Ten things to watch in St. Louis
Historic feats could happen -- so could the unexpected
The NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships gets started Thursday in St. Louis. NCAA.com's Roger Moore gives you 10 things for you to look out for as one of the most exciting events in collegiate sports gets under way.
1. King of the Beasts
Bonus points carried Penn State to the 2012 Big Ten title, the Nittany Lions' second consecutive league championship. It also aided in Penn State's run to the 2011 national championship in Philadelphia, the program's first since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House. Will 2012 in St. Louis be a repeat of 2011? Plenty say yes as Cael Sanderson's bunch has firepower with Frank Molinaro (28-0), David Taylor (27-0), Ed Ruth (26-0) and 2011 champion Quentin Wright (26-3) leading the charge. Last March, Molinaro was an NCAA runner-up at 149, Taylor a finalist at 157 and Ruth third at 174. Wright won the 2011 title at 184 as a No. 9 seed. He is seeded No. 6 this season.
Penn State finished 14 points in front of Cornell in 2011.
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2. In search of history
No wrestler has ever won three titles at three different weight classes. Cornell junior Kyle Dake enters the 2012 championships already with titles at two. In 2010 as a freshman 141-pounder, Dake, a native of Ithaca, N.Y., edged Ohio State's Reece Humphrey 3-2 in a tiebreaker in the semifinals and came back to beat Iowa's Montel Marion 7-3 in the final. Last year in Philadelphia as a sophomore 149-pounder, Dake outscored five opponents a combined 32-1 in winning his second championship in as many years.
He enters his third NCAA tournament, this time at 157 pounds. He is 30-0 and seeded No. 1. Only two wrestlers have won four NCAA titles -- Cael Sanderson and Pat Smith. You have to win three before you win four.
3. Monster bracket
The 133-pound weight class is always among the toughest to win. This year is no different. Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver won the 2011 title as a sophomore. He brings a 24-1 record and the top seed to St. Louis. Oliver's one loss came to Iowa's Tony Ramos (28-3), the third seed, who has lost twice to Ohio State's Logan Stieber (28-2), whose losses are to Oliver and Minnesota's Chris Dardanes. Bernard Futrell (27-6) is seeded fourth, Northern Iowa's Joe Colon (25-2) is fifth and Virginia Tech's Devin Carter (30-3) is sixth. Only two of the eight All-Americans are back from 2011. Imagine the bracket if Penn State's Andrew Long (suspended), Central Michigan's Scott Sentes (redshirt) and Wisconsin's Tyler Graff (redshirt) were coming to St. Louis.
Four wrestlers will try and go back-to-back. Oliver (24-1) was champion at 133 last season.
Michigan's Kellen Russell (28-1) is the top seed at 141. His only loss came last December in Reno to Ohio State freshman Hunter Stieber, who is seeded fifth and on the same side of the bracket.
Dake goes for a third in a row, while Wright again comes in seeded outside the top four.
Lehigh's Zach Rey is 22-2, one of the losses coming to American's Ryan Flores (17-0) in the EIWA final. Rey beat Flores, the top seed this season, in the 2011 NCAA final.
5. One more step
Seven wrestlers will try and take one more step up the ladder after earning silver in 2011.
Iowa's Matt McDonough has already seen the top step, winning the 125-pound title as a freshman in 2010. Last March, he ran into Arizona State's Anthony Robles in the final and was second best. This junior has rolled to a 31-1 record, avenging his early-season loss to Illinois' Jesse Delgado, seeded fourth in the bracket.
Cal Poly's Borislav Novachkov (27-3) is the sixth seed at 141 pounds. A year ago he lost in the final to Michigan's Kellen Russell. He could run into another former finalist, Iowa's Montell Marion (27-3), the third seed, in Friday morning's quarterfinals.
Penn State has a pair of 2011 runner-ups in Frank Molinaro (28-0) and David Taylor (27-0), Molinaro losing to Cornell's Kyle Dake in the 149-pound title bout, and Taylor, unbeaten entering the final, getting pinned by Arizona State's Bubba Jenkins at 157.
Stanford's Nick Amuchastegui (20-0) lost to Iowa State's Jonathan Reader in the 174-pound final a year ago. Amuchastegui, a two-time NCAA Elite 88 winner beat Penn State's Ed Ruth in the quarterfinals and is seeded third this season behind Ruth and Oklahoma State's Chris Perry (26-0).
Lehigh's Robert Hamlin (29-1) was seeded second in 2011 and advanced to the final where he fell to Penn State's Quentin Wright. Hamlin is again seeded second, this time behind Wyoming's Joe LeBlanc (30-1).
American's Ryan Flores (17-0) is seeded No. 1 after beating Lehigh's Zach Rey in the final of the EIWA Championships. Flores lost to Rey in the 2011 NCAA final.
6. Dominance, pins and techs
A new list of NCAA individual awards will be given out in St. Louis -- a Most Dominant Award and honors for the pins and technical fall leaders based on results throughout the season. Entering the final meet of the 2011-12 season Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver and Penn State's David Taylor lead the pack in the "Most Dominant" category.
Oregon State 157-pounder Roger Pena leading the pins pack with 20. Edinboro rookie AJ Schopp, the seventh seed at 133, is within striking distance with 17.
In the technical falls category, Buffalo's Mark Lewandowski and Edinboro's Chris Honeycutt each bring 11 technical falls to St. Louis. Princeton's Daniel Kolodzik, a 157-pounder, and Wyoming's Joe LeBlanc each have nine. Four wrestlers, including Penn State's Taylor have eight.
7. Been a long time
Wyoming has not had a national champion since 1960 when Dick Ballinger won a 167-pound championship. Wyoming's Andy Reese was second at 177 pounds in 1994 and 1996. Jerry Frude was also a runner-up in 1959 and 1960.
Cowboy senior Joe LeBlanc, a three-time All-American, is seeded No. 1 at 184 pounds with a 30-1 record. His only loss is to Oklahoma State's Chris Perry, who is competing at 174 in St. Louis. Another UW entry, senior 165-pounder Shane Onufer, is seeded second and brings a 31-1 mark to the Scottrade Center.
8. Hard to pronounce, tough to beat
Stanford's Nick Amuchastegui isn't the only tongue-twister in the field fans might keep an eye on. Add American's Ganbayar Sanjaa, a semifinalist in 2011 at 149 pounds; Clarion 165-pounder Bekzod Abdurakhmonov, seeded fourth with a 31-4 record; Turtogtokh Luvsandorj of The Citadel, who is 30-9 at 174; and George Mason's Bagna Tovuujav, who is 20-3 at 197.
9. Been a long time, part II
Only 11 programs have won Division I team championships dating back to 1928. Penn State ended a streak dating back to 1988 where either Iowa, Oklahoma State or Minnesota earned top honor. Arizona State was team champion in 1988. One streak is still intact: Only the Big Ten or Big 12/Big Eight has won the team title since 1988. Will any school have a breakthrough in 2012? Cornell has been second in back-to-back NCAA championships.
10. Expect the unexpected
It's a huge cliché, but the NCAA championships usually provide a few shake-your-head, I-don't-believe-what-I-just-saw moments. The 157-pound final from 2011 certainly comes to mind; or Iowa's Jay Borschel mounting a monster comeback against Chris Heinrich in the 2010 semifinals. Ten years ago, Rob Rohn's third-period pin while trailing 14-3 is still talked about today.
Expect St. Louis to deliver a few more moments like that. Who provides them, as usual, is anybody's guess.