coach Mike Denney, March 13.

Add three more All-Americans to those superlatives and you have one of the more dominating team performances in NCAA Division II championship history … and the Mavericks’ fifth team title in the past seven seasons.

Denney’s team performed so well on Friday, March 12, as the host team in the UNO Fieldhouse, that only a few wins were needed in the Saturday morning round to seal the team victory. In a tournament that has only 16 athletes per weight class, that’s saying something.

The Mavericks held a final point margin of 131-72 over second-place Augustana (S.D.) College, which had a tough battle with Nebraska-Kearney and Upper Iowa — both scoring 67 points — for the runner-up spot.

“When we look at our overall performance, I don’t know if we could ask much more out of our guys,” Denney said. “We got bonus points and we scored the second highest total team points we’ve scored in the national championships and it’s got to be one of the highest totals ever.”

A fact that was not lost on others.

“This is the best team they have ever had — it really is — hands down,” said University of Nebraska-Kearney head man Marc Bauer, who is also a former UNO wrestler. “They only lose two of those guys so I’m sure they will reload again. They are going to be tough to beat for awhile.”

UNO loses two All-Americans but returns two additional athletes who have placed in previous championships but did not do so this year. Three of those AAs are redshirt freshmen and one finalist is a sophomore.

The only blip on the radar might have been the fact that only one of the five finalists, freshman heavyweight Elijah Madison, was able to secure an individual championship.

But the boisterous overflow crowd of close to 2,200 made it an evening that will be hard to duplicate at future national championships.

“This year was a dream of mine,” Denney said. “I wanted our guys and all the other athletes to perform in an atmosphere like this.

“There were people saying, ‘There’s too many coaches in the corners, there’s too many fans for the stands.’ But I was saying to myself, ‘This is great. What an atmosphere for these guys to wrestle in.’ ”

The Mavericks’ finalists included two-time national champ Cody Garcia (133), junior Mario Morgan (141), sophomore Esai Dominguez (149), freshman George Ivanov (157) and Madison.

In what many considered the premier match-up of the championships, the undefeated Garcia took on 2009 runner-up and top-ranked Shane Valko of Pitt-Johnstown. Garcia drew first blood with a takedown as the first period ended. Valko escaped halfway through the second period and then took Garcia down to his back to secure the 6-3 win.

That win sealed the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler award for Valko.

“This feels amazing,” Valko said. “I have worked 18 years for this and my dream finally came true.  It put a little icing on the cake when I got the OW award. I had never wrestled him before but I had always wanted to every since my freshman year. It still hasn’t sunken in yet but I imaging it will some time soon.”

“This was kind of the classic match up things have been pointing to all year with him and Garcia,” UPJ coach Pat Pecora said. “I’m so glad for Shane. He was runner-up last year, losing in double-overtime, and the kid that beat him got the OW. This is a fitting way for his career to end.”

Augustana coach Jason Reitmeier had some fitful moments Saturday trying to figure out the different scenarios that needed to play out for his team to take the runner-up spot. Unfortunately, some computer scoring glitches had the race much closer than it actually was heading into Saturday.

After the data was corrected, Reitmeier knew exactly what needed to be done — and his charges went right out and did it.

“We came in here hoping to get a plaque and that’s exactly what we did — and we did it without getting bonus points. All the matches the first day were close,” Reitmeier said. “I sat all afternoon thinking that was going to cost us second place. We got one bonus point the whole weekend. They just ground out matches and they made me proud.”

The Vikings finished with a champion, Jay Scherer at 141 pounds, and a runner-up, senior Ty Copsey at 197. With only Copsey gone, Augie returns five All-Americans next season and figure to be in the hunt again.

“We are going to be awful tough and I think we have a chance at battling these guys (Nebraska-Omaha). I think they are going to be very good,” said Reitmeier. “It’s just a matter of doing again what we did this year — coming in ready to wrestle and going hard — and hopefully things fall into place for us.”

The Peacocks of Upper Iowa made the most of their four All-Americans, finishing with one champ, Travis Eggers (149), one runner-up and two thirds. Coach of the Year honoree Heath Grimm’s squad picked up a lot of bonus points along the way but one of the most impressive championship wins was Eggers 8-3 triumph over 2009 champ Josh Shields of Mercyhurst (PA).

“Eggers went up a weight and did that to a returning national champ. Travis is a kid that was ultra-focused from pre-season on this year, knowing this was his last go around,” said Grimm. “He was not going to let anything slip past him. He worked very hard on a daily basis and this is the by-product of effort.”

UNK’s Bauer has some big holes to fill next year at 165, 174 and 184 pounds as national champion Marty Usman graduates, and just two of his five All-Americans return. Usman won the 12th individual title in school history with this year’s win.

“We lose a lot this year and we’re going to have to find a way to reload a little bit,” said Bauer, whose school will host next year’s event, March 11-12, 2010. “I’m just hoping we can get things in place for this next year.”