<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0 marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" valign="top" topmargin="0" leftmargin="0"><TBODY><TR><TD vAlign=top colSpan=3 border="0">Nebraska-Omaha ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II preseason poll
</TD></TR><TR><TD vAlign=top width=430 colSpan=2 border="0"> Mike Kirk University of Central Oklahoma
</TD><TD vAlign=top align=right width=320></TD></TR><TR><TD vAlign=top colSpan=3 border="0">A mere half-point was all that separated Nebraska-Kearney and Minnesota State-Mankato in last year's NCAA Division II championship race and while the 2009 national tournament will be hard-pressed to top that thrilling finish there should be no shortage of excitement as a host of teams gun for the title.
The defending champion Antelopes and Mavericks will once again be among the top challengers for the national crown next March in Houston, Texas, though early indications are that Nebraska-Omaha will be the team to beat.
UNO, which won three straight titles from 2004-06, enters the 2008-09 as the favorite after earning the No. 1 ranking in the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches' Association preseason poll.
UNO is loaded for a spirited run at title and the Mavericks will get even more ammunition in the second semester.
Long-time head coach Mike Denney returns two national champions in Cody Garcia and Todd Meneely, though Meneely won't join the team until after Christmas. Both are also scheduled to be up a weight, with Garcia moving to 133 after winning at 125 in 2006 and again last year while Meneely goes to 157 following two championship seasons at 149.
UNO has back 92.5 of its 93.5 national tournament points from last year, also returning four other All-Americans in 165 Aaron Denson (7th), 174 Ross Taplin (2nd), 197 Jacob Marrs (3rd) and heavyweight Tony Lewis (7th).
Additional power comes from Mario Morgan, a qualifier at 133 last year who will be at 141; 2007 national runner-up Austin Boehm, who returns at 184 after a redshirt year; and talented redshirt freshman Esai Dominguez at 149.
"We should have a good team with a lot of experience, some depth and a desire to get back in the mix," Denney said. "We're looking forward to the 2008-09 journey."
UNK returns four All-Americans in its bid to defend the national title, though the Lopers have to make up for the loss of two national champions off last year's team.
Third-place finishers Ryan Etherton (149) and Marty Usman (174) lead the way, with Keenan McCurdy (8th at 165) and Derek Ross (8th at 197) also back from last year. Taylor May (8th in 2007) at 165, national qualifier Paul Sutton at 184 and Kelsey Empting (8th in 2007 at 197) at heavyweight will also be key contributors for UNK.
"The Lopers will have a solid team and we're looking for our returners to step it up and lead a strong recruiting class," said UNK coach Marc Bauer, who led the Lopers to their first-ever title last year. "We have a strong and veteran team from 149 to 285."
MSU-Mankato fell agonizingly short of winning its first national championship since 1965 last year and the Mavericks will rely on four returning All-Americans in their attempt to be a prime contender again in 2009.
Two-time All-American Brady Wilson is the highest returning placer after finishing fourth at heavyweight last year, with MSU also counting on 133 John Putman (6th), 141 Travis Elg (6th) and 149 Tommy Abbott (5th) along with 174 qualifier Tim Matheson.
"Our main mission is to win a NCAA Division II national team championship,? said MSU coach Jim Makovsky, whose team went 20-1-1 in duals and won the NWCA Division II National Duals title last year. ?That will always be our short-range, medium-range and long-range goal for our wrestling program.?
Pacing Adams State?s hopes will be on four returning national placers and a pair of qualifiers.
The Grizzlies will be particularly strong in the lower weights, featuring two-time All-Americans 125 Arsenia Barksdale (4th last year), 133 Raymond Dunning (3rd) and 149 Joe Deaguero (4th) along with returning qualifier Josh Hensley at 141.
Noomis Jones (7th) is back at 157 and 165 Mike Gallegos was a qualifier in 2007, while Kyle Sand won a junior college national championship in 2007 and should be a factor at 184 or 197.
