Penn State, National Champions. Again. For the third time in a row, actually. It was a close, hard fought battle for three straight days across six sessions - and the title wasn't earned until the 633rd match, out of the 640 total fights.
Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota all struggled at different points. Penn State began with four opening round losses - at 133, 141, 149, and 285 - which was just about as bad as things could start. Iowa had their hopes wrecked when heavyweight Bobby Telford suffered a knee injury in the first round, and injury default from the rest of the tournament. And Minnesota, the BIg Ten runner up just two weeks ago, suffered two big losses in the second round, as both #5 Steinhaus and #6 Ness were upset.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, wrestled as well as they have at the tournament in at least the last five years. The Cowboys put five wrestlers into the semi-finals, and though only two made the final, the other three all wrestled back to finish third. As the final session began, Okie State trailed Penn State by just three points. They captured a slim 1 point lead 10 minutes later, when #1 Chris Perry beat #2 Matt Brown in the 174 LB final, 2-1 TB. Perry managed the feat by wrestling for nine minutes without taking a single offensive shot.
But that's where it ended. Penn State, behind #1 Ed Ruth and #2 Quentin Wright, took back the lead for good in the next two matches, sealing a third straight team title.
|2||#4 Megaludis||Penn State|
|5||#9 Sprenkle||ND State|
Nico Megaludis started his second NCAA tournament with a technical fall, a tough decision, and a major decision to make the semi-finals. There, he faced Missouri's 1-seed Alan Waters. Waters, as is his style, wrestled the entire match from his knees. For the wrestling newcomers, this style sucks because it is boring as hell. As expected, the match went to overtime, and there one of the best coaching moves made a critical difference.
In the first set of 30-second rideouts, both Nico and Waters managed to keep the other down for the full period. But Cael and Cody Sanderson wisely spent one of their three challenges to see if Waters had jumped the gun from top. He didn't. But his earlier caution and this challenge put the seed in his head for the second set of rideouts. In those, Waters was one tick slow off the whistle, and Nico used it to escape and win, advancing to the final.
In the final, Nico wrestled nearly perfectly for six minutes. He defended Delgado's low single shot well, and worked his ties to come achingly close to a takedown of his own on a few occasions. In the third period, with a minute remaining and the score tied at one, Nico got in very deep again on a shot. For a moment it looked like it would be the winning takedown. But Delgado scrambled and caught Nico in a cradle for the decisive points.
Minnesota got a big boost from unseeded David Thorn. Thorn dropped his opening match to #1 Waters, but wrestled back to finish seventh - an incredible run. Wyoming's Tyler Cox and North Dakota State's Trent Sprenkle both took spots on the podium that had been seeded to others. One of those was Iowa's warrior Matt McDonough. The two-time champion and three-time finalist lost in the quarters to Cornell freshman Garrett, and then again in the blood round to Sprenkle, failing to make All-American in his last NCAA tournament. Like McDonough, Lewistown's Matt Snyder fell one match short of the podium for the second year in a row - also his last.
|1||#1 Stieber||Ohio St|
|5||#7 Morrison||Okie St|
Jordan Conaway got off to a rough start. Seeded 12th, the freshman dropped his opening round to Rutger's Vinny Dellafave in overtime, 1-3, after beating Vinny just a couple of weeks ago at the dual in New Jersey. Then, in the wrestlebacks, he needed overtime again to beat Air Force's Dylan Hyder.
With his first win out of the way, Jordan rattled off two more victories in the win-or-die bracket, besting Boston U's Harlow and pinning Michigan's Ross Bruno to reach 'the blood round' - one more win, and Jordan would be an All-American. It wasn't to be this year, though, as Conaway lost to Oklahoma's #8 Brewer.
#1 Logan Stieber is number one for a reason. After needing overtime against Iowa's Ramos in the Big Ten final two weeks ago, Stieber used Ramos' increased aggressiveness against him for a couple of early takedowns, allowing him to cruise (relatively speaking) to a second straight national title.
All top 8 seeds finished as All-Americans, including the first four in order. Okie State got a nice boost from #7 Morrison, who finished 5th. Only Mizzou's McCormick is a senior, so this weight will be loaded again next year.
|3||#1 Stieber||Ohio St|
Bryan Pearsall crossed another goal off of his list by making the tournament. He fell three wins shy of another - becoming an All-American. Pearsall opened the tournament with a deflating first round loss to Northern Iowa's Joey Lazor. He picked himself back up in the wrestlebacks with a major decision over Maryland's Frank Goodwin, before dropping his next bout against #12 returning AA Steven Keith of Harvard. Thank you, Bryan, for sticking with it through all the challenges. Congratulations on a great career.
