'At-large' not wrestlers’ favorite words
Star power in vogue as DII Championships are set to begin
Give or take five or 10, about 250 Division I collegiate wrestlers feel pretty good about their chances of being in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 21-23. That group has put together the necessary body of work throughout the season to earn a spot at the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
A new system of qualification means a wrestler with a solid resumé can afford to have a bad tournament two weekends before the big show. A “threshold” includes DI winning percentage, RPI and coaches’ ranking. In men’s basketball terms, if Indiana does not win another game it still will participate in the NCAA tournament. Likewise, if Penn State’s Ed Ruth does not win a match at the Big Ten Championships, you can bet he will wrestle another match this season.
Each qualifying tournament was awarded spots per weight class based on current year data. Click here to see the qualifier allocations for the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
However, what about those “on the bubble?”
One underclassman put it in simple terms, saying, “You have to be ready when the season starts. A lot of those matches that didn’t seem that important back in November and December … it would have been nice to have those wins now.
“You can put pressure on yourself at the end by not taking care of business at the beginning.”
NCAA allocations were announced last week, dividing 290 individual spots among the 10 qualifying meets. A total of 330 will be in Des Moines -- 33 per weight class -- meaning 40 at-large selections will be made by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee. That group will be released March 13.
In simple terms? It is best to avoid waiting on that announcement.
The Big Ten Conference, with five of the top-10 teams in the latest rankings and the usual deep group of programs, earned 74 qualifying spots. Only two weight classes have less than seven qualifiers, with four getting eight. Nine of the 11 Big Ten heavyweights will be in Des Moines.
That is a far cry from life in the Southern Conference or the West Regional where a combined 29 spots are up for grabs. Fourteen of the 20 weight classes at the two tournaments will send only the champion.
Four weight classes in the Southern Conference -- 149 pounds, 157, 174 and 184 -- do not have a wrestler ranked inside the top 32, meaning at-large is not part of the vocabulary. The candidates are not household names but their efforts this weekend on the campus of Virginia Military Institute will be very high.
The Big 12 Conference, previously with five programs, averaged anywhere from 30 to 35 qualifiers during the past two decades. Missouri wrestling now is a member of the Mid-American Conference, at least this season, leaving the Big 12 with four squads -- Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Only 19 of the 40 are guaranteed tickets to the NCAA Championships.
“We pretty much have eight guys who are definitely in the NCAA Championships,” said Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, whose squad enters the weekend ranked second behind Minnesota. “Two of our guys are going to have to earn their way this weekend.”
Again, doing the math, if the Cowboys take eight spots that leaves 11 divided among the other three teams. Factor in the conference has added an additional day of competition, the Big 12 Duals, and “earning your way” has an extra component.
“Right now I feel good about it because I have to feel good about it,” Iowa State head coach Kevin Jackson said. “It’s something we have to do; something we have to embrace.”
Instead of two matches and one weigh-in, there is a possibility of five matches and two weigh-ins during the two days. However, knocking off a highly ranked wrestler on Friday might impress the NCAA Committee enough to put an extra name in the hat in regards to at-large selections.
For those without a warmup, those upsets will be required during the qualifying meets.
Divisions II and III have gone beyond qualification mode. The DII Championships are this weekend in Birmingham, Ala., and are a part of a festival where champions will be crowned in five sports -- wrestling, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s and women’s indoor track and field. More than 1,000 athletes will compete in Birmingham’s CrossPlex Athletic Facility.
This may be the year for St. Cloud State to hoist the wrestling trophy. A veteran group brings a 47-match dual win streak into the tournament. Head coach Steve Costanzo’s squad finished second to Nebraska-Kearney at the 2012 DII Championships. But being ranked No. 1 and finishing No. 1 are different animals.
|2013 DII FESTIVAL|
The Division II Festival will feature national championships in men’s and women’s swimming and diving; men’s and women’s indoor track; and wrestling. The Gulf South Conference and the city of Birmingham will serve as co-hosts for the event. The DII national championships festivals are the only place in the NCAA where five champions will be crowned in a single event.
“At nationals, rankings are pretty much out the window,” said senior 184-pounder Shamus O’Grady, one of four tegional champions for the Huskies. “Funny things happen, people beat who they are not supposed to beat. Everybody’s record is going back to zero and zero. You have to be ready for the unexpected.”
Notre Dame (Ohio) is a threat in its first year of DII competition, as is Newberry College.
The DII weight classes are loaded with a number of potential big-time matchups on Friday and Saturday.
• 133: Two-time champion Trevor Franklin of Upper Iowa and St. Cloud State’s Andy Pokorny met in the 133-pound finals last March. Shall they meet again?
• 141: The 141-pound class has six returning All-Americans, including two-time runner-up B.J. Young of Newberry.
• 149: Nebraska-Kearney’s Raufeon Stots won the 149-pound title in 2012, beating Maryville’s Keenan Hagerty in the title bout. Central Oklahoma’s Jordan Basks, Grand Canyon’s Bobby Ward and Augustana’s Nate Herda are no slouches, either, giving 149 a monster bracket.
• 157: Dillon Bera of Wisconsin-Parkside is a three-time All-American and finalist last season at 157 pounds.
• 165: Notre Dame rookie Joey Davis is unbeaten and leads a pack at 165 pounds that includes former Division I starter Chase Nelson of UNK. Mason True of Findlay and Newberry’s Blake Ridenour are returning All-Americans.
• 174: UNC-Pembroke’s Mike Williams won the 174-pound title last March. Can he repeat? Wyoming transfer Patrick Martinez, now part of UNK’s squad, will have a say.
• 184: The toughest weight of the weekend may be 184 pounds where eight All-Americans are in the bracket. O’Grady’s only loss in 2012-13 is against a DI foe and the SCSU senior is the man to beat. Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s Travis McKillop enters the final meet of the season as the top man in the NCAA’s Most Dominant Wrestler Award standings in DII.
• 197: Upper Iowa’s Carl Broghammer, Maryville’s Matt Baker and UNK’s Romero Cotton will duke it out for the 197-pound crown.
• 285: And last, but certainly not least, the 285-pound battle between SCSU’s Jake Kahnke and Northern State’s Mitch Mueleners could resume. Mueleners has beaten Kahnke in the past two DII finals. But Notre Dame’s Orlando Scales and Grand Canyon’s Tyrell Fortune might try and crash that party.
The Division III bunch will get after it on March 15-16 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Not unlike 1997 where another Iowa legend -- former Hawkeyes head coach Dan Gable -- finished in style, Wartburg will look to send head coach Jim Miller out with another trophy. For more on the retiring Miller, check out our special retrospective, Maestro of the Mat.
• Most Dominant Wrestler Award Standings: Division I | Division II | Division III