Friday, March 1, 2024

2024 SUPER REGION IV Preview (Saturday March 2nd)



Thus far it has been back to back runner-up Super Region IV finishes & back to back NCAA DII 5th place finishes for Christian Mejia of McKendree.  This tournament the Bearcat looks to add a gold to the two silvers he's collected thus far.   He owns both a 6-1 as well as a 5-3 victory over Caden Howard of Drury & he majored Guy Clevenger of Central Oklahoma 17-4.  Clevenger has 20 wins on the season & Howard was 3rd in last year's Super Region IV. 


I think we have a dog fight here for NCAA DII qualification.  First off, I do want to note that Tommy Frezza of Central Missouri was pinned by teammate James Wright about two months ago at the Roger Denker Open.  However I believe the Mules will still start Frezza here considering he has the better record & the fact that he was a runner-up here last season, one match shy of NCAA DII All American honors.  Could be wrong, but that's my guess.  He has yet to meet any of the other top ranked wrestlers in the bracket this season.  Matter of fact, the only two that have wrestled this season are Shaun Muse of Central Oklahoma & Evan Binder of Maryville.  Muse pinned Binder in 34 seconds.  Anxious to see if that was legit or a caught him situation.  Muse has wrestled only a handful of matches this season, but enough to warrant a ranking.  Binder is a talented freshman with 25 victories.    Then we also have Ryan Ripplinger who will be fighting for a top three spot.  20-5 on the year, he's been 4th & 5th the past two Super Region IV's.


All season I've been thinking to myself, "Seriously?  Where did this guy come from?"  Ronan Schuelke has been at McKendree for quite sometime, but the '23-'24 version is something complete different from the other versions. I just cannot get over how well he's wrestled this year.  Improvements at every level from technique, to strength, to seemingly mental confidence.  Owns a 9-6 win over Dylan Lucas of Central Oklahoma & a 4-1 s.v. over Blake Mulkey of Indianapolis.  He's defeated Kody Ketchum of Maryville three time. A 4:53 fall, a 4-1 decision & an 8-1 decision. 

With that noted, you know good and well that last year's Super Region IV champion Lucas, who was 3rd in the D2 nation, expects another title this weekend.  25 wins on the season, he pinned Ketchum at 2:14 & he has a 4-1 sudden victory over Mulkey. 

Now as to Mulkey, I'm not sold that he's going to be the starter this weekend.  With a #8 ranking & a 15-4 record to some it would seem pretty cut & dry.  The Gardner Webb to Marian to Indianapolis senior would be the starter.  It's not that cut & dry though.  Ray Rioux was an NCAA DII qualifier for the Greyhounds last year with a 3rd place Super Region IV finish & perhaps the better testimony for his case is a 4-2 victory over Schuelke.  Head to head Mulkey owns both an official 6-4 & 3-1 decision over Rioux.  Then Rioux also has a loss to Ketchum.  A lot to figure in here, but I'll say this.  At the end of the day Mulkey or Rioux, Indianapolis is probably looking at an NCAA DII qualifier. 


I'm going to say because it's the truth & I really don't care who likes it and who doesn't like it.  It's a fact that Thomas More isn't eligible for the post season yet. It's also a fact that if the Saints were eligible, Ryan Moore, an NAIA runner-up last season would be one of our qualifiers.  It's also my opinion, based on merit, that he'd contend for Super Region IV gold.  Moore not being in this bracket, does open up a spot for qualification that otherwise wouldn't be there. I strongly believe that & I stand behind that statement. 

With that said, I believe our final here will be between Dylan Brown of Central Oklahoma & Joey Semerad of McKendree.  Brown a very talented transfer from Northeast Oklahoma who took NJCAA runner-up honors last season, has a 16-3 record.  He defeated Semerad 2-1 tiebreaker earlier this season. 

As to Semerad, I'll say the same for him that I just said for teammate Schuelke.  There is something seriously going right at McKendree. The improvements their wrestlers are making is night & day.   Two seasons ago Semerad was 10-17 on the year & went 1-2 at Super Region IV.  Last year he was 9-12 & went 0-2.  This season he has 18 wins on the year & looks poised & ready to make a final & fight for a title.  Now that's serious improvement that deserves to be noted. 

157 lbs 

Here's what I am sold on at 157 lbs in the Super Region IV.  I'm sold on Gabe Johnson of Central Oklahoma, last year's champ & 7th in the DII nation most likely walking out of here with another Super Region IV title.  That's not saying I don't think he'll be challenged, because I think he will be.  He'll have to earn a title, but I do think he'll be our champion. 

It's silver & bronze that I'm not sold on.  Will Kuster of Drury was 3rd at last year's Super Region IV championships competing at 149.  It should also be noted that he's given Gabe Johnson of Central Oklahoma one of his best matches this year in a 7-4 loss.  On the flip side though, Kuster has some head scratcher losses, including to those he may very well see this tournament.  Now he gets down right tough & turns it on in times of critical aspiration.  However those losses linger in my mind. 

As we ponder that, I believe one of our qualifiers here will be Owen Zablocki of Indianapolis.  A plausible semi-final between him & Kuster interest me.  

165 lbs 

Forrest Gump once said, "Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks."  Well I tell you what Mr. Gump, sometimes there just aren't enough qualification spots. 165 lbs in the Super Region IV is proof enough of that.  Five top twenty wrestlers here, and as far as I'm concerned All American candidates & only three of them get to go to the NCAA DII tournament.  Put simply, no matter how you slice it, that ain't right. 

