St. Cloud State hunts for seventh NWCA National Championship in Louisville this weekend
ST. CLOUD, Minn. – No. 3 St. Cloud State Wrestling begins their quest for a seventh NWCA National Duals Championship at the 2023 NWCA National Duals with an Opening Round match against No. 18 Mercyhurst on Friday morning at the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville.
The Huskies enter the Duals as the No. 3 seed with 14 ranked teams competing at the dual tournament. Friday features the Pool A and B first round beginning at 10:00 a.m. ET with the Quarterfinals set to start at noon ET. Championship Saturday starts at 9:00 a.m. ET with the Fifth and Seventh Place matches set for 1:00 p.m., followed by the Finals and Third Place tilts at 3:00 p.m.
Huskies at the National Duals
St. Cloud State has enjoyed a rich tradition of success at the NWCA National Duals, earning six Championships (2012-13, 2017-20) and five top-three finishes since 2011. The Huskies are 50-17 all-time at the duals, including 43-9 under the direction of Steve Costanzo. Last season SCSU advanced to the Finals bout with No. 1 Central Oklahoma, falling 19-14 to take second at the Duals.
Sizing up the Lakers
No. 18 Mercyhurst enters the National Duals with a 3-2 record this season, seeded 14th at the tournament. Four of the Lakers’ five duals have been against ranked opponents, with wins over No. 17 Ashland (19-14) and No. 18 Findlay (28-17) coupled with losses to No. 3 Indianapolis (19-16) and No. 19 Lake Erie (19-15). The Lakers boast three nationally ranked wrestlers with No. 5 Eric Bartos at 133, No. 10 Dillon Walker at 174 and No. 7 Luke McGonigal at 197. Walker earned All-American honors last season with a fifth-place finish, while Bartos and McGonigal each were named All-Americans in 2020. Mike Wehler leads Mercyhurst in his 16th season with the program, holding a 180-79-2 record in Erie with 29 All-Americans. Over his 19-year coaching career, including a three-year stint at West Liberty State (now West Liberty), Wehler has gone 207-99-2.
The Opening Round of the NWCA National Duals marks just the second meeting between St. Cloud State and Mercyhurst. The Huskies flattened the Lakers 48-0 in the semifinals of the Grand Canyon Duals on December 31, 2011. Dylan Wright opened the dual with a major decision at 125 followed by an Andy Pokorny major decision at 133. Jay Hildreth and Josh Howk scored back-to-back pins at 141 and 149 before No. 8 Jake Horn blanked No. 3 Jordan Shields 6-0 at 157. No. 1 Tad Merritt added a pin at 165, No. 3 Shamus O’Grady won his bout at 174, then 184-pounder and No. 2 Derek Skala picked up a major decision. Mic Berg posted a fall at 197, then No. 1 Jacob Kahnke pinned No. 7 Fred Hale at heavyweight to lock up the shutout.
The 2023 NWCA National Duals features a loaded field, with 14 of the 16 teams currently ranked in the NWCA Top-25 and one more receiving votes. SCSU is seeded third overall behind No. 1 Central Oklahoma and No. 2 Nebraska-Kearney. Following their Opening Round match with Mercyhurst, the Huskies will face the winner or loser of No. 9 Upper Iowa and No. 12 McKendree.
|Seed||Pool A||Seed||Pool B|
|1||No. 1 Central Oklahoma||2||No. 2 Nebraska-Kearney|
|4||No. 4 West Liberty||3||No. 3 St. Cloud State|
|5||No. 5 Lander||6||No. 9 Upper Iowa|
|7||No. 12 Indianapolis||8||No. 11 Mary|
|10||No. 14 Gannon||9||No. 24 Ashland|
|12||No. 14 Fort Hays State||11||No. 12 McKendree|
|13||No. 16 Colorado Mesa||14||No. 18 Mercyhurst|
“We’re really excited to compete again. It seems like it’s been forever since the Chadron State Duals. Obviously this is always a highlighted event on our schedule – it’s an event we look forward to. We can really gauge where we’re at as a program at that event. We’re really excited to get out there and see what we’ve got.”
“We’ve had a really good training period over the last week and a half. They had 11 days off, you don’t know what to expect when they come back, but the atmosphere has been outstanding. We’ve had a good training phase going into the duals, and I’m excited about that.”
