The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
UNO’s Mario Morgan did more than avenge NCAA loss
By Mike Finn
Mario Morgan did more than avenge an NCAA loss when he also led Nebraska-Omaha to a third straight NWCA National Duals Division II championship, Jan. 9, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The 141-pound senior from Chicago, Ill., also proved that he could help coach. After beating Augustana College’s No. 1-ranked Jay Sherer during the teams’ meeting in the UNI-Dome, the second-ranked Morgan spent the rest of the afternoon preaching to and encouraging his teammates.
“It’s time to be a leader,” could be heard from Morgan’s mouth to many of his teammates … and it paid off as the Mavericks rallied from a 12-10 deficit to beat the Vikings, 17-15.
“This guy was a hammer for us and a real leader for us this year. Here he went 4-0 and beat the national champ. He just came up so big for us,” said UNO coach Mike Denney, the veteran coach of 32 years whose thick black hair turned thinner or grayer after his top-seeded team came from behind in all four bouts and eventually enjoyed its seventh-straight National Duals final appearance.
“We lost the first two matches (at 125 and 133 pounds) in every dual and he’s the one who had to start it,” Denney recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And he had to beat a national champ to start it (against third-seed Augustana).”
Morgan, who lost to Sherer in last year’s NCAA Division II national final, would not settle for another loss to the Viking by winning 4-2.
“As long as I keep moving and attacking, he’s not going to score,” said Morgan of his rival. “He’s real defensive and waiting for me to make a bad shot. This time I made every one of my attacks count.”
Morgan admitted he thought of his 2010 NCAA overtime loss to Sherer and swore he would not allow a repeat this year.
“I’ve thought about it all year. You think about it. You get teased about it,” Morgan said. “But it’s not the end yet. I also beat him early in the year last year but he beat me at the end so I have to be ready to wrestle again.”
So too must the rest of the Mavericks, who were tabbed a prohibitive favorite to also win another NCAA team championship with the return of 2010 national champion Elijah Madison at heavyweight.
But at the National Duals, Madison was ineligible; forcing Denney to turn to junior Taylor Escamilla, who in turn came up with victories against Newberry’s Jake Elkins in a 2-1 tiebreaker in the 19-16 semifinal win over the fifth-seeded Wolves and a 3-1 decision against Augustana’s Lance Peters in the championship dual.
“I told him that you’ve been here before,” said Denney. “He does a pretty good job of staying relaxed. If you noticed him back there, he was kind of relaxed and focused on his match.”
Escamilla, whose first dual action with UNO came at the National Duals, said his semifinal victory helped him against Peters.
“I just realized that I can’t be thinking about anything else,” said the Maverick heavyweight. “I was watching the match and looking at what was going on. I wasn’t getting excited about it. I kept a straight face and stayed focused and did what I had to do.
“This feels great. I stayed so focused that my emotions are not where they will be in a few minutes. I’m really happy that I could contribute to the team.”
Denney said the lost of Madison may have helped sharpen his team’s goals.
“Sometimes (losing someone) kind of galvanizes you a little bit,” Denney said. “It was a complete team effort … everyone battling. There were some guys who lost but would not give up a major decision.”
Denney also accepted the pressures the come with outside expectations.
“It’s there so you might as well deal with it,” said the UNO coach. “Our guys expect it. They did well with it here, right now. It can bond your team and keeps you going for the rest of your season.”
That was also shown from 157-pound George Ivanov, the nation’s top-ranked wrestler, who spent nearly as much time running sprints afterwards as he did in beating No. 2 Marcus Edgington, which came after 2010 National Duals OW Esai Dominguez was upset by No. 3 Nate Herda at 149 pounds.
“Those sprints are the extra things I need to do to become a national champion,” said the UNO sophomore, who was well aware that wrestlers he faced in Cedar Falls will be gunning for him in Kearney, Neb., this March for the NCAA nationals.
“It’s paybacks, but that’s what all sports are,” Ivanov said after the dual. “We need to compete and win every match that we wrestle.”