#11 Mike Nevinger and unseeded Zach Neibert - who were first round opponents (Neibert won) - both made the podium. #3 Mike Mangrum and #7 Mark Ballweg fell one match short of the podium. Both were seniors. All eight placewinners are underclassmen.
|1||#1 Oliver||Okie St|
|2||#2 Chamberlin||Boise St|
|5||#7 Sakaguchi||Oregon St|
Andrew Alton took the 11th seed, but was matched against 10th ranked senior Houdashelt in the opening round. It went poorly, with Andrew dropping a 1-4 decision that wasn't really that close. Alton's only point came from Houdashelt stalling.
In the consolations, Andrew hit his patented duck-under-to-headlock for a pin against Army's Daniel Young. And then that was it. In his next match he looked lethargic, getting majored by Michigan's Grajales, the 12th seed, who is known for his lethargy. A disappointing tournament capped a disappointing season for Penn State's sophomore.
Jordan Oliver, the Easton, PA stud, did Jordan Oliver things. Boise States' Chamberlin kept the final close, until Oliver hit a really slick - and really fast - takedown in the third period to earn his second national title (or third, depending upon how you look at last year's match with Stieber). #3 Donnie Vinson, #4 Cole Von Ohlen, and #9 Jake Sueflohn all lost in the blood round, just missing the podium. Oliver, Chamberlin, Santos and Lopouchanski, along with Vinson and Von Ohlen, were all seniors. So this weight will clear out a bit next year.
|1||#2 St. John||Iowa|
|3||#6 Deiringer||Okie St|
|5||#10 Pena||Oregon St|
Dylan Alton landed the 8th seed and a pigtail bout after a disappointing Big Tens. But he looked like the Dylan Alton of old, with three straight wins - two by major - to make the quarterfinals against #1 Welch. Dylan took a 3-1 lead into the third period, but lost the bout on a crazy scramble to fall into the consolation bracket. There, one match shy of becoming an All-America, he got majored by Nebraska's Green, against whom Dylan had zero previous losses. It was a bitter result to cap a disappointing sophomore season. Rest assured, Dylan will be back to take some revenge next season.
Iowa's lone champion was Derek St. John, who brought home his first title in front of his home crowd by scoring an escape, a riding time point, and a locked hands call. Wooo, catch the excitement. Northern Iowa's Bonin had a heck of a tournament, knocking out #4 Green in the second round, and #12 Jedd Moore in the quarterfinals, before losing to #1 Welch in the semis. Okie State's Dieringer took St. John to overtime in the semis, but wrestled back strongly to finish 3rd. Lehigh's #3 Joey Napoli didn't win a single match, going 0-2. Welch, Fleming, and Moore were seniors. As was - special shoutout alert - VaTech's Donger, who fell in the blood round.
|2||#2 Taylor||Penn State|
|3||#4 Caldwell||Okie St|
|6||NR Moreno||Iowa St|
David Taylor is awesome. He pinned everyone he faced, again, except for Cornell's horse Kyle Dake, who is himself pretty incredible. Thankfully, the final featured two takedowns, and no egregious officiating. And that's all I have to say about that.
Okie State's Tyler Stalledwell took third. Minnesota's Cody Yohn continued to wrestle well, placing 7th to make All-American for the first time in his career, in his last opportunity. Dake, Yates, and Polz were also seniors.
|1||#1 Perry||Okie St|
|2||#2 Brown||Penn State|
|5||#8 Heflin||Ohio St|
As the lights went out in Des Moines' Wells Fargo center Friday night, Matt Brown and Logan Storley kept right on wrestling. And Brown went to the final in his first year in the lineup, beating the Gopher in the dark. In the final, Okie State's Perry wrestled a smart match, choosing to stay away from Brown, and refusing to take an offensive shot. When Brown escaped Perry without difficulty, Perry's preferred strategy went out the door. But Perry stuck with it through overtime, and held Brown down for 30 seconds to take the title.
Nebraska's Kokesh lost to Perry in overtime (surprise), but beat both Iowa's Evans and Goldy's Storley to finish third. Ohio's Walters, a freshman, had an incredible run to make the podium. Illinois' Blanton was the only senior to place, so prepare yourselves for another year of craziness at this weight next season.
|1||#1 Ruth||Penn State|
Ed Ruth is so good it's difficult to describe. Facing a really tough dude in Lehigh's Hamlin in the final, Ruth hears coaches Cael and Casey say, 'cut him loose' to score more points, so Ed cuts Hamlin loose and takes him back down twice more. The last takedown gave Ed the major victory, and ensured that Okie State could only tie Penn State. You want a takedown? Ed can get you a takedown, whenever you want one. Or two, or three, for that matter. Ed finished with his second straight national championship, and hasn't lost a match in more than two years now.
