The NCAA Wrestling Championships is this best tournament in the nation, bar none. It's hard to dispute that. But the second best tournament? It (should be) the US Open, and associated National events, which was held this past week/weekend in Las Vegas.
It's a damn shame so few fans even knew about it. Thanks, USA Wrestling, for failing to even mention what is the nation's best wrestling talent - men and women, greco and freestyle - all on display at the same time. And we wonder why wrestling struggles to grow.
But let's save that angry, frustrated sob story for another time, and instead bring you up to date on the many Penn State wrestlers who made the trip to Las Vegas to compete. Nine current Nittany Lions participated in two freestyle tournaments: the Freestyle Junior Nationals, for ages 17 - 20; and the US Open, the big boy tournament, inclusive of most of the 2012 Olympic Team.
60kg (132.25 lbs)
Jimmy Gulibon took on an absolutely loaded field. You'd need an old asian man with an abacus to keep count of all the state titles in this pack. Iowa's Corey Clark (4th at Midlands), Cornell's Mark Grey, Lehigh's Mason Beckman, UNC's Nathan Kraisser (fresh off an All-American finish at NCAAs), Corey Keener, yada yada yada - you get the picture. Freaking loaded.
Gulibon placed 2nd, dropping a tight 1-3, 3-0, 2-4 final to Ben Whitford, this year's #5 recruit nationally, who's headed to Michigan, where he projects as a 149 - 157 lber. Guilbon beat Illini redshirt Zane Richards 4-0, 4-1 in the semis, along with Rutgers' big recruiting get Anthony Ashnault, 1-0, 0-3, 1-0 in the third round. Richards finished 3rd, Mark Grey 4th, and Iowa's Clark 7th. Beckman and Kraisser didn't place.
66kg (145.5 lbs)
Don't read too much into the fact that Zach Beitz competed at this weight instead of at 63kg (138.89 lbs). It doesn't, by itself, signal that he can't hold 141 next year. What it does signal is that Beitz enjoys a challenge - the 63kg weight class (which doesn't have a senior circuit counterpart) had half (or less) of the competitors of the 66kg class (which, uh, does have a senior counterpart). Beitz went where the best fight looked to be, and he gave just about as good as he got, too. Beitz finished 7th, after dropping a second round match against eventual champ (and Northwestern super stud) Jason Tsirtsis, 0-1, 0-2.
79kg (174 lbs)
Oh hello, James Frascella. Frascella entered a smaller field at 79kg, but had a great tournament, finishing 3rd. He put up some eye-popping points along the way, scoring at least 3 points (a takedown counts as just 1 point) in every match, except his semi final loss to Michigan State's Jordan Wohlfert. Congrats, James.
84kg (185 lbs)
And hello, to you too, Wes Phipps. The Penn State true frosh began his career with a takedown of Ed Ruth in the intrasquad dual. And though that match didn't end well for Wes, he's continued to grind out his first (very long) college wrestling season in style, nearing capping it with a placing at this tournament. Wes started with a bang, making he quarterfinals in a tough field, but fell just one win shy of placing.
US Open, Men's Freestyle
55kg (121.25 lbs)
If you were wondering if Nico could continue to make 125 lbs, I don't think you need lose any more sleep. The workaholic fought through an entire college season before deciding to drop a few more pounds in order to compete at a stacked 55kg weight class.
Nico finished 5th, with his only two losses coming to champ Obe Blanc (in the first round), and Nittany Lion Wrestling Club member / Pan Am Games Champ / former Nittany Lion All-American / constant training partner and all around good guy, Mark McKnight. Nico beat ex-Gopher Zach Sanders in the wrestlebacks, and defeated former AA Ben Kjar in the fifth-place match.
60kg (132.25 lbs)
Penn State didn't have a senior circuit entrant here, but I wanted to point out that Reece Humphrey took out Coleman Scott, 2-0, 1-0 in the final. And that Wisconsin's Tyler Graff beat O$U's Logan Stieber in the third place bout, 3-1, 3-0. That's your evidence for how different this style is than folkstyle.
66kg (145.5 lbs)
Dylan Alton. That's right, Alton haters. While you're sitting on your couch with one hand down your pants, scratching your ass, and with the other hand buried inside the greasy recesses of a potato chip bag, commenting about how 'the Alton boys don't show the requisite desire'....Dylan Alton's dropping pounds and entering a tournament with some of the world's toughest competition. Did I mention tough competition?
