Questions abound, but Penn State still team to beat in Division I
Entering the 2012-13 campaign, there are plenty of reasons to get excited.
At the top of the list is reigning team champion Penn State, a squad, under the tutelage of head coach Cael Sanderson, that has brought a go-for-the-pin attitude to the mat. Fans in Pennsylvania have forced the PSU administration to ask the question: Is it time to move from the 6,686-seat Rec Hall into the spacious Bryce Jordan Center in order to accommodate those wanting to get a look?
Then there's Kyle Dake and David Taylor. It has gotten almost as much attention as Obama-Romney. The two met in freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials during the summer with Dake scoring a fall. At the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic the first week of November the two met again, this time with Dake winning an overtime marathon. A three-time champion at three different weight classes, Dake, a senior for Cornell, will attempt to join Sanderson and Oklahoma State's Pat Smith as Division I's only four-time champions. Taylor, a junior for Penn State, is coming off one of the most dominant seasons in collegiate history, claiming the 165-pound title. The two are starting the 2012-13 campaign at 165 pounds. Will that be the case next March at the 2013 Division I Wrestling Championships in Des Moines?
An Olympic year always provides a few more variables. Many of the nation's top collegiate stars take the year off in order to compete for a spot on the U.S. Team. A year wiser, stronger and faster, that Olympic redshirt group comes back with a vengeance to college mats.
Remember Dustin Kilgore? The 2011 national champion at 197 pounds returns to Kent State's lineup. Three of the nation's top big men are also back -- Dom Bradley of Missouri, Jarod Trice of Central Michigan and Chad Hanke of Oregon State. Hanke is not a common name, unless you remember his victory against Oklahoma State's Alan Gelogaev at the Reno Tournament of Champions in December of 2011. Bradley beat Trice in the NCAA's third-place bout in 2011.
Although losing former champion Andrew Howe, who transferred to Oklahoma after taking an Olympic redshirt last season, Wisconsin welcomes back Tyler Graff, a two-time All-American. Don't forget Jason Chamberlain of Boise State and Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma State. Caldwell was a two-time All-American at Oklahoma before transferring north to wrestle in Stillwater, Okla.
|LOOKING BACK AT 2012|
Penn State put on another dominating performance, winning the 2012 national team title by 25.5 points. Check out the highlights, team scores and full brackets to see how the Nittany Lions ran away from the field and look around to see who's back in 2012-13.
|Championship Session Highlights|
|Team Scores Individual Brackets|
|Championship Photo Gallery|
But the biggest elephant in the room is the future of the NCAA Championships. Will it become a dual team championship followed by an individual tournament? Coaches have already weighed in and the debate continues to rage. By the time the 2012-13 season ends that question could have an answer.
The question remains: Can anybody unseat the Nittany Lions?
Taylor is one of five returning All-Americans, including the powerful Ed Ruth, the champion at 174 pounds in 2012 who is now making the move to 184; Quentin Wright, a champion in 2011 and runner-up in 2012 who will be one of the favorites at 197 with Kilgore this season; Nicholas Megaludis, who rolled all the way to the 125-pound final as a freshman in 2012; and Dylan Alton, an All-American at 157 pounds as a freshman. Sanderson welcomes back Andrew Alton, a starter two seasons ago at 141, and adds the talented Matt Brown.
“I was pretty excited the last two years, but that doesn’t even come close to how excited I am this year," Taylor said. "Our team is going to be better than it has been the last two years. As a team, top to bottom, everyone is looking to improve and fulfill their goals. When you have 10 guys with the same attitude and mindset good things are going to happen.”
"We re-booted over the summer and are ready to go," Wright said. "We want to go out and have fun just like we do every day. It’s a lot more fun when you have thousands of people watching you. We are all excited to get that feeling back, ready to get this season rolling.”
Minnesota showed it has championship credentials a year ago with its bruising style under veteran head coach J Robinson. The Gophers finished second behind the Nittany Lions in St. Louis and impressed so many coaches in the process they were given the preseason nod in the USA Today/NWCA/AWN Poll. Robinson never puts too much stock in predictions, knowing that the grind toward March is a long one.
