This is it, friends.
Five months ago we started this journey with our Penn State Wrestlers. At 11am ET today, Thursday, March 15th, 2018, the doors of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH open for the fans to fill the house. And at Noon ET, the NCAA turns loose 330 of the country’s best grapplers - 9 of whom are our Lions - to begin a 3-day battle royale settling who’s the best.
It’s incredibly difficult just to get a spot in this tournament. There are more than 1,200 division 1A wrestlers who would love to be in this thing, but aren’t. They’ve already been cut out over the past 5 months. And in the next 60 hours of fighting, the fortunate 330 will have been reduced to just 10 champs.
There’s no better spectacle in sports. Welcome to Session 1.
WHAT HAPPENS IN SESSION ONE
Three hundred thirty wrestlers - 33 in each of 10 weight classes - begin fighting at Noon. First, 10 “pigtails” get wrestled, followed immediately by the opening round matches. By 4pmET, when this first session (of 6 sessions) ends, we’ll have blown through the first 170 fights. Because this is a double-elimination tournament, and each wrestler gets but 1 match in this opening blast of fury, no one gets eliminated in Session One. (But wooooboy, does the hammer drop this afternoon).
While you can’t win the national championship in round one, you can lose it. These opening matches are absolutely critical. Here’s some perspective on that: of the 85 losers of those opening 170 fights, only 1 made it to the podium last season (174-Kyle Crutchmer, OKST, 7th place). So...win, and you live. Lose, and it’s as if you killed Inigo Montoya’s father (i.e., you should prepare to die).
Here are your 9 Nittany Lions entered in the tournament, and their first round matchups.
|UN-Corey Keener||133||11-Dom Forys (PITT)|
|8-Nick Lee||141||UN-Ryan Diehl (UMD)|
|1-Zain Retherford||149||UN-Kyle Springer (EMU)|
|3-Jason Nolf||157||UN-Colin Heffernan (CMU)|
|3-Vincenzo Joseph||165||UN-Jonathan Schleifer (PRIN)|
|2-Mark Hall||174||UN-Austin Rose (DREX)|
|1-Bo Nickal||184||UN-Martin Mueller (SDSU)|
|5-Shakur Rasheed||197||UN-Sawyer Root (CIT)|
|3-Nick Nevills||285||UN-Stephen Suglio (KENT)|
Oh sure, you know to cheer for the distinctive blue singlet with white belt. But whom should you cheer against? The teams you should actively root against are Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Iowa. No excuses, no refunds, no exceptions. Get excited when they lose matches. Each loss moves PSU one step closer to the big trophy.
What should you do when none of PSU, Okie State, Ohio State, or Iowa are on your screen? Great question. Excellent question. The answer is “Tier 2 Cheering”. Here are your handy rules for “Tier 2 Cheering”.
- Cheer against Pitt. This rule ought to go without saying, but just in case, and to avoid legal loopholes during prosecutions or appeals - you always cheer against Pitt. Pitt, plus the top 3 challengers, form the basis of what is known as “the basket of deplorables”.
- Cheer for the PSAC schools. That’s the PA State Athletic Conference - Bloomsburg, Clarion, Edinboro, Lock Haven. They’re tiny, under-funded, teacher colleges, who are Division 2 in all sports, except wrestling. Cheer for them.
- Cheer for Army. Do you like America? Good, then cheer for Army. Go Army. Beat Navy.
- Cheer for PA high schoolers, unless they wrestle for Pitt, or one of the other deplorables.
There you go - just 4 simple rules to live by in the wrestling game, friends.
HOW TO WATCH
Great news, friends. ESPN is broadcasting everything. You can watch all 640 individual fights. Morning sessions are on ESPNU. Evening sessions are on ESPN - the big boy pants channel. Plus, all of it - all 8 mats, at the same time - are available via ESPN3, the WatchESPN online channel.
And of course, you’re getting free audio featuring Jeff “Ironhead” Byers via GoPSUSports(scroll down the schedule, and click on the headphones icon of the appropriate session).
Now, let’s get out of the tunnel, and go pick a fight.