NEW YORK CITY – One is trying to win his program’s 140th individual NCAA championship. The other is looking to become the eighth champion for his school.

A senior from Wisconsin, already considered one of his school’s all-time best, is looking to put one final stamp on his legendary status within a legendary program. The other, a senior from New York, might just be putting his name at the top of his school’s list.

Oklahoma State has won 34 NCAA team titles to go with 139 individual championships. Harold DeMarsh was the school’s first champion, winning the 115-pound title in 1928. To be considered “one of the best” at OSU means you’ve done something. Alex Dieringer, the top seed at 165 pounds and winner of 78 straight matches, opened his final collegiate tournament with a quick first-period fall. In 29 victories this season, the powerful senior has recorded 25 bonus-point wins. In tonight’s second round he faces Harvard’s Devon Gobbo.

If Dieringer (29-0) wins four more matches, culminating with a victory Saturday night on the big stage of the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships, he will be a three-time NCAA champion. Fourteen Cowboys have already won three.

“To be considered one of the best at Oklahoma State is an honor,” said Dieringer, who is now 129-4 for his career, the win total second in school history behind his head coach. “There have been so many greats, and to be mentioned with them means a lot. (OSU) has a history of wrestlers who’ve worked hard to win championships. I like to think the work I have put in has paid off.”

Oklahoma State Athletics
North Carolina State is not exactly a wrestling mecca. Matt Reiss, a 167-pounder, was an NCAA champion in 1980, the Wolfpack’s first. Darrien Caldwell immediately comes to mind as NCSU’s best. He beat iconic Brent Metcalf of Iowa in a memorable finals match in 2009.

But by the time the 2015-16 season ends Nick Gwiazdowski will be considered the best in North Carolina State wrestling history and also among the best heavyweights to ever don a singlet  Already a two-time champion, the athletic heavyweight moved into tonight’s second round with a dominating 15-0 technical fall win over Eastern Michigan’s Gage Hutchinson. At 30-0 and winner of 85-straight matches, Gwiazdowski might be the beginning of a new wrestling tradition in Raleigh. Finishing his career in his home state, inside New York City’s Madison Square Garden, could provide plenty of memories for a wrestler who started his collegiate career at Binghamton.

“I think about it sometimes when I’m in training and just at home and other times,” said Gwiazdowski during Wednesday’s student-athlete press conference. “But there’s a path to it. And sometimes I look forward to having the opportunity. It’s pretty special when people say you win this next tournament you could be one of the best ever in the weight class, especially with the people I’ve watched and competed against in this weight class and overall in the NCAA.”

Much of the buzz since February has been the return of Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder. A 197-pounder for the Buckeyes last season, Snyder was pinned in the NCAA finals. The off-season, at least in folkstyle, saw Snyder, at 19, become the United States’ youngest World champion in freestyle. He came out of redshirt, beat NCAA runner-up Adam Coon of Michigan for the Big Ten title, and brings a 6-0 record to New York City. Snyder, seeded second behind Gwiazdowski, moved to 7-0 with a win in Thursday’s first session.

“(Snyder is) 6-0 so that speaks for that,” Gwiazdowski said Wednesday. “When I heard about it I thought, okay, it’s another challenge. I’ve overcome challenges before. I’ve talked to my coaches and people on my staff, so we changed some things up. But overall we were on a pretty solid track to begin with.
“If you want to be the best on Saturday night, you’ve got to beat a quality opponent. So you’re not going to find five easy guys to walk through. Having a guy like that on the other side, but there’s four guys before then. Again, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

Gwiazdowski meets Stanford’s Nathan Butler tonight.

As a redshirt-freshman, Dieringer lost an overtime match to Iowa’s Derek St. John in the 157-pound semifinals. He bounced back to finish third and has not lost in an NCAA tournament bout since. Gwiazdowski, then a true freshman at Binghamton, lost an 8-0 match to Minnesota’s Tony Nelson in the first round at 285 pounds. Four wins and another setback sent Gwiazdowski into the seventh-place match where he lost to Ohio’s Jeremy Johnson. A redshirt, a move to Raleigh, and two NCAA titles later, Gwiazdowski seeks heavyweight history, for himself and his program.

Big starts

Reigning NCAA champion Ohio State showed it will not relinquish its title without a fight. The Buckeyes had a strong first session, getting bonus-point wins by Nathan Tomasello (125), Johnni DiJulius (133), Micah Jordan (141), Bo Jordan (165), Myles Martin (174), and Kyle Snyder (197). They lead Penn State by ½ point (16 ½ to 16) with Nebraska (13) and Iowa (11) among the top four. Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Michigan are tied for fifth with 10 points.

Penn State, in search of its fifth NCAA championship if six seasons, was its usual bonus-point self. Nico Megaludis (125), Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Bo Nickal (174), and Morgan McIntosh (197) provided bonus-point wins. Jimmy Gulibon, an unseeded 141-pounder, hammered fifth-seeded Matt Manley of Missouri to start his week. Jordan Conaway had a narrow 6-5 victory at 133 pounds.

Bo Nickal
Penn State Athletics
Bo Nickal
Most of the other contenders took a few body blows in the first session.

Oklahoma State dropped its first two matches, including sixth-seeded 125-pounder Eddie Klimara, who fell 7-6 to Michigan’s Connor Youtsey. Rookie Joe Smith gutted out an overtime 11-9 victory over Ohio State’s Jake Ryan at 157 pounds. The Cowboys, with 10 in the field, went 7-3.

Iowa got bonus-point wins from Thomas Gilman (125), Cory Clark (133), Brandon Sorensen (149), and Sammy Brooks (184), but saw Patrick Rhodes (165), Alex Meyer (174), and Sam Stoll (285) lose in the first round. Stoll, a freshman, had to injury default. Nathan Burak edged Northern Colorado’s Trent Noon, 3-1, in a second overtime.

Nebraska won 8 of 10 matches to start, getting a pair of wins by heavyweight Collin Jensen, who beat 10th-seeded Joe Stolfi of Bucknell after getting through a pigtail with Pittsburgh’s Ryan Soloman.

Surprise, surprise

As usual, the seed-makers are not always correct. A handful of seeds lost in the first round with 174 taking a few big hits. Second-seeded Brian Realbuto, an All-American for Cornell at 157 pounds, injured a knee late and lost to Iowa State’s Lelund Weatherspoon, 7-4. The third seed, Missouri’s Blaise Butler, fell behind early and eventually dropped a 16-9 match to Oklahoma’s Matt Reed. Seeded fourth, North Carolina’s Ethan Ramos, lost to Jadean Bernstein of Navy, 13-8. Sixth-seeded Bryce Hammond of California Bakersfield is the highest remaining seed in the bottom of the 174-pound bracket.

Stanford’s Joey McKenna narrowly escaped Central Michigan’s Zach Horan in a 141-pound opener. The second-seeded freshman used a tiebreaker ride-out to win 2-1.

The third seed at 184 pounds, Edinboro’s Vic Avery, lost a first round match to Buffalo’s Joe Ariola.