PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Why is collegiate wrestling 10-times better than men’s and women’s basketball?
Because you get 10 brackets instead of one at the last event of the season.
Five returning individual champions highlight the field at the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships which hit the mats Thursday inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena.
Eighty All-America honors will be earned through the 10 weight classes with the champion being crowned on Saturday night.
No student-athlete will seek a third title this week. Five will look for a second.
Iowa’s Matt McDonough won the 125-pound title as a freshman. He enters this week with a 23-1 record and as the No. 2 seed.
Cornell’s Kyle Dake also won a title as a rookie in 2010. Now a 149-pounder, Dake is 26-2 and seeded fourth. NC State’s Darrion Caldwell, a champion two seasons ago at 149, is 14-0 entering his final collegiate tournament. The New Jersey native missed last season due to injury.
Two former champions are at 165 pounds, Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs and Wisconsin’s Andrew Howe. The champion in 2010, Howe (22-2) is seeded No. 2 this season behind Burroughs (31-0), a champion in 2009 at 157 pounds.
Returning All-Americans – McDonough (Iowa), Sanders (Minnesota), Robles (Arizona State), Nicholson (Old Dominion), Precin (Northwestern), Bedelyon (Kent State).
Arizona State senior Anthony Robles (31-0) is the top seed after two All-America seasons. McDonough and Northwestern’s Brandon Precin (30-2) are seeded 2-3 and have split matches this season. Precin beat Robles for third place in 2009. The fourth seed is veteran James Nicholson (31-0), an All-American in 2008. Another former place-winner is Kent State’s Nick Bedelyon (23-3), seeded fifth, right behind Minnesota’s two-time All-American Zach Sanders (29-4).
Keep an eye on Jarrod Garnett of Virginia Tech, who is 28-7 and seeded 12th.
First Round matches to watch? Missouri rookie Alan Waters (38-5) against Pittsburgh’s Anthony Zanetta (17-10); Oklahoma State’s ninth-seeded Jon Morrison (18-6) and Penn’s Mark Rappo (27-8).
Returning All-Americans – Oliver (Oklahoma State), Graff (Wisconsin), Long (Penn State, at 125), Hochstrasser (Boise State), Sentes (Central Michigan, at 125), Grey (Cornell).
In a weight with seven former All-Americans in the bracket, Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver (24-0) is the top returning finisher from 2010, taking fourth behind three seniors. The sophomore gave No. 2 Andrew Hochstrasser (23-1) his only loss this season. Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff (33-3) is the four seed with Penn State’s Andrew Long (15-1), a runner-up at 125 a year ago, seeded No. 3. Hofstra’s Lou Ruggirello (28-3) is dangerous along with Iowa’s Tony Ramos (21-4), the sixth seed.
Keep an eye on Cornell’s Mike Grey (11-0), a veteran who was an All-American in 2008.
First Round match to watch? Ohio State’s Ian Paddock (17-8) and Virginia Tech freshman Devin Carter (32-5), the ninth seed.
Returning All-Americans – Marion (Iowa), Thorn (Minnesota), Bailey (Oklahoma), Kennedy (Illinois at 133), Nauman (Pittsburgh), Novachkov (Cal Poly, at 133), Diaz (Virginia Tech), Russell (Michigan), Drouin (Arizona State), Cleveland (Chattanooga).
Ten of the 33 entries at 141 are All-Americans from previous seasons. Iowa’s Montell Marion (9-3) was a finalist a year ago but missed the first half of 2010-11. He enters as the sixth seed. Michigan’s Kellen Russell (33-0) has been ranked No. 1 all season after a redshirt year in 2009-10. Minnesota’s Michael Thorn (34-4) lost in overtime to Russell in the Big Ten finals. Oklahoma senior Zack Bailey (24-3), Pittsburgh’s Tyler Nauman (23-3) and Illinois’ Jimmy Kennedy (17-4) are all title contenders.
Chris Drouin (13-9), an All-American for Arizona State in 2009, has battled injuries. He earned an at-large selection.
Keep an eye on Air Force Academy’s Cole VonOhlen (42-7) and Chattanooga’s Cody Cleveland (13-0), an All-American in 2008. Penn State rookie Andrew Alton (28-8) is another possible spoiler.
First Round match to watch? Naumann, a native of Middletown, Pa., faces Oklahoma State freshman Josh Kindig (24-8), a native of Auburn, Pa. Cleveland faces Bailey and Drouin meets VonOhlen.
Returning All-Americans – Caldwell (NC State), Dake (Cornell), Gaethje (Northern Colorado, at 157), Gillespie (Edinboro), LeValley (Bucknell), Molinaro (Penn State).
Early in the year the talk was of Darrion Caldwell (14-0) and Kyle Dake (26-2) being on a collision course for the finals. That won’t happen as Caldwell is seeded one and Dake No. 4. Oklahoma State’s Jamal Parks (25-3) is the five seed and could have something to say about it. The bottom half has Penn State’s Frank Molinaro (28-2), a two-time All-American, and Bucknell’s underrated Kevin LaValley (30-1). Boise State’s Jason Chamberlain (24-1) is the six seed. Ninth seed Donald Vinson (26-4) of Binghamton has a win against Dake this season.
Keep an eye on Northern Colorado’s Justin Gaethje (36-8), a surprise All-American at 157 in 2010.
First Round match to watch? Pitt’s Dane Johnson (19-16) and Chamberlain, plus Rutgers’ Mario Mason (27-6) and Virginia Tech’s Brian Stephens (28-9).
Returning All-Americans – Hall (Boise State), Jenkins (Arizona State), Saddoris (Navy), Fittery (American).
