ST. LOUIS – It’s been a long and winding road for Cayle Byers.

He started his mat career at George Mason after two Alaska high school state championships.

In 2008, as a freshman, Byers won 37 of 47 matches and qualified for the NCAA Championships where he went 1-2. A year later he was 30-7 and within one victory of All-America status. After a redshirt season, he was back on the mat for the 2010-11 campaign where he started out like a world-beater, winning 17 of 18 matches, the one loss coming to Cornell All-American Cam Simaz.

Byers hit a road block in December of 2010, however.

“I slipped up there a little bit, but you have to just keep going,” said Byers, who was forced to leave the program after an off-the-mat issue.

Looking for a new home, rumors circulated of him joining the Iowa program. In the end it was Iowa’s rival, Oklahoma State, which landed the 197-pounder for one season.

Byers ran into another roadblock in the form of teammate Blake Rosholt. The Reno Tournament of Champions final last December saw Rosholt beat Byers and take the starting spot. A February match saw Rosholt injure a knee and Byers was back in the picture.

Still, a week before the Big 12 Championships, Cowboy head coach John Smith still wasn’t certain who his 197-pounder was going to be.

Byers took advantage, winning a Big 12 title and riding a No. 5 seed into Friday night’s semifinals. Simaz, the top seed, earned a tough decision but Byers bounced back to beat Minnesota senior Sonny Yohn and Pittsburgh’s Matthew Wilps on Saturday to finish third.

His one season at Oklahoma State produced a 28-4 record.

“You grow up hearing about Oklahoma State and Iowa,” Byers said. “To be a part of that is pretty special. [OSU] doesn’t settle for anything but winning. You go out there and do your best. Coming into a program like this there is some pressure on you to perform. But they took it off me pretty quick.”

“[Rosholt] is a tough kid. He is going to be great because he is a tough competitor. I think he is going to be really good the next couple of years.”

Going out together
Two Appalachian State seniors, Kyle Blevins and Austin Trotman, each finished their careers on Saturday, earning All-America status for the first time.

Blevins lost in the first round but battled back to take fourth at 165 pounds. Trotman -- a three-time conference champion, former North Carolina high school state champion and the program’s all-time leader in wins -- was third after an overtime win over Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin.

“I came here to glorify God,” said Trotman on Friday after beating the top seed. “This means everything to my program. They started me from ninth grade. I went to camp there every summer and now it is paying off.

“My coach in high school talked about opponents being nameless and faceless. That’s the way I’ve looked at everyone this year.”

“I had no intentions; it was nowhere in my sights to be an All-American,” Blevins said. “It was about one match at a time. I wanted to stay in the tournament as long as I could. Every match after that first loss could have been my last. I had to let it all go, wrestle without fear.

“Having [Trotman] around has obviously helped me. He never has a negative thought and just keeps everything so positive.”

Session 5:
 Brackets | Scores | Round-by-round | Recap
Session 4:
Brackets | Scores | Round-by-Round
Semifinal Highlights | Recap
Session 3: 
Brackets | Scores | Round-by-Round 
Qarterfinal Highlights | Recap
Session 2:
 Brackets | Scores | Round-by-Round | Recap
Session 1:
 Brackets | Scores | Round-by-Round | Recap
Feature: In a word -- outstanding
Preview: Breaking down the race

First timers
Ten freshman earned All-America honors this weekend. Three advanced to the finals – Penn State’s Nico Megaludis at 125, Ohio State’s Logan Stieber at 133, and Minnesota’s Dylan Ness at 149.

Another Nittany Lion newcomer, Dylan Alton, lost an overtime decision to Iowa’s Derek St. John on Friday morning. Alton bounced back to win two matches in the evening session and two more on Saturday to finish third at 157 pounds.

Four of the freshman All-Americans are from the Big Ten, two from Minnesota. The Gophers’ Chris Dardanes lost to Stieber in the 133-pound quarters and came back with two victories on Friday and pinned Illinois’ Bernard Futrell after trailing big on Saturday morning. Dardanes, however, was pinned by Iowa’s Tony Ramos in the bronze medal match.

Minnesota 174-pounder Logan Storley lost in Friday night’s semifinals to Penn State’s Ed Ruth. He ended up sixth.

The younger of the two Stieber brothers, Hunter, lost to 2011 champion Kellen Russell of Michigan in Friday night’s semifinals. It didn’t get any easier Saturday morning as Stieber ran into 2011 finalist Boris Novachkov and fell into the fifth place match where he was pinned by Oregon State’s Michael Mangrum.

Three heavyweights worked their way into the final day. Northwestern’s Michael McMullen was pinned in the quarterfinals, but rebounded with a pair of wins Friday night. He won twice on Saturday to take third.

Iowa’s Bobby Telford dropped a 2-0 decision to Lehigh’s Zach Rey, the champion in 2011, and came back to beat 2011 All-American Levi Cooper of Arizona State to move to the final day. He ended fifth after a receiving a forfeit in the fifth place match.

Binghamton’s Nick Gwiazowski lost to Minnesota’s Tony Nelson in the first round and rallied to win five matches before dropping two and earning eighth place.

B1G numbers
The Big Ten Conference again leads the way in the All-America parade. The 11-team league has 34 wrestlers among the final eight; 12 of those are in the finals.

The EIWA has 11 with the Pac-12 totaling seven. The Big 12 Conference’s four squads totaled just five All-Americans. The EWL also had five with the ACC (4), CAA (4), MAC (3), WWC (2) and Southern (2) also grabbing some hardware.

The Big 12’s one finalist is the conference’s fewest ever.

Minnesota senior 125-pounder Zach Sanders finished his career as an All-American for the fourth time, finishing third with two wins on Saturday morning. His 132 career wins ties Jason Davids for seventh all-time in Gopher history. The last win wasn’t easy but came in classic Sanders fashion, a third-period charge and an overtime takedown to beat fellow senior Frank Perelli of Cornell.

Wyoming’s Joe LeBlanc, the top seed at 184 pounds, came back to finish seventh after a quarterfinal loss on Friday morning.

Cornell 197-pounder Cam Simaz and Penn State’s Frank Molinaro will also finish as four-time All-Americans. They wrestle in the finals.

Iron men
Ohio State’s Cam Tessari and Binghamton’s Don Vinson each lost in the first round. The duo came back to win six consecutive matches and met in the 149-pound bronze medal bout on Saturday morning. Vinson lost to Oklahoma’s Nick Lester 9-4 on Thursday morning. On Friday night Vinson beat Lester 16-5.

Vinson and Tessari may have had the best match of the tournament around lunchtime on Saturday. Vinson (40-5) won a fabulous 12-10 match that had a little bit of everything.

“I wrestled hard,” Vinson said after his seventh win of the tournament. “I just wanted it so bad [the second time against Lester]. It’s absolutely terrible but awesome at the same time. I think it is the second best thing you can do after winning it, coming back the way I did.”

Blevins also won six matches after a first-round loss on Thursday. He lost to Clarion’s Bekzod Abdurakmonov in the third-place bout at 165 pounds on Saturday morning. Blevins finishes his senior season 40-8.

The unseeded
Seven unseeded wrestlers finish in the top eight – Cornell’s Michael Nevinger (141), Oregon State’s Scott Sakaguchi (149), Oklahoma’s Nick Lester (149), Hofstra’s Justin Accordino (149), Appalachian State’s Kyle Blevins (165), Wisconsin’s Ben Jordan (165) and Binghamton’s Nick Gwiazdowski (285).