“It’s got to be one dual at a time. You can’t overlook anyone. You can assume that certain teams are going to win, but I’ve also seen some teams get upset in the past. You don’t know who’s really healthy until you get there – a lot can change, even in a day. We’ve had those experiences where we have had some major injuries at this event and had to make some significant lineup changes throughout the event. We have to take it one dual at a time down there.”
“The National Duals is a very healthy event. It’s the first event of the second semester – I don’t know if everybody is at their best, which is okay. We’re wrestling for a National Championship, that’s the significance of the event. It’s duals – I think duals are great for the sport of wrestling and really brings teams and fans together. I think there’s a lot more interest in duals than tournaments from the fan perspective.”
“We want to see the best teams. Right now I think the best team at this point in time is Central Oklahoma. They’re just outstanding from top to bottom, they don’t have weak links in their lineup. They are very well-coached and just have a great team. Central Oklahoma has a great tradition of wrestling that dates back to their NAIA days – this may be one of their best teams they’ve ever fielded. If we get an opportunity to wrestle against them, that would be great.”
“Joey Bianchini at 149 has only wrestled once this year – I’m excited to get him out there. He’s at a new weight class, he feels really good, I’m excited to see what he can do. Nick Novak bumping up as well, I’m excited to see what he can to. You’ve got two guys right there who aren’t cutting a lot of weight, are feeling good and are healthy. I’m really excited to see them, and that’s just to name a couple. I’m excited to see all of our weight classes.”
“The guys are excited. Going down is not so bad because we break the trip into two days. Coming back will be a bear on us, but we’re excited – I’m glad our guys are together, and we’ll grow a lot stronger as a team over the course of the weekend.”
Surveying the Ranks
St. Cloud State enters the National Duals ranked No. 3 by both the NWCA and The Open Mat in tournament formats, No. 1 by Intermat at No. 2 in duals by The Open Mat. 11 Huskies are currently ranked, with eight receiving notice by the NWCA: No. 6 Paxton Creese (125), No. 12 Caleb Meekins (133), No. 8 Alyeus Craig (141), No. 4 Joey Bianchini (149), No. 4 Nick Novak (157), No. 10 Anthony Herrera (165), No. 1 Abner Romero (174) and No. 4 Dominic Murphy (197). The Open Mat has 10 Huskies recognized: No. 10 Paxton Creese (125), No. 12 Caleb Meekins (133), No. 6 Alyeus Craig (141), No. 3 Joey Bianchini (149), No. 5 Nick Novak (157), No. 15 Anthony Herrera (165), No. 1 Abner Romero (174), No. 17 Shaeden Scheidt (184), No. 7 Dominic Murphy (197) and No. 18 Elijah Novak (HWT). Intermat’s December rankings place No. 6 Paxton Creese (125), No. 2 Joey Bianchini (141), No. 4 Nick Novak (149), No. 4 Colby Njos (157), No. 10 Anthony Herrera (165), No. 1 Abner Romero (174) and No. 5 Dominic Murphy (197).
Last Time Out
No. 1 St. Cloud State Wrestling enjoyed a dominant 3-0 start to their 2022-23 dual season at the Chadron State Duals on Sunday, dropping No. 16 Western Colorado 29-6 before steamrolling (RV) Chadron State 40-7 and earning a 26-16 win over San Francisco State.
Following a strong debut season that saw him become a mainstay in the individual rankings at 174, redshirt junior and Huskies captain Dominic Murphy takes the climb to 197 this fall. Murphy went 23-6 with an 11-3 mark in duals last year, earning fourth at the Super Region. Thus far, Dom has impressed at his new weight with a 12-1 record and a team-leading 41 takedowns. Murphy is ranked No. 4 at 197 by the NWCA and is the second-highest Super Region V 197-pounder after No. 2 Cole Huss of Northern State.
All About Alyeus
Alyeus Craig has enjoyed a stellar debut season at 141, opening the year 11-0 with three tech falls and a Huskies-best 13 dual points. The Wichita, Kansas product has earned the starting spot with his excellent first semester and has provided stability at a key position.
Undisputed Top Dog
2021 NCAA DII 174-pound Champion Abner Romero is the unanimous No. 1 wrestler at 174 pounds entering the National Duals, beginning his Huskies career 5-0 with two wins over ranked opponents. Romero joined St. Cloud State this season for his final collegiate campaign after three years at Lindenwood.
Information regarding single dual and season tickets can be found at scsutickets.com. For all the latest on St. Cloud State Wrestling, stay tuned to SCSUHuskies.com and follow the team on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.