A freshman has stole the show – so far – this season. Penn State’s David Taylor (34-0) has been a bonus-point machine and brings a No. 3 seed into the meet. Boise State’s Adam Hall (25-0) was third a year ago with American’s Steve Fittery (28-0) taking fifth. Fittery is seeded second. Bubba Jenkins (16-3), a finalist for Penn State back in 2008, is the four seed from Arizona State. Some of Iowa’s hopes rest on Derek St. John (19-4), who lost to Taylor in the Big Ten finals.
Keep an eye on Clarion’s James Fleming (30-2), a monster on the mat who is seeded ninth.
First Round matches to watch? Taylor opens against Oklahoma State senior Neil Erisman (12-4), the Big 12 champ. Also, Oklahoma’s Chase Nelson (19-11) meets Northwestern’s Jason Welch (26-4).
Returning All-Americans – Burroughs (Nebraska), Howe (Wisconsin), Caldwell (Oklahoma), Lister (Binghamton).
The top-3 here – Burroughs (31-0), Howe (22-2) and Oklahoma’s Tyler Caldwell (28-5) – are pretty solid with Caldwell taking Burroughs to the wire in the Big 12 finals. Both of Howe’s losses this season are to Burroughs. Maryland’s Josh Asper (31-4) is the No. 4 seed with Ohio State’s Colt Sponseller (21-5) at No. 5.
Cornell’s Justin Kerber (30-4) could get a shot at Burroughs if he can get by Rutgers’ talented Scott Winston (20-3) in the Second Round and Clarion’s Bekzod Abdurakhmonov (35-10) in the First Round.
Keep an eye on Wyoming’s Shane Onufer (29-2) and Oklahoma State rookie Dallas Bailey (23-7).
First Round matches to watch? Onufer and The Citadel’s Turtogtokh Luvsandorj (38-8) and Bailey against Hofstra’s Paul Gillespie (25-7).
Returning All-Americans – Reader (Iowa State), Lewnes (Cornell), Amuchastegui (Stanford at 165), Bennett (Central Michigan), Henrich (Virginia), Giffin (Penn).
Cornell’s Mack Lewnes (35-2) lost in the 2010 finals and is seeded third behind Penn State rookie Ed Ruth (32-1) and Iowa State’s Jon Reader (34-0), an All-American at 165 two seasons ago. Stanford’s Nick Amuchastegui (27-3) always wrestles well in March and could meet Ruth in the quarterfinals. Oregon State’s Colby Covington (20-1), the fourth seed, and Henrich (32-2), a two-time All-American, could also be quarterfinal opponents.
Keep an eye on Central Michigan’s Ben Bennett (27-5), the sixth seed who was sixth in 2010.
First Round match to watch? Maryland’s Mike Letts (28-6), the eighth seed, against Penn’s Scott Giffin (18-10), an All-American in 2010.
Returning All-Americans – Smith (Boise State), LeBlanc (Wyoming), Wright (Penn State).
This is possibly the most wide open weight class of the 10 with just three All-Americans in the field. Boise State’s Kirk Smith (8-2) has battled injuries after advancing to the 2010 NCAA finals. Wyoming’s Joe LeBlanc (24-2), fourth in 2010, is seeded fifth. Edinboro’s Chris Honeycutt (26-0) is the top seed with Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin (28-2) at No. 2. Cornell’s Steve Bosak (30-3) and Wisconsin’s Travis Rutt (33-2) are 3, 4, respectively. Penn State’s Quentin Wright (16-6), the Big Ten champ, was an All-American in 2009.
Keep an eye on Oklahoma State rookie Chris Perry (23-5), the Big 12 champion and seven seed, and Minnesota rookie Kevin Steinhaus (30-9), the eight seed.
First Round match to watch? Rutt opens against Binghamton’s Nathan Schiedel (32-7).
Returning All-Americans – Simaz (Cornell), Foster (Oklahoma State at 184), Kilgore (Kent State at 184), Yohn (Minnesota).
For two consecutive seasons Iowa State’s Jake Varner and Nebraska’s Craig Brester met in the NCAA finals at 197. Both are gone with Cornell’s Cam Simaz (31-1) the top returning placer. Simaz’s loss is to Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore (33-2), the four seed this week. Oklahoma State’s Clayton Foster (22-0) has been worthy of a No. 1 seed all season and is No. 2 behind Simaz. Wisconsin’s Trevor Brandvold (14-0) is seeded third. Iowa’s Luke Lofthouse (20-5) has come on strong late in the season with Pitt’s Zach Thomusseit (22-2) a dangerous opponent.
Keep an eye on Stanford’s Zack Giesen (18-2), who could meet Lofthouse in the Second Round. American’s Daniel Mitchell (29-7) is another to watch out for.
First Round matches to watch? Ohio’s Eric Schuth (22-4) and Iowa State’s Jerome Ward (16-7) and Missouri’s Brent Haynes (27-9) and Kilgore.
Returning All-Americans – Rey (Lehigh), Trice (Central Michigan).
Lehigh’s Zach Rey (29-1) suffered his first loss at the EIWA Championships to American’s Ryan Flores (22-5), who is seeded third behind Central Michigan’s Jarod Trice (26-3), eighth in 2010.
Missouri’s Dom Bradley (25-3) is the Big 12 champion and fifth seed with Rutgers’ Dom Russo (30-6) seeded fourth. Pitt’s Ryan Tomei (28-4) is dangerous.
Keep an eye on Minnesota’s Tony Nelson (29-6), the eighth seed.
First Round match to watch? Iowa and Iowa State renew their rivalry with Iowa’s Blake Rasing (17-5) meeting Iowa State’s Kyle Simonson (24-10).