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Nebraska-Kearney wins NCAA Division II title

3/11/2012
University of Nebraska at Kearney Sports Information

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PUEBLO, Colo. -- For the second time in program history, the Nebraska-Kearney wrestling team has won the NCAA Division II national championship.

On Saturday night in Pueblo, Colo., the Lopers tallied 107.0 team points to hold off a huge charge by top-ranked St. Cloud State, Minn. (95.0). This marks the Lopers 11th straight top 10 finish; UNK's other national title came in 2008.

Ross Brunkhardt and the other Loper seniors go out in style

By winning, UNK also keeps the national title in Nebraska. Since 2004, Nebraska-Omaha has six first place finishes, the Lopers two and Central Oklahoma one (2007).

The SCSU Huskies won their first 10 matches on Saturday to not only catch UNK but also hold a brief lead.

The two teams entered the finals with 91.0 points apiece but the Huskies lost the 133 lbs. match when defending national champ Trevor Franklin of Upper Iowa edged Andrew Pokorny, 3-2.

UNK then won three straight national titles to secure the team title.

"It was an absolute roller coaster today," UNK coach Marc Bauer told USA Wrestling. "St. Cloud had a heck of a run this morning, but our guys responded and stepped it up. It was a storybook ending for these seniors. It was an amazing weekend for us. I'll never forget this. It's unbelievable."

At 141 lbs., top-ranked Dalton Jensen (Missouri Valley, Iowa) was leading Newberry's B.J.Young 2-1 midway through the second period. Building up a point of riding time, Jensen managed to turn Young and record a fall at 4:18.

Jensen beat third-ranked Chism Fink of Augustana, 7-4, to reach the finals for a second straight year. Winning 20 of his last 21 matches, Jensen finishes his senior season 30-4.

Up next, junior Raufeon Stots (Houston, Texas) faced unranked and true freshman John Hagerty of Maryville (Mo.) in the 149 lbs. finals. Stots used two takedowns to grab the early lead before Hagerty went to one knee to keep Stots away from his legs.

Hagerty took a couple of shots but Stots fought them off to win by a 5-4 score. The former Labette C.C. All-American reached the finals thanks to a 6-1 decision over Ky Corley of Central Oklahoma.

After medically redshirting last winter, and competing unattached first semester, the Lopers "secret weapon" closes out the 2011-12 season with a 30-6 combined record.

Raufeon Stots
Finally, senior T.J. Hepburn (East Hampton, Conn.) finished off one of the best careers in school history by pinning Jarrod Shaw of West Liberty State (W.V.) at 2:17 to win the 157 lbs. national title.

A three-time All-American, Hepburn goes 36-3 as a senior, ending on a 26-match win streak. He also finishes 118-16 as a Loper.

"I told these guys, 'I'm going for a pin in the finals,'" Hepburn said. "It feels great to go out this way. It's awesome. We worked so hard and it finally paid off."

To reach the finals, he needed overtime to beat top-ranked and undefeated Dillon Bera of Wisconsin-Parkside, 4-2.

UNK had four other All-Americans in senior Ross Brunkhardt (3rd/184 lbs.), senior Joey Wilson (4th/165 lbs.), sophomore Mark Fiala (8th/174 lbs.) and redshirt freshman Kevin Barrett (4th/285 lbs.).

Now a two-time All-American, Brunkhardt (Merino, Colo.) lost 3-1 to SCSU's Derek Skala, the eventual national champ, in the semifinals. He came back to beat Mitch Schultz of Upper Iowa, 4-2, for the second time in the tournament to place third.

Wilson (Half Moon Bay, Calif.), also an All-American again, fell to the eventual national champ, Mike Williams of UNC-Pembroke, 2-1, in the semifinals. He beat Matt Vandermeer of D2 newcomer Lake Erie (OH), 5-2, before falling to SCSU's Tad Merrit, 3-0, in the third place bout.

On Friday, Wilson scored a key 5-3 win over the top-ranked Merritt.

In his semifinal match, Barrett (Boys Town H.S.) lost a heartbreaking 4-3 decision to now two-time national champ Matt Meuleners of Northern State. With UNK trailing in the team race, Barrett pinned Zach Rosol of Upper Iowa at 2:22 to tie things up at 91.0.

After upsetting fourth-ranked Jacob Southwick of Ashland (OH) on Friday, Barrett lost to him by a 1-0 score for third place. Not able to crack the national rankings all season, the UNO transfer ends 2012 with a 27-9 mark (14 falls).

Finally, Fiala (Seward) lost to Western State's Elliott Copeland, 9-5, and to Travis McKillop of Pitt-Johnstown, 7-0, on Saturday. He did win twice to earn All-American status and score some key team points.

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