By Mo Nuwwarah, Opinion Editor
UNO’s wrestlers ended the program on a high note, capturing the program’s seventh Division II title.
The Mavs fulfilled high expectations with targets on their backs. They were defending back-to-back national championships and ranked No. 1 the entire season.
“They finished the race and they kept the faith,” Head Coach Mike Denney said. “To go wire-to-wire is tough.”
Seniors Mario Morgan, Ryan Pankoke and Aaron Denson capped off their careers by winning individual national titles. Juniors Esai Dominguez and Taylor Escamilla, and sophomores George Ivanov and Matt Baker, also secured All-America honors by finishing in the top eight in their weight classes.
UNO overcame some adversity early in the year. Sophomore Terrell McKinney, expected to be a national title contender at 125 pounds after finishing seventh as a freshman, underwent elbow surgery and missed the entire season. Elijah Madison, who won an individual national championship at 285 pounds as a redshirt freshman in 2010, transferred to Oklahoma.
“We had some guys step up,” Denney said. “They were just a great bunch.”
The Mavs made a huge statement in early January, winning their third straight NWCA National Duals. They cruised to a 33-13 win against Minnesota-Moorhead and topped No. 11 Upper Iowa 21-15 on the first day of the competition. On day two, the Mavs won tight battles against No. 5 Newberry, 19-16, and No. 3 Augustana, 17-15. UNO became the only team in any NCAA wrestling division to make the national duals finals seven straight years.
After beating Augsburg, ranked third in Division III, the Mavs suffered their only defeat of the season, falling 19-18 at home to No. 3 St. Cloud State. It was UNO’s first home loss in a dual since Feb. 21, 2008.
However, it proved to be a mere bump in the road. The Mavs rebounded by crushing No. 5 Central Oklahoma 33-7 and No. 11 Nebraska at Kearney 29-6 the following weekend. They followed with a 22-12 win at No. 8 Minnesota State.
UNO won the MIAA Duals easily, finishing by crushing Fort Hays State 43-4. Just three days later, they hit the road and beat No. 2 Augustana 22-9 to wrap up the duals season.
At the NCAA Super Region 2 tournament, the Mavs pulled off the rare feat of qualifying all 10 wrestlers for nationals, as each Maverick finished in the top four in his weight class. After winning the national championship in Kearney, the Mavs endured the well-chronicled end of the program.
“They showed dignity and class,” Denney said. “It was a tremendous ride. I’m happy they took me along.”