UCO has two individual champions, Bronchos finish as national runners-up

UCO Athletics
Mike Kirk, Athletic Media Relations

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Dalton Abney and Heath Gray captured individual titles to lead Central Oklahoma to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships that concluded Saturday night at Chaifetz Arena.

Gray claimed his second straight championship at 184 pounds and Abney took the crown at 197. The No. 2-ranked Bronchos ended with 86 points for their best national finish since 2007 and the ninth runner-up showing in program history to go along with 15 titles.

Top-ranked Nebraska-Kearney won the tournament with 127 points, while No. 4 West Liberty (75.5) was third and three-time defending champion St. Cloud State (67) fourth.

UCO ended with six All-Americans, the most since having the same number in 2013. Paxton Rosen finished fourth at 125 pounds, 149 Brik Filippo took fifth and 174 Alex Kauffman and Hvy Shawn Streck both placed sixth.

“Heath and Dalton both wrestled great and deserve to be national champions,” head coach Todd Steidley said. “They prepared hard all season for this moment. Their dedication and focus paid off tonight.”

“We’re disappointed that we didn’t get the trophy that we wanted to, but this was still a great season. I’m really proud of our guys for how hard they worked and all they accomplished. We’re determined to get this program back where it belongs and this is another step in the process.”

Gray downed West Liberty’s Connor Craig in the finals for the second straight time, winning 4-3 this time after beating the 2019 champion 3-2 last year.

The senior star had a first-period takedown and third-period reverse while giving up three escapes in capping off a 16-1 season. He became the 11th four-time All-American and 17th two-time national champion in school history while finishing a phenomenal 94-4 for his UCO career.

“The main thing is being under the big lights,” Gray said. “You get to the big tournament and it’s a weight off my shoulders and I can just go wrestle. I love the huge atmosphere. It’s what we’ve been working for all year.

“It sucks we got second, but those things happen. I got a title and more important Dalton Abney got a title. I’m so excited for him and so proud and so happy he got the job done.”

Abney did indeed get a title, capping a dominating tournament with his fourth win of the season over Indianapolis’ Derek Blubaugh, this one a 6-0 shutout.

The sophomore standout scored takedowns in the first and third periods to go along with a second-period escape and riding-time point in making up for 1-0 loss in last year’s national finals.

Abney gave up just one point in four tournament matches and finished a perfect 26-0 on the season while improving to 49-4 for his career in becoming a three-time All-American.

“Obviously I had people talking to be about undefeated, but I said ‘No, that’s now how we’re thinking,’” Abney said. “My mind doesn’t work like that.

“That was the fourth time I wrestled him (Blubaugh), but I’m not thinking like I’m going to go out there and beat him. I’m thinking I HAVE to go out there and beat him. I have to go do what I do. It’s not going to be given to me, I gotta go get it.”

And get it he did, to become a national champion.

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