Dylan's first round match was against....wait for it....Jordan Oliver. Alton began with a bang, taking the first period from Oliver 1-0. He lost, though, and went to the consolations, where he faced....wait for it again....Josh Kindig. And in a repeat of high school, Alton buried him, 4-0, 4-1. Dylan dropped his next match to Phil Simpson, and did not place. But in other noteworthy action, Oliver's bump up in weight proved (again) not an issue, as he took out Brent Metcalf in the semi-finals. Oliver finished second to overall champ Kellen Russell (yep - that Kellen Russell).
74kg (163 lbs)
The expectation here, was that Taylor, seeded 3rd, probably wouldn't make the final. Freestyle, as previously established, ain't folkstyle, and the Magic Man doesn't train for freestyle year-round like these Olympic level athletes do. So while everyone wanted to see Taylor take on the world's most dominant wrestler at any weight, Jordan Burroughs, it probably wouldn't happen.
And, of course, then it did. Taylor opened with a destructive 9-0, 7-0 victory over Holden Packard, and followed that up with a 1-0, 1-0 win over Iowa Hawkeye wrestling coach Ryan Morningstar, to make the semi-final. There, he faced a tough matchup - uber-jacked, #2-seed Nick Marable. Taylor dominated the match, winning 2-0, 4-0 - with a nice second period gut wrench for good measure - to make the final against Burroughs.
As a quick aside, if you aren't watching Jordan Burrough wrestle - and I'm not just talking about his Olympic Gold Medal last summer - you're really missing out. He's on a 52-match winning streak against the best the world can throw at him. It's pretty damn impressive. And so was his victory over David Taylor - though, to Taylor's credit, I think David gave Burroughs his toughest match all tournament by a wide margin.
What a stacked weight class for the USA moving forward, though.
84kg (185 lbs)
Ed Ruth didn't appear too sure of himself at the World Team Trials last year, in what was kinda/sorta his first big time freestyle action. This year Ed came to wrestle. Ed finished fourth, dropping the 3rd place bout to half-man, half-animal Jon Reader, 0-2, 1-3. Give Ed some more time training freestyle, though, and you could be looking at a future Olympian (yeah - I know about 2020. Let's just ignore that, for this post).
96kg (211.5 lbs)
Oh hello, Morgan McIntosh. Some folks around the interwebs got scared when you didn't turn up at some of the open tournaments this year. They didn't realize that, even though you were redshirting, you were on the travel squad the entire dual season, as one of the few 197lbers on the team.
So this weekend you entered at 211.5, got your place in the final tournament through wrestleoffs earlier in the week, and then were rewarded with an opening round match against Dustin Kilgore, who was out for blood after his NCAA final loss to your teammate, Quentin Wright. You dropped the first period by fall, but bounced back, taking the second period 2-1, before giving way in the third, 5-7. Pretty damn good, though.
In the wrestlebacks you smoked Jacob Marrs, 3-0 and 4-1. And then Dave Zabriskie showed up, and ended your run after you took the first period 2-0. Glad to see you back out there, Morg, and we're all looking forward to seeing you in Rec Hall again this winter.
Other Wrestling News
The Wrestling Banquet served more than just lettuce and snap peas. Ed Ruth took home the Outstanding Wrestler award; Quentin won the leadership award; Conaway took the Most Improved award; Nico and Taylor earned academic excellence awards. And, oh by the way, James English announced that he'll be using that 6th year of eligibility. Bully for James.
The University of Buffalo is looking for a Head Coach, after Jim Beichner was let go in March. Casey Cunningham is rumored to be a finalist, according to the Fight On State's (free) Mat Forum - which is completely excellent, by the way. A lot of very knowledgeable, wrestling-obsessed dudes over there; check it out if you're not already familiar with it.
Nebraska's middle weights got a little tougher. Destin McCauley, the top recruit in 2011, who (deep breath) - a) committed to the Badgers out of high school; b) went to an Olympic Training Center for a year instead; c) committed to Iowa State after that year; d) asked for his release from Iowa State after a second year at OTC; and, last e) committed to Nebraska, and slots in at 149/157. McCauley begins his collegiate career at age 20, no joke. Smart man, that McCauley - there's nothing pleasant about heading to the work force. But from a wrestling perspective....Jake Sueflohn goes back down to 141? Or James Green bumps to 165? If I had to guess, I'd bet on Green bumping to 165 - I don't see how Sueflohn could make 141 again.
As Bveo had mentioned a few times, Aaron Bradley, Nazareth's heavy, was looking for a top level home following a State Championship run, and a Dapper Dan victory over Blair's Brooks Black (who headed to Illinois). Bradley reportedly was deciding between Penn State and Cal Poly.....but, as RossWB points out, he appears to have found one in Iowa. Which is too bad. In related news, the Sandersons remain Oh-fer-District 11 since coming to Penn State, which is about the only bad thing you can say from this three-peat run.
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