4th in the DII nation in 2021 & 3rd in the DII nation in 2022, it was heartbreaking when McKendree's Cory Peterson's season ended on an injury at the Midwest Classic last season.  I said then, then I said it at the end of the season & I said it at the beginning of the season.  Peterson would come back an NCAA DII title contender & here we are.   23-5 on the season, he does have some losses, but two of them are to DI competition.  As to the Region, Peterson has a 5:27 fall & a 9-3 decision over Jace Fisher of Newman.  He has a 4-1 s.v. over Hunter Jump of Central Oklahoma & he has a 3-2 win over John Ridle of Central Missouri & a 4-2 decision over Dawson Combest of Indianapolis. 

Fisher was a Super Region IV runner-up last season, who currently stands as 24-3 on the season.  He has a 10-4 decision over Ridle & a 4-1 s.v. over Jump. 

Van Halen discussed who they thought might win the Super Region IV & after pondering it a bit they decided they might as well go with Jump.  Seems every match he's wrestled has ended 1-1 in regulation with a deciding takedown in overtime.  He lost these against both Peterson & Fisher, but won against Ridle.  He also for the record has a 6:19 fall over Ridle. 

Ridle two seasons ago was a Super Region IV champion & 4th in the DII nation. He has 15 wins on the season. 

Combest is a three time NCAA DII qualifier with DII All American finishes of 4th in 2021 & 7th in 2022. 

Tom Brands is famous for saying, "you only deserve what you earn."  Well who ever wins this bracket deserves wrestler of the tournament honors, because you know good and well it was EARNED. 

174  lbs

When I first learned that Illinois' Trey Sizemore had another year of eligibility I was quite shocked. When I learned that he was going to spend his final season at Indianapolis, I thought that completely changed the landscape of 174 lbs in NCAA Division II.  Thus far the former Illini, now Greyhound is 29-4 on the season.  He owns both a 6-1, as well as a 7-4 s.v. over Matt Ortiz of McKendree.

There to challenge Sizemore for a Super Region IV title, will be last year's champion Anthony Des Vigne of Central Oklahoma, who also finished 7th in the DII nation.  Des Vigne owns a 5-2 decision over Ortiz. 

Considering that he's wrestled both Sizemore & Des Vigner in close, hard fought matches I say that Ortiz is too a title contender this weekend.  He'd have to pull off two huge upsets, two of the best wins of his career back to back, but stranger things have happened in collegiate wrestling.  When Peterson went out with his injury last season, I was thoroughly impressed by the way Ortiz stepped in and stepped it up.  I was happy to see that they weren't going the same weight this year, because there's not use having a guy like Ortiz as a reserve, when he's an All American candidate himself. 


What holds more weight? A ranking or head to head results?  I suppose it doesn't matter much because a *1 & a *2 seed meet in a final, the best man still has to win.  Thus far between #4 Damon Ashworth of Central Missouri & #7 Garrett Wells of Central Oklahoma, it has been Wells who has won 5-4 & 15-13 decisions.  Ashworth is 21-4 on the year, whereas Wells is 26-7.

Both Ashworth & Wells have victories over Zeke Waltz of McKendree who was 2nd in the Super Region & one match shy of All American honors competing at 174 lbs last year.  Ashworth owns a 19-3 technical fall over Waltz & Wells owns an 8-3 decision. 

197 lbs 

It seems like the saga between Central Oklahoma's Dalton Abney & Indianapolis's Derek Blubaugh has been going on forever & it's as if it'll never end.  Well, despite what it may seem, we are nearing the end. The epic battles between NCAA Division II's two best 197 lbs'ers are coming to an end. 

2nd-1st-1st in the Super Region IV & 2nd-1st-1st in NCAA DII, with a career record of 75-6, one of Abney's only losses he has ever taken has been to Blubaugh.  Blubaugh has a career record of 87-15 & just under half of those losses have been to Blubaugh.  For Blubaugh it has been 2nd-2nd at the Super Region IV & 2nd-2nd in the DII nation & in every case it's been Abney that has stood in his way.  We have two more major tournaments in the careers of both of these outstanding talents.  The only thing keeping either of them from gold at both is one another. 

The battle for bronze here will every bit as fierce.  Logan Kvien of McKendree was 3rd here a year ago & 6th in the D2 nation.  Yet Jeremiah Larson of Maryville pinned Kvien at the 4:25 mark earlier this season.  Should be a fun match. 


Going to get it out of the way again. I'm not saying that Daulton Mayer of Thomas More would upend Shawn Streck of Central Oklahoma, but I am saying that if Thomas More were eligible for the post season, that he would contend for NCAA Division II qualification.  He was 6th at the Midlands earlier this season for crying out loud! You'd have to be outta your mind to think that he wouldn't contend for a top three showing here.  Nevertheless, he's not eligible for the post season, so moving on....

Streck went undefeated to both a Super Region IV & NCAA DII title last season & there's a strong possibility he might do the exact same thing this year. With a 15-4 major decision over Ryan Herman of Maryville & a 19-4 tech of Trent Strong of Central Missouri, I highly doubt he'll have any trouble collecting gold this weekend. 

As to Herman & Strong, both will be looking for their first NCAA DII qualification this tournament.  Herman has been 6th the past two Super Region IV's and Strong was 5th last season.  Although Strong won in their matchup last year, it was Herman who took an 8-2 decision earlier this year. 

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