Only three classes do not feature a former champion
The 2013 DI championships in Des Moines, Iowa, feature 10 NCAA champions spread out among the 10 brackets. They include: Iowa’s Matt McDonough, Ohio State’s Logan Stieber, Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver, Cornell’s Kyle Dake and Steve Bozak, Penn State’s David Taylor, Ed Ruth and Quentin Wright, Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore and Minnesota Tony Nelson.
Dake goes for a history-making fourth at a fourth weight class; McDonough seeks a third title. Only three weights – 141, 157, and 174 – do not feature an NCAA champion.
Missouri’s Alan Waters (29-0) is the top seed. He beat McDonough during national duals competition. McDonough (20-3) is a two-time champion and three-time finalist and seeded third behind Waters and Illinois All-American Jesse Delgado (21-3), who has beaten McDonough twice this season. A bit under the radar is Penn State sophomore Nico Megaludis (24-3), who lost in the NCAA finals to McDonough last March. The Nos. 5 and 6 seeds are both dangerous, Virginia Tech’s Jarrod Garnett (27-2) and Cornell freshman Nahshon Garrett (38-4). Right out of the gate, things could get interesting as Waters opens against Minnesota’s David Thorn.
• Breakdown: McDonough has just one NCAA tournament loss, that coming to Arizona State’s Anthony Robles two seasons ago. McDonough is still the man to beat here. A McDonough-Delgado semifinal might be a nice way to start off the Friday night festivities.
Stieber (21-0) is perfect this season including a victory against Iowa’s Tony Ramos (27-1) in the Big Ten finals. The two could be on a collision course. Do not discount Wisconsin’s two-time All-American, Tyler Graff (28-4), or Edinboro underclassmen AJ Schopp (29-3). This weight class, after Stieber and Ramos, is as wide open as any. Watch out for Central Michigan’s Scotti Sentes, the 10th seed, and Penn State’s Jordan Conaway (16-8). If Conaway records two wins Thursday, the rout could be on.
• Breakdown: Everybody knew Stieber was good, but when he beat Oliver in the NCAA finals and tested Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott during the summer, that good changed to very good. Might he be the next in line to win four titles?
Ohio State’s Hunter Stieber (31-0) might not be as good as his older brother, but that’s like saying Tom Brady is not as good as Joe Montana -- they are both pretty stinking good. This weight class has a number of contenders. Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple (25-0) was an All-American last March. Oregon State’s Michael Mangrum (36-4) and Edinboro’s Mitchell Port (30-4) are both solid. Two to watch include Cornell’s Michael Nevinger (36-10) and The Citadel’s Undrakhbayar Khishignyam (38-4), both in the bottom half of the bracket opposite Stieber.
• Breakdown: A hard weight to call, but Stieber and Maple may be the ones to beat. Mangrum is gritty and will be a tough out.
Oliver (33-0) may be the best, pound-for-pound wrestler in the tournament. He showed he was human at the national duals, winning a nail-biter against 2012 NCAA finalist Dylan Ness of Minnesota. Oliver won a title at 133 pounds two seasons ago and lost in the finals to Logan Stieber last March. The two seed is Boise State’s Jason Chamberlain (29-1), coming off an Olympic redshirt year. Binghamton’s Donald Vinson (29-1) is the three seed with Air Force Academy’s Cole VonOhlen (25-2) at No. 4. Ness (14-4) is seeded sixth. A trio to watch: Virginia Tech’s Nick Brascetta (27-4), Oregon State’s Scott Sakaguchi (24-6) and Penn State’s Andrew Alton (26-4).
• Breakdown: Oliver is the top dog here. He lost on the big stage last March in what many consider a bad call. Whoever beats Oliver will have to bring their A game and then some.
One of the three weights without a national champion in the bracket, a number of quality candidates are available. Iowa’s Derek St. John (26-2) was unbeaten until the national duals, where he lost to Missouri’s Kyle Bradley. Northwestern All-American Jason Welch (30-1) beat St. John in the Big Ten final and is the No. 1 seed. The list of those to watch include: Lehigh’s Joey Napoli (18-2), Nebraska’s James Green (20-4), Oklahoma State freshman Alex Dieringer (30-2) and Clarion’s James Fleming (28-2).
• Breakdown: Expect Welch and St. John to meet on the big stage Saturday night.
