The first session of wrestling at the 2018-19 NCAA Men’s Division II Wrestling is complete and after 120 matches at the Wolstein Center, it is clear that this tournament is going to be exciting. My only concern is that it may end up being overshadowed by the officiating that I have seen thus far. There are 180 athletes at this national championship who deserve to have their matches overseen by the best referees available to the NCAA. I am hoping the next round restores my faith in their abilities, but we will see.
I love the Wolstein Center here on the campus of Cleveland State University. It is a smaller arena that perfectly fits the six mats that were used. There is no seating on the floor, so all the spectators are given unobstructed views of the action from the second level. Fans have obviously been enjoying the venue as well, raucous cheering sections are all over. St Cloud State, Wheeling Jesuit, Newberry, Notre Dame, and Kearney all have their large fan bases. But it is incredible to hear the family of a wrestler like Jordan Gurrola of San Francisco State being cheered on from the front row by family members. It is intimate enough that you hear wrestling moms yelling, “up up up” at their sons. Fathers are in full force asking “what’s red doing” and yelling “short time.” I have even heard significant others yelling “I love you” after a big win. There may not be nearly as many fans as we would see at the Division I tournament, but they bring their passion for wrestling just the same.
St Cloud State has to be feeling pretty good heading into tonight’s session. The Huskie brought nine wrestlers and they have seven wrestlers in the quarterfinals. If they can push through five or more wrestlers into tomorrow morning’s semifinals, it may all be over except the trophy presentation. They won the first important head-to-head match against Kearney and thus far only Notre Dame has beaten them. Hunter Bray picked up the big win at 133 while Anthony Dailey grabbed the W at 165. They have another two battle tonight, at 174 when Cornell Beachem (Notre Dame) takes on Kolton Eischens (St Cloud State). Then at 184 Tony Vezzetti (Notre Dame) will wrestle undefeated Chance Helmick (St Cloud State). How those next two matches play out between them will shape this team race. Kearney and Pitt-Johnstown will not have any head-to-heads to make up points while McKendree has one. The teams chasing St Cloud State will be cheering for their opponents and I think coach Steve Costanzo’s team relishes the role of the favorite.
Pitt-Johnstown’s title hopes took a hit when second-seeded and undefeated Levi Niebauer was pinned in the first round by Nick Weldon (Newberry) and freshman Brock Biddle lost a 6-5 decision to Griffin Osing (Southwest Minnesota). Their third wrestler on the consolation side is Corey Falleroni who survived a consolation pigtail and is still alive.
Notre Dame College looks to have the inside track at challenger this season. They trail after the first session by just .5. They have six wrestlers in the quarterfinals, keep an eye on those two battles looming with St Cloud.
Newberry has a nice sized crowd here cheering on their wrestlers. They sit third while Lindenwood rounds out the top four. You do not win a team title in the first round, but you can lose one. I am excited to see what happens in the upcoming round. There will be a round of quarterfinals as well as two rounds of wrestlebacks. For wrestlers on the backside of the bracket, all they need to do is string together two wins and they will finish in the top eight. For those wrestlers in the quarterfinals, if you win your match tonight, you will finish sixth or better. A lot is on the line and hopefully, we will see more consistent and polished officiating because these matches are important.
Check back tonight and find out how the round went.
St Cloud State Head Coach Steve Costanzo after Session I