UNK has its defending national champion back, and the Loper wrestling team is building toward another championship run.

Keith Surber recorded one of the highlight wins over the weekend when the Lopers went 7-0 at the Midwest Duals on their home campus. Surber, top-ranked at 149 pounds in NCAA Division II, earned a 4-3 decision over second-ranked James Krischke of Maryville.

No. 12 UNK’s dual wins over the weekend included victories over No. 17 Western State and No. 19 Maryville, which is led by former UNO coach Mike Denney.

“The guys are just continuing to progress through the remaining weeks (of the season),” said UNK coach Dalton Jensen, whose team improved to 16-1 in duals. Its only loss is a 21-12 decision to No. 1 St. Cloud State.

Surber, a three-time All-American who won the national title last year, is one of those Lopers who should continue to make strides as UNK prepares for regionals in February and nationals in early March.

Surber, who started his college career at Nebraska, came into this season with one semester of eligibility remaining. He went to school part-time in the fall and his first match this season was on Dec. 30.

“Really his season is just starting,” Jensen said.

Jensen, a former national champion with UNK, isn’t that much older than Surber — Jensen is 29, while Surber turns 26 next month. UNK’s starting lineup is a mix of veterans and underclassmen, and Jensen sees those older wrestlers bringing leadership and knowledge to the team.

“Those guys who are a little older seem to have a little bit of a different perspective. They don’t overthink the wrestling side of things,” said Jensen, a Missouri Valley, Iowa, native. “Those guys don’t seem to get too stressed out by the wrestling piece of it.”

The Lopers had three freshmen and three sophomores in their lineup over the weekend. That bodes well for the future for the traditional power; UNK has finished in the top four at nationals each of the past six years.

Jensen likes this team’s depth, especially at heavyweight. Senior Kevin Barrett, a former state champion at Boys Town and an All-American in 2012, is coming back from an injury, while Geneva sophomore Jarrod Hinrichs has more than filled in as he leads the team in pins. Jensen said Hinrichs will get the start when UNK begins MIAA dual competition on Friday at Fort Hays State.

“You want to have a clear-cut guy who is the guy you are going to roll with the rest of the year, but at the same time, we tell recruits we want two or three All-America-caliber wrestlers at every weight class,” Jensen said. “Having both those guys, we feel pretty good about that weight class.”

UNK will have regular-season conference duals the next three weekends before the MIAA meet on Feb. 11.

In other Midlands college notes:

» Midland’s wrestling team handed Concordia its first GPAC loss since the 2013-14 season with a 31-12 win on Saturday. Concordia had won 22 conference dual meets in a row. It was the second time this month Midland defeated Concordia; at the National Duals on Jan. 4 in nonconference action, Midland won 27-12.

» Hastings College guard Shandra Farmer was named the GPAC women’s basketball player of the week after the 5-foot-3 sophomore scored a career-best 28 in a win over Doane and had 26 in a loss to No. 14 Northwestern. Hastings, ranked 11th, and Northwestern are among five GPAC women’s teams in the top 15 in the national rankings.

» Peru State senior Quantice Hunter was named the Heart of America Conference men’s basketball player of the week. Hunter scored 22 points in each of last week’s wins over Graceland and Mount Mercy as the Bobcats improved to 11-7. It’s the third time this season Hunter has earned Heart recognition.

» Bellevue senior Caletria Curtis was named the North Star Athletic Association women’s player of the week after averaging a double-double as the Bruins had a 3-0 week. Curtis averaged 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 54.8 percent (17 of 31) from the floor. The Bruins have won four of five to improve to 12-10.

» The UNK women’s basketball team handed Fort Hays State a rare home loss on Saturday as McKenzie Brown scored a career-high 28 points in a 78-64 win. Hays had won 84 of its past 88 home games, and the Lopers also stopped a 14-game losing streak to the Tigers, which dated to 2008. Brown, a Grand Island Northwest grad, was 6 of 6 on 3-pointers, and UNK was 11 of 16 as a team from behind the arc.

» The Bellevue men’s soccer team announced the signing of two local players to letters of intent as Alexis Martinez from Omaha South and Gretna’s Kortlan Franke signed with the Bruins.

» Wayne State senior Michaela Dendinger recorded NCAA Division II automatic qualifying marks in the shot put and weight throw during last weekend’s Nebraska Graduate Classic. Dendinger’s shot put of 51-81⁄4 is the top throw in Division II this season, while her weight throw of 62-63⁄4 is third-best in Division II.

Gene covers a variety of sports beats for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @geneOWH. Phone: 402-444-1038.

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