The No. 1 UNO wrestling team put four wrestlers into the semifinals of the NCAA DII National Championships on Friday night at the UNK Health & Sports Center, as the Mavs held on to a narrow lead in the team standings entering the final day of competition.
The three UNO seniors – No. 1 Mario Morgan, No. 1 Ryan Pankoke and No. 3 Aaron Denson – all won quarterfinal matches to earn their way into the final four of their respective brackets. Taylor Escamilla pulled off another close victory to earn his first ever trip to the semifinals of the national tournament.
All four clinched All-American honors – Morgan and Denson for the third time, Pankoke for the second time and Escamilla for the first time.
In the team race, the Mavs are in first place with 57.5 points through the first day. Augustana is close behind with 54.5 points. St. Cloud State is in third with 47.0 points.
The Mavs are battling for their third straight national championship, but they led comfortably entering the final day in each of the last two years.
Morgan, ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds with a 28-4 record, earned a fall over No. 4 Naveed Bagheri of San Francisco State with just 34 seconds remaining in their quarterfinal match. Morgan, last year’s national runner-up, will take on No. 5 Matt Irwin of Indianapolis on Saturday morning.
The top-ranked Pankoke, now 39-2 at 174 pounds and with 32 straight wins, will make his second straight trip to the semis after a 5-2 decision over No. 4 Ben Becker of Minnesota State. Pankoke will meet No. 2 Victor Carazo of Grand Canyon in the semis.
At 184 pounds, No. 3 Denson picked up a fall in just 1:53 over Ross Brunkhardt of UNK. Denson, who was the national runner-up in 2009, will square off against No. 5 Aaron Norgren of Minnesota State in the semifinals. Denson and Norgren split their two regular-season matches.
Escamilla earned his way into the semifinals with a 6-4 decision over Christopher Dempsey of Pitt-Johnstown. Dempsey was 26-7 entering the match, but Escamilla, 35-13 on the year, will advance to face No. 1 Jacob Kahnke of St. Cloud State.
Four UNO wrestlers were knocked out of the championship bracket Friday night. No. 1 Esai Dominguez fell to Nate Herda of Augustana, 6-4, at 149 pounds. The loss dropped Dominguez to 37-4 this year, with both Division II losses coming to Herda.
Josh Keszler was beaten by No. 2 Connor McDonald of Newberry at 125 pounds, 7-5, in their quarterfinal match. Trent Cox was decisioned at 133 pounds by No. 1 Todd Wilcox, 6-0. No. 3 Matt Baker fell at 197 pounds to No. 1 and defending national champion Donovan McMahill of Western State, 9-3.
Dominguez, George Ivanov and Baker all are still alive in the consolation bracket. All three have assured themselves a spot in the top eight, guaranteeing All-American honors.
The semifinals begin Saturday at 10 a.m., as well as the continuation of the consolation rounds. The championship finals are set for 7 p.m.