By Mo Nuwwarah, Opinion Editor
The top-ranked UNO wrestling team won seven of nine contested weight classes Saturday against Nebraska-Kearney, rolling to a 29-6 victory.
Coming off a 33-7 win over No. 5 Central Oklahoma on Thursday, the Mavericks improved to 7-1 in duals this season.
“We wrestled well the whole weekend,” UNO wrestling coach Mike Denney said. “We’re proud of our guys.”
The Lopers, also coming off a win over Central Oklahoma, jumped out to a 3-0 lead when No. 4 Josh Smith topped Cody Tyler 13-7 at 125 pounds. Smith outscored Tyler 5-2 in the third period to pull away.
Redshirt freshman Trent Cox put UNO on the board, taking a 4-3 decision over Stephen Weimer at 133 pounds. Trailing 3-2 with just over a minute left in the second period, Cox scored a takedown for the decisive points. He successfully defended all of Weimer’s takedown attempts in the third period.
The first matchup of ranked wrestlers went UNO’s way, as top-ranked 141-pounder Mario Morgan defeated No. 6 Dalton Jensen 4-3. Morgan took Jensen down in the first period to open up the scoring, but Jensen scored a reversal. Morgan’s escape gave him a 3-2 lead heading into the second period, in which the only scoring was a Jensen escape. Jensen kept his momentum going by erasing Morgan’s riding time in the third period. Morgan finally escaped Jensen’s clutches with three seconds left to score the winning point as UNK coaches screamed for their wrestler to hang on.
“That was a heck of a match,” Denney said. “Every time they go, they battle.”
An injury forfeit by the Lopers at 149 pounds increased the Mavericks’ lead to 12-3. Number 1 Esai Dominguez had been scheduled for a showdown with No. 2 T.J. Hepburn.
George Ivanov kept UNO rolling with a 4-1 decision against Islam Abitov at 157 pounds. After a scoreless first period, the wrestlers traded escapes in rounds two and three. Ivanov, a sophomore from Council Bluffs, Iowa, scored a takedown with 18 seconds left and tacked on a point for riding time. He improved to 21-3.
At 165 pounds, fifth-ranked Joey Wilson scored UNK’s only other points, using a cat-quick shot to take Nathan Sigman down twice on the way to a 5-1 decision.
No. 3 Ryan Pankoke got the Mavericks back on track with a dominating 12-3 major decision over Drew Comito at 174 pounds. Pankoke, now 30-2, scored with a variety of takedowns, including single-leg trips and a kneetap.
“He’s one of the horses,” Denney said of the senior from Beaver Crossing, Neb. “Nobody works harder.”
Another top senior, No. 3 Aaron Denson, increased UNO’s lead to 22-6 with a 6-1 decision over Ross Brunkhardt at 184 pounds. Two takedowns and an escape allowed Denson to build a comfortable 5-0 lead.
Surging sophomore Matt Baker, who recently entered the 197-pound rankings at No. 8, kept his impressive run going with an 11-3 major decision over Mike Swanson. Baker scored five takedowns and accumulated a whopping 3:32 riding time.
In the night’s final match, eighth-ranked Taylor Escamilla faced No. 4 Ben Hohensee at 285 pounds. Escamilla pushed the action in the first period, but neither wrestler managed to score. A second-period escape by Escamilla opened the scoring, and Hohensee tied it with an escape of his own in the third. Escamilla pressed forward for a takedown, nearly completing one with 30 seconds left, but the match went into overtime. From there, the junior from Fremont darted to Hohensee’s back with seven seconds remaining to secure a takedown for the win.
“I like to feel like I have more cardio than my opponents,” Escamilla said. “I just waited for an opportunity to get a shot on him at the end when he got a little more tired.”
Denney called Escamilla “relentless.”
“He comes with a full tank,” Denney said. “He could wrestle forever.”
Escamilla improved to 26-11, and hopes to keep his momentum going.
“I continue to get a little better every day, and I want to be peaking at nationals,” he said.