Minnesota's #5 Steinhaus did not make the podium, which is damn near unfathomable. But at least he'll have another shot next season. Nebraska's #8 Josh Ihnen is a senior, and won't get that chance after falling in the blood round. Bosak, Bennett and Mizzou's Mike Larson were also seniors.
|1||#2 Wright||Penn State|
|2||#1 Kilgore||Kent St|
|4||#5 Meeks||Oregon St|
|8||#11 Rosholt||Okie St|
What more can you say about Quentin Wright? The two-time champ, three-time finalist, and four-time All-American senior will be missed. In the final, he faced #1 Kilgore who hadn't give up a single takedown all year long. And Quentin took him down four times. As Kilgore came forward and risked the Q underhook, he'd just as quickly lose the angle, go backwards and down after his knee got picked. Credit Kilgore with this, though: he didn't wrestle like a scared punk, which is more than can be said for some of the finalists. He wrestled aggressively, attacking - his style. It just happened to play exactly to Q's strengths, and I, for one, couldn't be happier. After watching Quentin's previous 29 opponents poke and dance and avoid the underhook, and never shoot, all season long, I was ecstatic that we got to see all of Quentin's game in his last match in a Penn State singlet. Thank you, Q, for sealing a third straight team title, and congratulations on an historic career.
Goldy's #10 Schiller had a horrific draw, but made the podium anyhow. And once again, a highly seeded Western Regional guy failed to wrestle to or above his seed - in this case, Wyoming's #4 Hernandez. On one hand, when a guy goes 30-1 or 33-2 like Steven Monk at 165, you figure he must be pretty good, and deserves the high seed. But none of them performed, this season at least. I understand that they probably don't have the travel budget to go to duals or the January tournaments; and they're on teams that won't get invited to National Duals. But damn - we need to find a way to get these guys some matches against good competition. And if they win those, then great - they've earned the high seed. /End rant. Meeks, Schiller and Gadson are all just sophomores. Okie State's stall machine Rosholt is a junior. Everyone else on the podium was a senior.
|3||#3 Gelogaev||Okie St|
|6||#10 Trice||Cent. Mich.|
Jimmy Lawson had a bad tournament. He dropped his opener against Ohio's Jeremy Johnson, a returning All-American. Fine. He went into the loser's bracket, won a pigtail with a major, and then lost to Michigan's Ben freaking Apland. Jimmy had two nice takedowns in the first two periods, but in the third period, after choosing bottom, he just quit wrestling. Apland flattened him out off the whistle, stuck Jimmy's right foot into Jimmy's own ass, and bow-and-arrowed Jimmy for a full minute. And that was all she wrote. The twelfth ranked heavyweight earned a grand total of 0.5 team points.
Iowa's title hopes ended when Bobby Telford injured his knee in the first round. Telford had to default from the tournament. Poetic justice was done when Okie State's Gelogaev beat Mizzou's #1 seed Dom Bradley in the 3rd place match. Missouri's coach sat Bradley against Gelogaev earlier in the season in an attempt to get Bradley the number one seed. Congratulations. In breaking news, Minnesota's Tony Nelson took an offensive shot at the end of the first period against McMullan in the final, and converted it. In fact, the big boy final featured two takedowns, which was really cool.
It's difficult to see five finalists and a team National Championship and write critically. But the simple truth is that this was not a very good tournament for Penn State. While those five finalists are outstanding, Penn State had no one else make the podium at all. Both Conaway - who wrestled very well after a bad start - and Dylan Alton - who wrestled poorly after a great start - lost in the blood round. Bryan Pearsall, of whom little was expected, produced just 1.5 team points and a single victory. But that was triple the output of our heavyweight, Jimmy Lawson (0.5). And last, Nico, Brown, and Taylor would all love to re-wrestle their finals, I'm betting.
So - not a great tournament by any stretch; but it was still enough to bring home a third straight title. That should give Penn State fans a nice, warm feeling over the next seven months, particularly around Iowa fans. It featured some excellent tactical coaching moves from Cael, Cody and Casey. And, given the output of Lawson at both Big Tens and NCAAs, raised at least a question about one strategic coaching decision.
Next year, though? Wow. That could be another killer of a team. Despite losing two favorite sons in Quentin and Pearsall, the Lions will plug in a couple of blue chippers: Morgan McIntosh at 197,and World Freestyle Champ (Cadet) Zain Retherford, or Zach Beitz at 141. Jordan Conaway will have a fight on his hands to keep his spot at 133, with Jimmy Gulibon looking to claim it. And I wouldn't bet against both Altons coming back with a vengeance next season. Oh, yeah - it never hurts having David Taylor and Ed Ruth in the lineup, either. Should be a fun one. November can't get here soon enough.
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