Has there been a bigger story in college wrestling this season -- or the past decade -- than Dake versus Taylor? Two styles, two champions, two fan bases, two studs. At the Olympic trials, in freestyle, Dake pinned Taylor. At the NWCA All-Star Classic it was a snorefest. In the finals of the Southern Scuffle it was fabulous with a little controversy thrown in. The bottom line? Dake won all three. The weight class does not stop there, however. Virginia Tech’s Peter Yates (30-1) is salty; Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell (29-4) is a grinder; North Dakota State’s Stephen Monk (33-2) is under the radar; and Oklahoma’s Patrick Graham (21-4) will be a tough out.
• Breakdown: The NCAA, ESPN … and just about everybody … hopes Dake and Taylor meet in the final match of the tournament to see if Dake can join Cael Sanderson and Pat Smith as the only Division I wrestlers to win four national titles. But there are no guarantees in sport, especially wrestling.
Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry (30-2) was rolling along, undefeated and No. 1 until a loss to Missouri’s Todd Porter in February. Perry, third last season, beat Minnesota’s Logan Storley (24-3) in the Southern Scuffle finals but was pinned by the Gopher in overtime at the national duals. Storley, however, struggled at the Big Tens and is seeded sixth this week. Perry is the top seed with Penn State’s Matt Brown (25-4), the Big Ten champion, at No. 2. Iowa’s Mike Evans (19-4) and his mustache is No. 3 with Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh (33-3) at No. 4 and Maryland’s Josh Asper (19-1) at No. 5. It would not be wise to forget Illinois horse Jordan Blanton, a two-time All-American, or Ohio State’s Nick Heflin, also an All-American.
• Breakdown: Everyone in the weight class has hit a few speed bumps this season. This weight class could go a long way in determining the team champion, especially if Brown can join Taylor, Ruth and Wright on the big stage.
There are very few words to describe Ruth (28-0). Freakish is a good place to start. Ruth won his first title at 174 pounds in dominating fashion last March and will again be a big favorite. Ruth has been so good that nobody even talks about Bozak, the 2012 NCAA champion at 184. The fourth seed, Bozak (20-2) is coming off his first EIWA title. One of his losses was to Ruth. The second seed is unbeaten and three-time All-American Ben Bennett (27-0) of Central Michigan. Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin (22-3), an NCAA finalist two seasons ago, is the third seed. Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus (26-2), Northern Iowa’s Ryan Loder (30-2) and Nebraska’s Josh Ihnen (24-6) are all horses.
• Breakdown: One of the deepest weights in the tournament, yet Ruth is as big a favorite as anybody this week. The wrestlebacks will rival a minefield.
Kilgore (39-0) and Wright (27-0) are the men to beat here. Kilgore won a title two seasons ago and took an Olympic redshirt during the 2011-12 campaign. Wright won gold at 184 pounds two seasons ago and lost in the finals to Bozak in 2012. Among those to watch are Pittsburgh’s Matt Wilps (19-2), Wyoming’s Alfonso Hernandez (30-1) and Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson (23-2). Gadson lost his father the day after winning a Big 12 title and will certainly get the support of the Des Moines crowds.
• Breakdown: Do not be surprised if Gadson reaches the semifinals and faces off against Wright. The winner will most likely get a shot at Kilgore. Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Iowa will all be pulling for anything but a Nittany Lion in the finals.
This weight class is loaded and will be a slugfest starting on Friday morning. Missouri’s Dom Bradley (35-1) beat Oklahoma State’s Alan Gelogaev (24-3) at the Southern Scuffle, but the Russian Gelogaev returned the favor at the national duals. Bradley beat 2012 NCAA champion Nelson (28-1) in the Scuffle finals. Nelson has beaten Gelogaev twice this season. Oregon State’s Chad Hanke (32-3) beat Gelogaev two seasons ago. Seeds five through eight all represent Big Ten schools. The ninth seed is Pittsburgh’s Zac Thomusseit (23-2). How deep is the weight? The 10th seed is Central Michigan’s Jarod Trice (22-4), a senior who finished fourth at the 2011 NCAA championships.
• Breakdown: Is there a favorite? When the 10th seed is a former All-American prepare yourself for plenty of battles. Ironically, in one of the years where heavyweights could provide a dramatic final match, they get bumped to the early part of the Saturday night program.