ST. LOUIS – Minnesota doesn’t generally win with a whole bunch of style points. But at the Division I Wrestling Championships, the first day, to steal a line from the late Al Davis, is “just win, baby.”
The Gophers grinded eight wrestlers into Friday morning’s quarterfinals, losing just twice in 18 bouts during Thursday’s two sessions at the Championships. Most years that would be worthy of leading the team race after the first day.
Not with Penn State in the field.
The Nittany Lions pushed seven into the quarterfinals and lead Minnesota by 5.5 points one day into the three-day tournament. PSU totaled 38.5 points through two sessions with UM coming in at 33. Oklahoma State (28.5), Cornell (27.5) and Iowa (26) round out the top five.
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“That’s the way it goes,” UM head coach J Robinson said. “What we have to do is keep wrestling focused like we have been. I think the grind of the whole year has continued here. We have to keep winning matches to stay in there.
“We had a great first round with some bonus points, but the competition gets tougher so we are used to those close matches.”
Gopher 197-pounder Sonny Yohn, a No. 10 seed, won a pair of tough matches, beating Cal Poly’s Ryan Smith 2-0 in the first round and avenging a loss to Illinois’ Mario Gonzalez in Thursday night’s second round.
“Our goal today was to keep everybody in it,” said Yohn (28-5), who faces second-seeded Chris Honeycutt of Edinboro Friday morning. “We pride ourselves in winning the close ones. That’s how we train, to be in the tough matches.
“Penn State, they are a dangerous team because they can score so many bonus points. [Friday] will be a big day. If we can keep winning close matches, in the end, we will be right there.”
Thursday night, 125-pounder Zach Sanders (27-3) had a 2-0 decision at 125; Chris and Nick Dardanes each moved to the quarters with decisions at 133 and 141, respectively; Dylan Ness (22-8) won a wild 11-7 match and Kevin Steinhaus (29-4) had to rally from behind to beat Virginia’s Jonathan Fausey 7-6 with a takedown at the buzzer at 184 pounds.
Meanwhile, Penn State continued to show the value of bonus points. Cael Sanderson’s squad wasn’t without a few scares, though.
Freshman 125-pounder Nico Megaludis reversed Oklahoma’s Jarrod Patterson to his back in the third period while trailing 3-1. Megaludis, a No. 10 seed, eventually won 7-3 to move into the quarters where he will face Sanders, a three-time All-American.
“I need to beat Sanders [Friday],” Megaludis said. “It’s not about [being an] All-American. I want to win this.”
Another Nittany Lion rookie, 157-pounder Dylan Alton (26-5), beat Michigan State’s Anthony Jones thanks to a riding time point. Senior Frank Molinaro (30-0) also dodged a bullet, holding off Oregon State’s Scott Sakaguuchi thanks to a riding time point to win 6-5 at 149 pounds.
David Taylor (29-0) and Ed Ruth (28-0) continued their amazing run, both recording first period pins to move to the quarterfinals. Quentin Wright (28-3) and Cameron Wade (27-4) also stayed in the winner’s bracket.
“The scoreboard says it,” said Taylor, an NCAA runner-up in 2011. “That’s why we are leading, because of bonus points.”
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Megaludis’ victory provided a spark to his teammates.
“That’s huge,” Taylor said. “A guy like Nico; some people think he had a tough draw and he wins both matches. He comes back from behind. That’s huge to start off a round, getting a guy to the quarters that nobody thought was going to get there.”
“I think it’s a team race here,” Sanderson said. “Everyone’s got their own individual goals but [Friday's] the big day, really. [Friday] determines it. Who knows, it might come down to the end.
“You’ve got to enjoy what you are doing. These guys enjoy it.”
Iowa stayed in the conversation, keeping six in the championship bracket. 2010 NCAA champion Matt McDonough (33-1) had his second pin of the tournament. Tony Ramos (30-3), Montell Marion (29-3), Derek St. John (19-2), Ethan Lofthouse (27-7) and rookie heavyweight Bobby Telford (27-7) also won their second match of the tournament.
Also hanging around is Oklahoma State and Cornell, each with four in the quarterfinals. Top-seeded Jordan Oliver (26-1) had his second first-period pin on Thursday night. Jamal Parks (32-0) won a 7-2 match at 149; Chris Perry (28-0) a 6-2 decision at 174; and Cayle Byers (25-3) a 5-2 decision at 197.
Cornell’s foursome includes senior 125-pounder Frank Perelli (32-5), unbeaten 157-pounder Kyle Dake (32-0), 184-pounder Steve Bozak (30-4) and top-seeded 197-pounder Cam Simaz (28-1).
Nebraska, including James Green’s dramatic overtime win in the second round at 157, has four in the quarterfinals. Illinois, Ohio State and Northwestern each have three still in the winner’s bracket.
Not supposed to be there
As usual the quarterfinals include a few unexpected participants. Unseeded wrestlers in the final eight at their weight classes are:
• Pittsburgh’s Anthony Zanetta (29-4 at 125), who beat Missouri’s third-seeded Alan Waters (26-3) in the second round.
• Virginia Tech’s Zach Niebert (24-10), who beat the No. 10 and 7 seeds on Thursday.
• Hofstra 149-pounder Justin Accordino (27-11), who opened with a victory against the No. 12 seed, and then pinned fifth-seeded Ian Miller of Kent State in the second round. Accordino will meet another unseeded wrestler, Oklahoma’s Matt Lester (22-10), who beat fourth-seeded Don Vinson of Binghamton in the opening round.
• Princeton 157-pounder Daniel Kolodzik (35-9), a winner against unseeded David Bonin of Northern Iowa in the second round. Bonin beat fourth-seeded Walter Peppelman Thursday morning.
• Nebraska 197-pounder James Nakashima (22-9), who won three bouts on Thursday, including a 6-5 decision of Binghamton’s Cody Reed in the second round.
• The Citadel’s Andrew Delaney (29-2), who beat 2011 All-American Spencer Myers of Maryland in the first round and Michigan State’s Steve Andrus a round later at 285 pounds.
Harvard’s Corey Jantzen has been snake-bitten by injuries throughout his career. In two previous NCAA appearances the two-time New York state champion was 0-4. The senior 149-pounder won his first NCAA tournament match on Thursday morning, beating Ohio State’s Cam Tessari in the first round. In the second round Jantzen battled Minnesota’s Dylan Ness to the wire before falling 10-8.
Oklahoma State’s Albert White, a four-time Illinois state champion, wrestled his first NCAA tournament match on Thursday. Injuries ended the 157-pounder’s season the last two years.
Seven sets of brothers were in the brackets this season. Two of them – the Dardanes and Stiebers – will be in Friday morning’s quarterfinals. Chris Dardanes beat Edinboro’s AJ Schopp in the second round at 133 with Nick Dardanes besting North Carolina State’s Darius Little at 141 pounds. Logan Stieber pinned Army’s Jordan Thome in a 133-pound second-rounder with younger brother Hunter Stieber edging Kent State’s Tyler Small at 141 pounds. Chris Dardanes and Logan Stieber match up Friday morning.
All four are redshirt-freshmen.
The other brother combinations are Gabe and Micah Burak, Max and Peter Huntley, Nick and Matt Lester, Matt and Nick Nelson, and Marshall and Walter Peppelman.
New shoes, part II
Jordan Oliver, the 2011 NCAA champion at 133 pounds, brought out some new shoes for a dual meet at Iowa in January. After his loss to Tony Ramos, Oliver (26-1) threw away those shoes. The junior unveiled another pair on Thursday, this time pinning two opponents in the first period.