photo courtesy of Lake Erie Athletics
Every year there are wrestlers who break out at the national tournament and announce their presence with authority. Last season the wrestler who absolutely did that was Terrance Fanning from Wheeling Jesuit. The heavyweight was unranked before nationals, crashed the party at the NCAA Division II championships and won it all.
I am going to go through each weight class and selecting a wrestler who can make a mess of my perfectly picked bracket. If I overlooked someone, be sure to @ me on Twitter and tell me who and why.
Brandon Lucas, Bellarmine
The freshman finished second in Super Regional III behind Cole Laya (Wheeling Jesuit) and punched his ticket to the championships in Cleveland. He has a difficult match in the first round against Tyler Kreith (Maryville), but an upset to start his tournament is not outside the realm of possibility. Their first meeting did not go his way and looking at a 9-2 loss it might seem like I am reaching here. But even if he drops his first-round match, he heads onto a path that could see him achieve All-American status. In his regional, he beat DJ Smith (Indianapolis) and the very tough Blake Glogouski (Lake Erie). The true freshman is wrestling his best at the right time. He could lose and still find himself into the round of 12 only a win away from standing on the podium. This is a weight class with six All-Americans, so I dug deep and I think I found a gem.
Alan Diltz, Seton Hill
Guess who’s back, back again. If you look back to your 2017 Division II national bracket at 125, you will find Alan Diltz’s name among the list of All-Americans. As a freshman, he finished sixth in the nation. A second-place finish in Super Regional I finds him back in the bracket, albeit in a pigtail match. He has a very winnable bout to enter the bracket and from there the sky’s the limit. Well, a top-three finish is. He would take on Tyler Warner (Wheeling Jesuit) in his second match, but after that, he could make serious waves. The backside of the bracket from there could set him up to make a run pick up another piece of hardware. Unseeded, unranked, and nearly forgotten (by this writer included), Alan Diltz has zero pressure this tournament and experience on his side. That is a dangerous combination.
Danny Swan, Lindenwood
Head coach Jimmy Rollins has a way of getting the most out of his athletes and I think that Danny Swan can give him enough to be an All-American. He made it into the tournament after finish third in his Super Regional and now he wants more. Swan moved up from 133 to 141 this season where he has gone 7-2. His two losses have been to Jon Killingsworth (Kearney) and the absolute monster Brandon Ball (Ft. Hays State). His first match is against Colorado Mesa wrestler Eduardo Penha, who needs to be on upset alert. Swan has been settling into this weight since January and if you look at his matches, he is just getting better.
Pernevelon Sheppard, Wisconsin-Parkside
That is correct, you are reading this national qualifiers record correctly. Pernevelon Sheppard is wrestling at the NCAA Division II championships with a below .500 record. He is also doing it with just five wins. The Wisconsin-Parkside roster has him listed as a junior, Track has him as a senior. I will just have to wait until he Tweets at me and tells me who is right. One thing is for certain, he is now a three-time qualifier. He has been here and he knows what it will take for him to be an All-American after finishing a match short a year ago. He has a tough match in the pigtails against undefeated Limestone wrestler Matt Rose. From there his tournament on either side of the bracket is fraught with matches that will test him, but that I feel are all winnable. It will take him wins this year to be an All-American and give him a shot at bringing his record above .500 before the final whistle blows. Good luck Pernevelon.
Nick Boggs, Lake Erie
Nick Boggs is a senior who has not only been a national qualifier before he has been an All-American. His fifth-place finish happened two years ago and he has followed it up with a successful redshirt season and now another trip to the championships. I am not going to lie to you, his opening match is going to be rough. He drew into the bracket against Matt Malcom (Kearney), but after that things could shake out in his favor. There are four or five wrestlers who could realistically win this weight and that helps. A bracket with a little chaos in it always works out in favor of the underdog. He could easily find himself walking out onto the mat tomorrow night needing just one more win to be an All-American.
Devin Austin, Pittsburgh-Johnstown
Devin Austin has what I will argue is a winnable match against the returning national champion Brett Romanzak (Ashland) in the first round. Romanzak has had hiccups this season before seemingly righting the ship to end the season. Austin can win that match and then he has another match against a wrestler that could go his way. Suddenly he is a national semifinalist and an All-American. Even if he starts his day off in the loss column the backside of the bracket could lay out perfectly for him to not only finish in the top eight but finish high. Pitt-Johnstown is going to need help to keep up with McKendree, Kearney, Wheeling Jesuit, and Notre Dame in the chase for second place and Austin could be the spark they need.
Gino Sita, Alderson Broaddus
There should be some sort positive to find if you win your Super Regional. Gino Sita did that and now he is staring down the double barrel of unbeaten TC Warner (Kutztown) in the first round of the national tournament. The sophomore won 33 matches this year and is now a two-time qualifier for head coach Sam Gardner. The Maryland native was a state champion and four-time placer. He knows how to win when the lights are on and can you imagine if he puts the first blemish on Warner’s record this season. Barring that he still has a backside bracket that could present a path to the podium. Sita knows how to win and there is nothing more important at the national tournament than being able to find ways to win. Not every match is going to be a blow-out, you have to win those nailbiters too.
Brandon Sloop, North Carolina-Pembroke
Brandon Sloop capped off a strong senior season by finishing as a runner-up in a tough Super Regional II bracket. Now he finds himself in the national tournament in a weight class full of absolute studs. His morning will begin with undefeated Jeff Reimel (Kutztown) and from there it does not get any easier. I like what head coach OT Johnson is doing in North Carolina and no one can argue that wrestling in the south at all levels is growing by leaps and bounds. Sloop will have to find a way to win two tough matches in the tournament, but all it takes is two more wins for him to be an All-American. Just two.
Wade French, Chadron State
There may be a lot of attention given to Chase Clasen at Chadron State, but do not overlook Wade French. The junior just won his Super Regional and oh yeah he was a junior college national champion a year ago. Why is no one talking about him you ask, well he is at a weight that features undefeated wrestlers Vince Dietz (St Cloud State) and Levi Niebauer (Pitt-Johnstown). I think after this tournament though, people will know his name at the Division II level and be wondering why more of us were not picking him to finish high on the podium in Cleveland. There is a surefire way to silence the doubter, go out and win.
Gerardo Jaime, Mary
There is no love lost between myself and Mary in Bismark, North Dakota. I do not care that they are no longer NAIA, they will always be the team I could not score a takedown against. If I am being truthful, there were quite a few scores like that in my college career, but Mary was the closest by distance to my alma mater Jamestown. Jaime Gerardo though has me taking another look at their wrestling program. The sophomore made his way into the tournament after finishing third in his Super Regional and now he faces a bracket that has clear front-runners and then everyone else. The California native is now a survivor of two North Dakotan winters which earns my respect. His most important match will be his pigtail against Patton Gossett of Newberry, but a win there sets him on a path to being an All-American in this wide-open All-American race.