Western State returns three All-Americans and a qualifier from last year's seventh-place team, with the Mountaineers gaining additional strength from a pair of former placers and a Division I transfer in their bid to challenge for the title.
Donovan McMahill was the national runner-up at 197 and he leads the way, with 125 Eddie Lopez (7th) and 157 Kyle Francis (8th at 141) also back along with 133 qualifier Jesse Cruz. Larry Wilbanks is a two-time All-American returning to action at 174 and heavyweight Charlie Alexander was a Division I qualifier at Oregon last year, while Charlie Pipher (8th in 2007) will join the team at 184 in the second semester.
UCO has won 15 national championships - including seven Division II titles - and the Bronchos figure to again be a main contender.
Three All-Americans return from last year in 133 Tim Elliott (5th), 149 Colby Robinson (6th) and heavyweight Dustin Finn (2nd), while 197 Jarrett Edison was a qualifier. The Bronchos will be counting on new faces at several weights, with junior college national champion Mikey Morgan expected to have a big impact at 157 or 165.
"We have a lot of unknowns about this team, but from top-to-bottom we're going to be better than last year and we're not conceding anything to anybody," said 27th-year head coach David James, who has led UCO to 12 national titles. "Our goal every year is to win the national championship and that hasn't changed."
Newberry hasn't taken long to turn itself into a national contender and the Indians look to take another step up this season behind the return of three All-Americans from last year's East Regional championship team that finished eighth in the national meet.
Heavyweight Cy Wainwright (3rd) tops the returners, with 133 Andrew Young (7th) and 197 Keeno Griffin (7th) also back. Newberry also has four returning qualifiers in 125 Matt Oliver, 141 Tony Washington, 149 Latra Collick and 174 Bryant Blanton.
Pittsburgh-Johnston has been a perennial power for years under legendary coach Pat Pecora and there's no reason to expect that to change in 2009, though the Mountain Cats will be rebuilding some.
Two national placers return in 133 Shane Valko (4th at 141) and 165 Kyle Keane (4th), with 197 qualifier Patrick Walsch and 2007 qualifier Chris Dempsey at heavyweight also expected to be mainstays.
Individually, only four champions return and two of those (Garcia and Meneely) are slated to be at different weights. Also back to defend their title in 2009 are Limestone's Dan Scanlan at 184 and Chadron State's Josh Majerus at 197.
NCAA Division II Preseason Rankings
Rank School (State) Points Last Year?s Finish
1. Nebraska-Omaha (6) 158 3rd
2. Minnesota State-Mankato (2) 149 2nd
3. Nebraska-Kearney 144 1st
4. Adams State (Colo.) 136 5th
5. Western State (Colo.) 126 7th
6. Central Oklahoma 121 6th
7. Newberry (S.C.) 106 8th
8. Pittsburgh-Johnstown (Pa.) 93 4th
9. Chadron State (Neb.) 91 T-9th
10. Upper Iowa 86 14th
11. Ashland (Ohio) 71 11th
12. St. Cloud State (Minn.) 70 12th
13. Mercyhurst (Pa.) 68 T-9th
14. Augustana (S.D.) 46 T17th
15. Limestone (S.C.) 40 15th
16. Findlay (Ohio) 22 13th
T17. Gannon (Pa.) 18 26th
T17. Minnesota State-Moorhead 18 27th
T17. Truman State (Mo.) 18 T20th
20. Shippensburg (Pa.) 15 16th
Others receiving votes: Central Missouri, Fort Hays State (Kan.), Indianapolis (Ind.), Kutztown (Pa.), North Carolina-Pembroke, San Francisco State (Calif.), West Liberty State (W.Va.), Wisconsin-Parkside.