The Gophers return seven starters, including 285-pound champion Tony Nelson, and 149-pound runner-up Dylan Ness, who advanced to the national final as a redshirt-freshman. Another first-year starter, Chris Dardanes bullied his way to a fourth-place finish at 133 pounds -- twin brother Nick, a 141 pounder, also returns. Logan Storley and Kevin Steinhaus, both All-Americans and two more bruisers, are also back, along with Cody Yohn. UM had five All-Americans in 2012. With the possibility of six or seven this year, the Gophers will certainly be in the team title conversation.
Oklahoma State will have its best team since winning four consecutive titles from 2003 to 2006. Jordan Oliver, a champion in 2011 and finalist in 2012, will jump two weight classes and compete at 149 for his senior season. The Pennsylvania native competed at the Olympic Trials, missing weight at 132 but entering the bracket at 145.5 and pushing former Iowa star Brent Metcalf to the limit before bowing out. Oliver leads a group that includes Caldwell, who will challenge Dake and Taylor at 165; Chris Perry, a third-place finisher in 2012 as a sophomore and preseason number one at 174; Alan Gelogaev, the injury riddled Russian who has missed out on the last two Championships; and Blake Rosholt, a solid 197-pounder a year ago who lost his spot to All-American Cale Byers late in the campaign. Keys for John Smith's Cowboys will be redshirt-freshman Alex Dieringer, a hard-nosed 157-pounder, and getting some late-season production from the lower weights.
"The team is far from set," Smith said. "We weighed several guys in at the lowest level that you could. You're going to see several of them possibly wrestle up a weight class after Christmas."
The Iowa Hawkeyes, winners of three consecutive NCAA titles before the current Nittany Lion run, will also bring another solid squad to the mat. Head coach Tom Brands made it clear at the conclusion of the 2012 NCAA tournament that his program was going to put in the work to close that gap.
Two-time champion Matt McDonough has been a workhorse 125-pounder for Brands and will look to join that elusive four-time NCAA finalist cadre. His only NCAA tournament loss is to Anthony Robles, that coming in the final in 2011. Also back are 2012 157-pound runner-up Derek St. John, who battled through injury all year; Tony Ramos, an in-your-face 133-pound All-American; and Grant Gambrall, an All-American two seasons ago. They'll go along with Mike Evans, Ethan Lofthouse, and Bobby Telford.
A wildcard in the tournament picture could be Tom Ryan's Ohio State Buckeyes. Logan Stieber knocked off Oklahoma State's Oliver in the 133-pound final and returns as a sophomore. His brother, Hunter, was an All-American at 141 as a freshman, as was Cam Tessari at 149 pounds. Nick Heflin also earned All-America status and Ryan expects the return of veteran Nicco Triggas, an All-American in 2010 at 125 pounds who could be the only senior starter.
The rest of the country will be chasing those teams. Missouri leads a second pack with Illinois, Nebraska, Cornell and Central Michigan. The Big Red return Steve Bozak, the champion at 184, and Dake, but have a lot of question marks. Central Michigan, as always, brings back a solid group led by Trice, All-American Ben Bennett and Scotti Sentes, a long and lean former All-American at 125.
Oregon State, led by All-American Michael Mangrum at 141, may be the best of the West.
Many of the nation's best will butt heads before 2013 takes hold. Oklahoma State and Minnesota meet in Minneapolis on Dec. 2. New York City's Madison Square Garden will be the host site of the Grapple in the Garden on Dec. 16 which will feature Iowa, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Ohio State.
The Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Jan. 1-2 is set to feature Penn State, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Cornell.
And yes, Dake and Taylor, who happen to be good friends, could meet for a third time. Their All-Star Classic meeting was big enough that it received a blurb in the USA Today.
"We both know we have a lot to work on, and I think we are both going to continue to work hard," Dake said after the match. "By the time the Scuffle and March comes around we're going to be battling. We are just going to make each other better."
The reigning Division II champion Nebraska-Kearney opens the year at preseason No. 1. St. Cloud State while Central Oklahoma, Newberry (S.C.), and Grand Canyon (Ariz.) round out the top five.
In Division III it is, as usual, Wartburg (Iowa) and Augsburg (Minn.) leading the pack. Coe, Elmhurst and Wisconsin-Whitewater round out the top five.