After several regional events, Senior Abner Romero of Lindenwood University (MO) stood as the lone CA alum to qualify for the upcoming NCAA Division 2 Wrestling Championships, to be held in St. Louis, MO from March 12-13. He is the #1 seed at 174 lbs. Romero also qualified for last year’s tournament, which was cancelled.
For those thinking a single qualifier is low from a CA representation standpoint, it is. However, there are factors working against Div. 2 wrestlers during this “irregular” season. The NCAA slashed the Championships participant pool to just 132 wrestlers for 10 weight classes (normally there’s 180 qualifiers). Missing the tournament by one match were senior Gavin Melendez at 149, 3rd Super Region 6 (Colorado State-Pueblo; Gilroy HS); senior Ryan Fidel at 174, 2nd Super Region 6 (Colorado School of Mines; Dos Pueblos HS); junior Gavin Nye at 285, 3rd Super Region 6 (Colorado State-Pueblo; Corning Union HS); and junior Michael Viramontes at 285, 3rd Super Region 3 (Notre Dame-Ohio; Hesperia HS). Melendez and Nye were both national qualifiers in 2020. Also for this season, the number of national qualifiers for each weight class was variable (automatic regional champs + at-large), ranging from just 11 competitors at 174 lbs. and 12 at 157 lbs. to 14 at several other weights and 15 at 149 lbs.
Other regional placers included redshirt freshman Daniel Magana at 141, 3rd Super Region 6 (Colorado Mesa; Servite HS); true freshman Gabriel Carranza at 285, 4th Super Region 6 (Colorado Mesa; Victor Valley HS); senior John Halajian at 197, 4th Super Region 1 (Fairmont State; Clovis North HS); junior Brandon Mendoza at 125, 5th Super Region 3 (Tiffin; Buhach Colony HS); junior Oscar Nellis at 125, 5th Super Region 5 (Minot State; Rancho Buena Vista HS); senior Noe Garcia at 197, 5th Super Region 5 (Minot State; Gilroy HS).
Another limiting factor was San Francisco State (and their largely CA roster) not competing this season. A likely title contender was senior Justin Pichedwatana (Mayfair HS), who placed 7th in the 2019 NCAA Division 2 Championships (184) as a sophomore and was the #6 seed in last year’s cancelled event. Unfortunately, Pichedwatana and his teammates have missed the chance to compete for NCAA glory, not just once but twice.
The Championships open tomorrow morning with Romero at the top of the 174 lb. heap out of the gates. However, with most wrestlers having <10 matches (Romero is 8-0), the title is up-for-grabs. In a concentrated 11-person draw, Romero will be tested from the very start with a first round match-up against returning NCAA qualifier, senior Noah Curreri of Queens University. If he wins that match, next up is #8 seed and senior Caleb Spears of Newberry College (who has a first-round bye) – Spears defeated Curreri twice this season and was an NJCAA All-American for Spartanburg Methodist in 2019.
Elsewhere in the field is junior Joshua Jones of McKendree, the #4 seed and a two-time NCAA qualifier – Romero beat him 3-2 in the Super Region 4 finals as well as 7-2 in duals. Jones was the #4 seed in last year’s cancelled event. On the bottom-half, the #2 seed is senior and two-time NCAA qualifier Trevor Turiff of Minnesota State-Mankato, an unbeaten Super Region 5 champion. A recent development is the return of junior Brock Biddle of Pittsburgh-Johnston, who won the Super Region 1 title in dominant fashion. Biddle is the #3 seed and owns a strong resume: a three-time national qualifier, Biddle claimed 4th in NCAA Div. 2 at 184 lbs. in 2019 and was the #5 seed in last year’s event.
Romero graduated from Buchanan HS (Central) in 2016, where he was a 3-time state medalist. He finished 8th CA (152) as a sophomore, 7th CA (152) as a junior, and was a state finalist during his senior year at 160 pounds. To his credit that final season, Romero rebounded from state heartbreak to impressively win the 2016 NHSCA Senior Nationals crown at 170 pounds. He started his college career at Old Dominion (NCAA Division 1), posting a 29-10 record as a redshirt, before transferring to Fresno City College – there, Romero won the 2018 California Community College (CCCAA) title at 174 pounds. Abner’s brother Joel was also a Buchanan stand-out, placing in state three times (including runner-up finishes at 160 lbs. in 2017 and 2018) and also a two-time NJCAA runner-up at 157 lbs. for Clackamas Community College (OR). He is listed on the Lindenwood roster but did not compete this season.