The new Division I format for the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals has been branded as ‘Mat Mayhem.’
That term could also be used to describe the next month as the nation’s top programs and wrestlers head toward the 2012 NCAA Championships in St. Louis in March.
The Duals hit the mats Feb. 12 at four regional sites around the country — Ames, Iowa; Stillwater, Okla.; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Piscataway, N.J. — with 24 squads competing. The team semifinals and championship will be Feb. 19 at a site to be determined.
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Oklahoma State took over the No. 1 spot in the NWCA poll with a razor-thin 17-16 win against then-top-ranked Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 7 in front of more than 15,000 fans. The two traditional powers battled to a 16-16 tie but the tiebreaking rules gave the visiting Cowboys the victory. Iowa entered on an 84-match unbeaten streak — tied with Oklahoma State for the all-time mark — but the Cowboys were able to keep their rivals from claiming the record.
The Cowboys should roll into the National Duals unbeaten, with Missouri posing the biggest challenge on Feb. 2 in Columbia, Mo. Iowa wrestles at 2011 NCAA champion Penn State on Jan. 22 and hosts Minnesota on Jan. 27. The Nittany Lions are No. 3 with the Gophers sitting at No. 4 entering this week.
On Jan. 12, Oklahoma State will welcome Ohio State, Nebraska, Wyoming, Boise State and Chattanooga. Wyoming took Oklahoma State to the wire in a Jan. 1 dual in Laramie, while Nebraska suffered its first loss of the season to Iowa last Friday. Ohio State is also a worthy adversary.
Iowa travels to Ames, Iowa, and should have little trouble getting out unblemished. The other five squads are Iowa State, Oregon State, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and Northern Iowa. Jim Zalesky, a national champion and former coach for Iowa, leads a dangerous Beaver group.
Maybe the toughest regional will be staged on Rutgers’ campus. Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Cal Poly, Kent State and Rutgers will battle. Kent State knocked off Missouri in the Virginia Duals final on Saturday. The Gophers will face the Wolverines, Hawkeyes and Huskers prior to the Duals.
The Ithaca, N.Y. site will be hosted by Cornell, and will also see some good dual meets. No. 12 Oklahoma rolled at the Lone Star Duals in Grand Prairie, Texas, and will challenge Cornell, No. 6 Illinois, and the always steady Central Michigan Chippewas.
Sadly, the dual-format tournament does not include Penn State, the NCAA champion from last season.
Edinboro’s Fighting Scots have two of the top freshman in the country in 133-pounder A.J. Schopp and 149-pounder David Habat. Schopp is 28-3 and Habat is 28-5 and each is ranked sixth in his respective weight classes.
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Schopp, a native of Tyrone, Pa., is not the only first-year starter among the top 10 at 133. Ohio State’s Logan Steiber is 18-1 with a victory against Schopp in the Las Vegas Invitational final in early December.
In total, 10 other freshmen are ranked among the top 10, including Midlands champion Lee Munster of Northwestern and Illinois 125-pounder Jesse Delgado, who owns a victory against 2010 NCAA champion Matt McDonough of Iowa.
Defending champs not No. 1
2011 NCAA champion Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State entered a Jan. 7 dual against Iowa on a 39-match win streak with pins in all 10 of his matches this season. The streak ended when Hawkeye sophomore Tony Ramos won in overtime. Ramos entered the match with one loss against Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter in the Midlands final. Carter, a sophomore, took the top spot in a weight class that does not have a senior among the top 10 and just four in the top 20.
Oliver is one of four former champions currently not ranked No. 1.
Three-time All-American Zach Sanders of Minnesota is atop the 125-pound ladder. Last year’s titlist McDonough is No. 2, dropping a match to Delgado in dual meet earlier this season.
2011 141-pound champion Kellen Russell of Michigan lost to Ohio State rookie Hunter Steiber in Las Vegas and is No. 2 behind Oklahoma’s unbeaten Kendric Maple.
Penn State’s Quentin Wright won the title at 184 pounds last March. He suffered an early season loss and is No. 2 behind Wyoming’s Joe LeBlanc, whose lone loss came to Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry in the Reno Tournament of Champions final in December. Perry, unbeaten this season, has since dropped to 174 pounds.
Zack Rey of Lehigh was the 2011 champion at 285 pounds. The senior lost an early match to Arizona State’s Levi Cooper and is No. 3 behind American’s Ryan Flores and Oklahoma State’s Alan Gelogaev.