NCAA Division II
1. Curtis Schurkamp, San Francisco State
2. Arsenia Barksdale, Adams State (Colo.)
3. Devlon Webb, Chadron State (Neb.)
4. Tyler Mumbalo, Upper Iowa
5. Eddie Lopez, Western State (Colo.)
6. Cody Zimmerman, Wisconsin-Parkside
7. Matt Oliver, Newberry (S.C.)
8. Isaac Wall, Newman (Kan.)
1. Joe Kemmerer, Kutztown (Pa.)
2. Cody Garcia, Nebraska-Omaha
3. Raymond Dunning, Adams State (Colo.)
4. Tim Elliott, Central Oklahoma
5. John Putnam, Minnesota State-Mankato
6. Shane Valko, Pittsburgh-Johnstown (Pa.)
7. Andrew Young, Newberry (S.C.)
8. Jesse Cruz, Western State (Colo.)
1. Steven Fittery, Shippensburg (Pa.)
2. James Annon, Fort Hays State (Kan.)
3. Travis Elg, Minnesota State-Mankato
4. Doug Surra, West Liberty State (W. Va.)
5. Tony Washington, Newberry (S.C.)
6. Josh Hensley, Adams State (Colo.)
7. Josh Falk, Findlay (Ohio)
8. Mario Morgan, Nebraska-Omaha
1. Mike Rogers, Carson-Newman (Tenn.)
2. Ryan Etherton, Nebraska-Kearney
3. Joey Deaguero, Adams State (Colo.)
4. Tommy Abbott, Minnesota State-Mankato
5. Colby Robinson, Central Oklahoma
6. Mike Long, Augustana (S.D.)
7. Brian Pogel, Mercyhurst (Pa.)
8. Esai Dominguez, Nebraska-Omaha
1. Travis Eggers, Upper Iowa
2. Noomis Jones, Adams State (Colo.)
3. John Sundgren, St. Cloud State (Minn.)
4. Andy Lamancusa, Mercyhurst (Pa.)
5. Keenan McCurdy, Nebraska-Kearney
6. Kyle Francis, Western State (Colo.)
7. Danny Grater, Fort Hay State (Kan.)
8. David Zeek, Kutztown (Pa.)
1. Blake Peterson, Truman State (Mo.)
2. Kyle Keane, Pittsburgh-Johnstown (Pa.)
3. Josh Shields, Mercyhurst (Pa.)
4. Aaron Denson, Nebraska-Omaha
5. Taylor May, Nebraska-Kearney
6. Mitch Norton, Upper Iowa
7. Corey VanGroll, Wisconsin-Parkside
8. Justin Shannon, Findlay (Ohio)
1. Ross Taplin, Nebraska-Omaha
2. Marty Usman, Nebraska-Kearney
3. Tyler Tubbs, Minnesota State-Moorhead
4. Jesse Feinsod, New Mexico Highlands
5. Brett Hunter, Chadron State (Neb.)
6. Larry Wilbanks, Western State (Colo.)
7. Tim Matheson, Minnesota State-Mankato
8. Bryant Blanton, Newberry (S.C.)
1. Dan Scanlan, Limestone (S.C.)
2. Austin Boehm, Nebraska-Omaha
3. Brad Padgett, St. Cloud State (Minn.)
4. Hiram Smith, Findlay (Ohio)
5. Justin Ferguson, Ashland (Ohio)
6. Keeno Griffin, Newberry (S.C.)
7. Tyler Gonzales, Fort Hays State (Kan.)
8. Paul Sutton, Nebraska-Kearney
1. Josh Majerus, Chadron State (Neb.)
2. Donavan McMahill, Western State (Colo.)
3. Jacob Marrs, Nebraska-Omaha
4. Ty Copsey, Augustana (S.D.)
5. Josh Ohl, Ashland (Ohio)
6. Derek Ross, Nebraska-Kearney
7. Trevor Gallo, Mercyhurst (Pa.)
8. Josh Fansler, Newman (Kan.)
1. Dustin Finn, Central Oklahoma
2. Cy Wainwright, Newberry (S.C.)
3. Brady Wilson, Minnesota State-Mankato
4. Travis Clark, Findlay (Ohio)
5. Tony Lewis, Nebraska-Omaha
6. Trey Moss, Limestone (S.C.)
7. Lynn Panko, Indianapolis (Ind.)
8. Cody Beck, Central Missouri </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>