I am beyond excited to be traveling to cover my first Division II wrestling tournament. And boy did I choose a big one! That is right, I will be on the ground in Cleveland covering the tournament firsthand. This year promises to be a great championship as St. Cloud State University looks to win back-to-back titles. Hot on their heels will be five-time champions Notre Dame College who won the title most recently in 2016-17. The last team not named Notre Dame or St Cloud to win the trophy is title contender Nebraska-Kearney. The Lopers went back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. In fact, these three teams are the only programs to either win or be runner-up for the title every year since 2011.
There will be 56 programs at this year's national tournament and with the expansion of the tournament, there will be 20 extra athletes making the trip this season. That is not to say there will be parity from top to bottom, 12 teams combine to bring nearly half of the 180 wrestlers who qualified. St. Cloud State leads everyone with nine qualifiers while UNC-Pembroke managed to send eight wrestlers through Super Regional II. Seven different wrestling programs will have seven athletes weighing in on Friday morning. Limestone, Lindenwood, Maryville, McKendree, Newberry, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh-Johnstown are sending “lucky seven” in their bid to win the team title. Three teams will attempt to battle it out with these overachievers with six wrestlers: Nebraska-Kearney, University of Indianapolis, and Wheeling Jesuit. They are going to rely on quality over quantity.
There will be 18 returning All-Americans in the field including an incredible six at 125. Seven returning national finalists are taking the mat in Cleveland as well and both149 and Hwt will have the previous years finalists back again this season. In all, there are three returning national champions lead by Chris Eddins of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. Brett Romanzak of Ashland has struggled at times this season but appears to be catching fire at the right time as he looks to repeat at 165. Terrance Fanning of Wheeling Jesuit was an unranked wrestler before the tournament a year ago and found himself atop the podium, now everyone knows him, and he is the one fighting off challengers. Who will etch their names in history and become the next returning national champion?
When I sit down and fill out a bracket, I fill it out. I pick a winner for every match and often times I am forced to make a gut decision. Other times, thanks to d2.wrestlestat.com I am able to make a logical decision. Please do not blame him with I ignore his carefully constructed logarithms. The website has been an incredible resource over the course of this season as I try to cover Division II effectively.
Follow along as I break down each weight class and pick the All-Americans. As an added treat I have even compiled my list for the Round of 12 or “blood round.” Feel free to tweet @bvilltheopenmat when it turns out I am gravely mistaken about my picks during the tournament and follow along @theopenmat for coverage throughout.